Is Air Conditioning Bad for the Environment?

Abdul Akhtar

Abdul Akhtar

Air conditioning has a reputation for damaging the environment, but is this entirely fair?

The global energy consumed by cooling is bad for the environment but you could easily say the same about central heating or driving.

Like those, air conditioning plays a vital role in people’s lives and its effects on the environment are down to how it’s used. In the UK, new air conditioning systems tend to reduce energy consumption.

Is Air Conditioning Damaging the Environment?

When you look at the overall statistics, the picture doesn’t look good.

In the US, the world’s biggest consumer of air conditioning, it accounts for 15% of total energy use and results in 100 million tons of CO2 emissions every year. To put that into context, the US uses more fossil fuel for air conditioning than the entire continent of Africa uses for everything. And it’s certainly not all put to good use. In some cities, waste heat from air conditioning is raising the outdoor night-time temperature by as much as 1°C in the summer.

Globally, the situation is only getting worse. As the developing world gets more affluent, demand for air conditioning is skyrocketing. In China, 50 million air conditioning units were sold in 2010 and sales are also rising fast in India, Asia and the Middle East. The growing demand for cooling is putting a tremendous strain on global energy resources, not to mention the ozone layer.

Why is Air Conditioning Needed in the Workplace?

The reason for this increase is partly cultural. However, it also reflects the importance of air conditioning in the workplace. Most people can work comfortably in an office when the temperature is between 20°C and 24°C, but, outside this range, productivity is affected.

As virtually all the world’s fastest growing cities are in hot climates, demand for air conditioning will continue to rise.

Studies have shown time and time again how important temperature is to the workplace. One report in Japan found that for every degree above 25°C it gets, workers are 2% less productive. A recent UK survey by OnePoll and Andrews Sykes found that 2% of working hours are lost to uncomfortable temperatures.

Overheated employees are a real issue for businesses. In many cases, air conditioning is an essential investment. In hot climates, it’s almost impossible to balance environmental and individual needs. However, in the UK, cooling demand is much lower and it’s possible to run air conditioning very efficiently.

How Efficient is Air Conditioning?

Air conditioning systems aren’t always bad for the environment. Behind the scenes, manufacturers have been working extremely hard to reduce their equipment’s energy consumption, while new regulations mean ozone-depleting refrigerants will soon be a thing of the past.

If you have a large office or retail space, a modern VRF or VRV system is the most efficient way to heat and cool your building. In smaller spaces, wall-mounted split systems may be more efficient than traditional heating, depending on what you already have in place.

If your air conditioning system is designed well and managed properly, it will almost certainly reduce your building’s energy consumption and carbon footprint.

Is Air Conditioning Bad for the Environment?

In our new Glasgow office, we immediately installed four air conditioning units. Why? They’re more effective and consume less energy than the central heating which was in place before. They cut our energy bills and make our office a better place to work. Others rely on ineffective fans and energy-hungry portable air conditioning to cool down in the summer, but our A-rated system does the job properly without any hassle.

Heating, cooling and ventilation account for over half the average building’s energy consumption. It makes sense to get the most efficient system for you. If that involves installing or renovating an air conditioning system, it isn’t going to be bad for the environment.

According to government statistics, buildings account for 43% of the UK’s carbon emissions. Making your building as efficient as possible will help to bring that down.

As an incentive to improve energy efficiency in buildings, the UK government introduced the Enhanced Capital Allowance (ECA) Scheme. Companies can qualify for tax relief by installing products that meet specific energy-saving criteria. These are collected in the Energy Technology List and include air conditioning units, as well as associated HVAC systems. Air conditioning is a recognised way to cut down on energy consumption in the UK.

If you’re interested in installing energy-efficient air conditioning for heating or cooling, call us on 0141 773 3355.

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