Air-conditioning systems are to consume 40 percent of the electricity in Southeast Asia in 2040 at the present rate of consumption, according to a report presented in Bangkok on Monday at the ASEAN Cooling Summit, jointly organized by the Kigali Cooling Efficiency Program, Eco-Business and the United Nations.
Driven by higher average temperatures and a rising middle class, it is estimated that the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Myanmar, Brunei, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) will install 700 million new air-conditioning units by 2030 and another 1.6 billion by 2050.
"About 80 percent of Asean's electricity supply has been generated from fossil fuels over the last decade," said Tim Hill, director of the report "Freezing in the tropics: Asean's air-con conundrum."
Hill recalled that Singapore's late Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, had called the air-conditioner the greatest invention of the 20th century because it boosted productivity in tropical countries, but warned against its excessive and inefficient use.
The report's director said that the 10 ASEAN member states were planning on building 358 new coal-fired power plants by 2030, which would contribute to climate change.
The solution lay in changing consumer habits and also government intervention to ensure the use of efficient air-conditioners in home, offices and factories, according to Hill, who is the research director of Eco-Business, a Singapore-based media organization serving Asia Pacific's clean technology, smart cities, responsible business and sustainable development community.
Energy efficient products and lighting can reduce the consumption of electricity by 100 TWH, which is the equivalent to the annual production of 50 power plants of 500 MW capacity, according to the report.
"We've got to get rid of this idea that public malls and hotels should resemble freezers," Marc Loo, CEO of Loola Adventure Group, a resort operator in Indonesia, said in the report.
Mark Radka, chief of UN Environment's Energy and Climate Branch, explained that it would be impossible to reach the objectives laid out in the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius without a more efficient use of air-conditioning.
During the conference, Radka called for a stop in the use of hydro-fluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants in air-conditioning and refrigerator units as they contribute more to climate change than carbon dioxide.
For Jimmy Khoo, Senior Vice President in the Singapore Power group, the efficient use of air-conditioning in cities can only happen through the use of centralized systems providing services to entire districts, such as had been done Marina Bay, Singapore, which is serviced by centralized air conditioning facilities located at a depth of 20 meters (65 feet) underground, resulting in an annual savings of 79 million KW.