The Future of Cooling

Opportunities for energy-efficient air conditioning

About this report

Using air conditioners and electric fans to stay cool accounts for nearly 20% of the total electricity used in buildings around the world today. Rising demand for space cooling is also putting enormous strain on electricity systems in many countries, as well as driving up emissions. Absent firm policy interventions, there is no doubt that global demand for space cooling and the energy needed to provide it will continue to grow for decades to come. However, there is an enormous opportunity to quickly influence the growth of cooling-related energy demand through policies to improve equipment efficiency. This special IEA report aims to raise awareness globally about one of the most critical energy issues of our time, outlining a sustainable path to the future of cooling that will allow people to reap the benefits of cooling without straining the energy system or the environment.

Cooling down is catching on. As incomes rise and populations grow, especially in the world’s hotter regions, the use of air conditioners is becoming increasingly common. In fact, the use of air conditioners and electric fans already accounts for about a fifth of the total electricity in buildings around the world – or 10% of all global electricity consumption.

Over the next three decades, the use of ACs is set to soar, becoming one of the top drivers of global electricity demand. A new analysis by the International Energy Agency shows how new standards can help the world avoid facing such a “cold crunch” by helping improve efficiency while also staying cool.

The Future of Cooling

Key findings

Most homes in hot countries have not yet purchased their first AC

Air conditioning today is concentrated in a small number of countries, but AC sales are rising rapidly in emerging economies.

Percentage of households equiped with AC in selected countries, 2018


The world faces a ‘cold crunch’

By 2050, around 2/3 of the world’s households could have an air conditioner. China, India and Indonesia will together account for half of the total number.

Global air conditioner stock, 1990-2050


Cooling is the fastest growing use of energy in buildings

Without action to address energy efficiency, energy demand for space cooling will more than triple by 2050 – consuming as much electricity as all of China and India today.

Share of global electricity demand growth to 2050


The problem is, today's consumers are not buying the most efficient ACs

The average efficiency of air conditioners sold today is less than half of what is typically available on the shelves – and one third of best available technology.

Investing in more efficient ACs could cut future energy demand in half

Our Efficient Cooling Scenario shows that effective policies can double average AC efficiency and reduce cooling energy demand by 45% compared to the Reference Scenario.

Space cooling energy demand growth and savings potential, baseline and cooling scenario, 2016-2050


Cooling will drive peak electricity demand, especially in hot countries

More efficient ACs can reduce the need for new power plants to meet peak power demand, especially at night.

Share of cooling in electricity system peak loads in selected countries/region, baseline and cooling scenario


Efficient ACs can cut investment, fuel and operating costs...

The Efficient Cooling Scenario reduces investment and running costs by USD 3 trillion between now and 2050. Average cooling energy costs would be almost halved.

Cumulative investments in power generation for space cooling to 2050, baseline and cooling scenario


...and also help reduce emissions

More efficient ACs cut CO2 emissions from space cooling in half and combined with cleaner power sources can radically reduce overall emissions. Local air pollution is also drastically cut.

The Future of Cooling is the second IEA report that focuses on "blind spots" of the global energy system, following The Future of Trucks, which was released in July 2017. The next one in this series – The Future of Petrochemicals – will examine ways to build a more sustainable petrochemical industry. It will be released in September.