George Sarraf, Christopher Decker, and Jad Moussalli, Strategy + Business
Air conditioning, a necessity of modern life, is unique because it perpetuates the very problem it solves. As the planet warms and as it prospers, more people demand air conditioning. Traditional systems consume a lot of energy, which requires burning fossil fuels. That leads to greater carbon dioxide emissions, further warming the planet and intensifying the demand for air conditioning.
Traditional air conditioning systems are inefficient by design. They are designed to meet peak loads, such as a fully occupied building on the afternoon of the hottest day of the year — even though that load rarely occurs. Most residential buildings are empty during working hours, and most office buildings are vacant at night. Fortunately, a more effective alternative for areas of high-density demand exists: district cooling. District cooling, which is the flip side of the district heating systems in use in the Nordic countries, is not a technology but rather an approach. It treats the provision of cooling as a utility and uses a single networked system to cool multiple buildings, such as an apartment tower, an office building, and a shopping center.