Berkeley Lab’s Global Cooling Efficiency Program in the Media Spotlight

October 31, 2023


Photo of Nihar Shah speaking at event
Photo by IISD/ENB | Mike Muzurakis

Following the hottest summer on global record this year, climate reporters from Scientific American and the Washington Post turned the spotlight to the growing importance of next-generation air conditioning technologies like those championed by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). 


Both outlets spoke with expert Nihar Shah, Presidential Director of the Global Cooling Efficiency Program at Berkeley Lab about how today’s traditional air conditioning (AC) units are not cut out for the increasingly hot and humid temperatures of tomorrow. 

Instead, older AC units – which inefficiently condense high humidity by overcooling air – continue to play an outsized role in global energy consumption and climate-warming emissions. Today more than half of a traditional AC unit’s emissions result from removing humidity from the air. 

Altogether, cooling accounts for four percent of global greenhouse gasses, twice as much as the aviation industry. That impact is only expected to grow, as annual demand is projected to triple by 2050. 

Berkeley Lab and Shah are among those calling for updated AC standards and new ways of testing units to account for high humidity use cases. Next-generation AC units can better account for humidity by using built-in drying agents to condense air, dramatically reducing energy consumption. 

“The IEA projects that cooling worldwide will require 50 percent more energy in the next 25 years than it does now because of rising demand. It will not work to simply replace every existing air conditioner with a better model and call it a day. Instead a truly cooler future will have to employ other, passive strategies that rely on urban planning and building design to minimize the need for cooling in the first place. Bringing greenery and water bodies into cityscapes, shading windows, positioning new buildings to take advantage of natural airflow and retrofitting buildings with better insulation and reflective panels that can send heat into space are all critical.”Shah says