A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jun 29, 2014

How Air Conditioning Is Making Cities Hotter

Whether or not you believe in climate change, in most of the world, when it's summer, it's hot. And the heat just doesnt get any hotter or stickier than it does in a city. Especially a big city.

If your building doesnt have central air conditioning, you think, I'll just buy one of those little window-mounted units. And if you live in the US or many European countries, your conscience about contributing to global warming will be salved by a sticker assuring you that the national environmental authorities are all over this and you have just done a good deed by buying this unit.

The issue, of course, is that the cumulative impact of thousands or tens of thousands or millions of people just like you doing the exact same thing adds up to a problem. Which is, as the following article explains, that the combined effect of all the waste heat generated by that concentration of air conditioning makes the city measurably hotter.

You may well believe that all things considered, getting a decent night's sleep from May to September is just one of the compromises one has to make in life. And that your not buying that unit will neither help your mood nor will it solve the climate change issue. That is why we have public policies. But for those to work, all those little personal decisions have to be focused in a way that makes the big decisions rational. JL

Sydney Brownstone reports in Fast Company:

At night, waste heat generated by a city's worth of air conditioners can raise the outside temperature by 1 degree Celsius.
Installing a noisy, energy-sapping air conditioning unit is often considered a necessary evil for surviving humid summers, but air conditioning might be more evil than previously thought. While you think it's cooling things down, it's insidiously heating things up.
Cities will likely only grow hotter as a result of climate change and increased development. And that means that humans will demand more indoor cooling. But according to research published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, excess heat generated by a city’s worth of air conditioners can increase the outside temperature by more than 1 degree Celsius at night.
When the study authors simulated the effect of air conditioner waste heat in four different scenarios in Phoenix, Arizona, even the model with a conservative estimate of air conditioning use increased nighttime temperatures by 0.25 to 0.5 degrees Celsius. A more realistic set of circumstances showed a change of 1 degree Celsius. After assuming that all spaces had some sort of air conditioning, the most extreme estimate of air conditioning prevalence, the model showed outside temperatures rising by as much as 1.5 degrees Celsius.Study co-author and Arizona State University mathematician Alex Mahalov brought his summer energy bill to a televised interview on local news channel KAET TV to demonstrate how this difference can translate to dollars spent on household energy use. “One to two degrees matters,” he told host Ted Simon. “In July, the average temperature was one degree higher, and my bill is $30 more. So now if we have 1 million households in the state of Arizona, multiplied by 30, $30 million per month. In waste heat.”
Postdoctoral researcher Francisco Salamanca went on to explain that waste heat from air conditioners exacerbated the heat island effect, the phenomenon in which densely packed cities experience higher temperatures than similarly situated rural areas. If the heat island effect can increase temperatures by as much as 12 degrees Celsius, air conditioning units can make up as much as 2 degrees of that difference.
But the counterproductive air conditioning feedback loop doesn’t look totally hopeless quite yet. Salamanca and Mahalov pointed out that the same excess energy that makes our cities hotter could be captured and put to better use. It wouldn’t be that difficult, they say, to use wasted energy from AC units to heat water, or even help with cooking.


HVAC Installations said...

I have read the post and the information which you have shared that is really good and useful.

Anonymous said...

Air conditioning has long been a necessity in many parts of the world to combat extreme heat during summers. However, recent studies suggest that air conditioning might be contributing to making cities even hotter. While air conditioning units provide a comfortable indoor environment, they release heat outside, adding to the urban heat island effect. This is where technology like the mrcool ceiling cassette can help. These units are designed to be energy-efficient and have the ability to cool large areas quickly and quietly. They are also designed to be visually unobtrusive, making them a popular choice for many homeowners and businesses alike. By utilizing such energy-efficient systems, we can mitigate the impact of air conditioning on our environment and help reduce the urban heat island effect.

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