The air conditioning challenge in the Mediterranean Basin

Frédéric Dubessy writes on the website about a recent study by the World Bank to address the increasing penetration of air conditioning with the need to promote energy efficiency and reduce energy consumption.


Solar power bringing energy efficiency to Mediterranean air-conditioning

Faced with an explosion in the numbers of air-conditioners in the Mediterranean Basin, and their harmful effects, the MEDENER and the International Energy Agency are demanding the introduction of technologies -mainly solar energy-based- to improve appliance efficiency.

With a 160-fold increase in 15 years, according to a World Bank report, the number of in air-conditioners in Maghreb region is skyrocketing. The growth rate of 30% per year should see air-conditioners fitted in 92% of households in Tunisia, 85% in Algeria and 50% in Morocco by 2030.

If this trend continues, the energy requirements for air-conditioning alone in these three countries, plus Libya, will reach 42GW. This figure could be reduced to 34GW however on one condition: successfully promoting energy efficiency in a market dominated by high-consumption units that use fluorinated gases.

According to several studies carried out by the World Bank, Mediterranean Association of National Energy Management Agencies (Medener) and the International Energy Agency (IEA), this strategy implies three prerequisites: opting for “greener” technologies, implementing knowledge transfer and persuading households to make the switch.

After having promoted passive solutions, such as those provided by eco-construction and building insulation, the Medener is proposing using more environmentally-friendly technologies that reduce the consumption of fossil fuels to power air-conditioners. One example is solar photovoltaic air-conditioning systems combined with vapour compression chillers or solar-thermal air conditioning systems used in tandem with sorption (or ad-absorption) units. Solar-powered air-conditioners consume very little energy. Furthermore, its peak use period coincides with maximum sunlight, so the power needs are low. Solar air-conditioning using sorption also generates cold using water or ammonia, both harmless for the ozone layer and neutral in terms of global warming potential (GWP).

This development would require these technologies, mature in European countries, to be transferred to the Maghreb region and adapted to local conditions. Founded on cooperation arrangements, this knowledge transfer needs to happen in parallel with institutions’ providing regulatory and financial support.

Lastly, to set the tone, governments could replace subsidies for fossil fuels with aid for investment in renewable energy-based air-conditioning solutions. All this would be budget-neutral thanks to the energy savings achieved through the use of solar air-conditioning.

Presently, as stipulated in a World Bank report, “the decision to buy is still dictated by the investment cost and not by the air-conditioner’s energy efficiency.” Households buy cheaper and less economical, less efficient units. They are often purchased through an informal market fed by cross-border smuggling fuelled by the difference in tax (100% of the imported price in Tunisia against 4% in Libya).

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