Primer for Space Cooling: A World Bank Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) publication authored by Rocky Mountain Institute

Credits: RMI

The World Bank‘s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) ( and Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) released a primer today on space cooling. The Primer for Space Cooling highlights solutions that can respond to the need for greater access to cooling, especially in large parts of the developing world facing increasingly higher temperatures. Such solutions could avoid the considerable and disruptive impacts on energy systems and the accompanying greenhouse gas emissions that would result from business-as-usual growth in cooling.

The Primer underscores that access to cooling is a development priority and an issue of equity in a warming world. Making a convincing case for sustainable space cooling, the Primer provides an overview of strategies and technologies to meet space cooling needs sustainably, and shares implementation examples of effective regulatory, financial and enabling mechanisms from several countries across the world. It can be accessed HERE. 

The global energy use for space cooling is projected to jump from 2,020 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2016 to 6,200 TWh in 2050-an astounding 300 percent increase. Most notably, developing countries such as Indonesia, India, Mexico, Brazil and many African countries will see a sharp increase in their cooling energy demand.

Greenhouse gas emissions from electricity use for space cooling (indirect emissions) are set to double by 2050-and even as the grids get cleaner, the transition to renewable generation will not proportionally keep pace with the projected growth of cooling. Add to this the direct emissions originating from the high global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants used by most of today’s air conditioners, and the overall emissions impact becomes even greater.

While the growing need for space cooling is in alignment with the developmental needs of countries, this growth must be addressed with carefully designed strategies and solutions to avoid severe economic, power system and environmental impacts.

Technologies and strategies exist that can deliver today’s space cooling needs with less than half the energy use, avoiding nearly 500 GW of generation capacity, while delivering a lower lifecycle cost to users and consumers-however these remain largely unexploited. While it is not possible to recover this opportunity cost of the past, there is an opportunity to avoid increasing the opportunity cost into the future, by acting now to make the shift to sustainable space-cooling practices.” commented Iain Campbell, senior fellow, Rocky Mountain Institute.

The high-level analysis presents a view on the opportunity cost to society by outlining the benefits that could have been secured by switching to commercially available high-efficiency technology in conjunction with building envelope improvements achievable today that have demonstrated a lower life cycle cost.

  • Impact on energy use: The energy required to provide space cooling could have been reduced by about 58 percent (or 1,177 terawatt hours), cutting the total indirect emissions (1,135 million tons CO2) from space cooling operation to less than half of their current level.
  • Impact on consumers: Meeting cooling needs with efficient cooling equipment could have cost consumers dramatically less over the equipment’s lifetime–with a potential reduction of 50%, or even greater in some markets.

The Primer stresses the importance for an integrative approach as the foundation to addressing space cooling sustainably. This approach calls for reducing the cooling loads of buildings by applying building efficiency measures that enhance thermal performance, serving the cooling load as efficiently as possible through appropriate choice of cooling solution and utilization of the most efficient cooling equipment available, and optimizing the performance of cooling through their operation.

The Primer also presents demonstrated space cooling intervention strategies that can help overcome the underlying market barriers to scale up sustainable cooling. These interventions, broadly covering policy and regulatory measures, financing and enabling mechanisms and supporting instruments, are meant as options to inform strategies, implementation mechanisms and pathways for countries that are seeking to make the leap to sustainable space cooling. For those interested in learning more about the interventions that could accelerate the pace of sustainable space cooling, a supplement to the Primer-the Compendium-contains detailed information covering 20 interventions, with over 100 examples highlighting real-life successful implementation and the respective key insights learned.

This knowledge product complements the technical assistance provided by ESMAP to inform country dialogues, as well as the design and development of a pipeline of projects with sustainable cooling features or components that could be supported by the World Bank Group and other sources of financing.

Supporting the many cities and developing countries of the tropics and sub-tropics to get on a path of sustainable space cooling will have health, economic and productivity benefits. It is also key for a sustainable energy transition, avoiding pressures on often already-strained energy systems, and for meeting climate change goals. Meeting the growing need for thermal comfort and the rapidly increasing demand for cooling services in buildings and homes-without compromising climate change goals-will require substantial investments in affordable and accessible energy efficient cooling solutions in developing countries. ESMAP’s primer on space cooling will help guide policy discussions and investment considerations for the World Bank’s longer-term strategy on sustainable cooling,” said Rohit Khanna, manager, World Bank Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP).

This publication has been developed under World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) Efficient, Clean Cooling Program, jointly managed by ESMAP and the World Bank Climate Change group, and was initiated with the support of a grant from the Kigali Cooling Efficiency Program (K-CEP).