Air conditioners on a building in Moscow, part of a worldwide demand for cooling systems that is expected to triple over the next 30 years.Air conditioners on a building in Moscow, part of a worldwide demand for cooling systems that is expected to triple over the next 30 years.With an estimated 1.6 billion buildings worldwide currently outfitted with air conditioning units, research from the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that number will increase to 5.6 billion by the year 2050.

That estimate, according to the IEA study, "amounts to 10 new ACs sold every second for the next 30 years."

"Growing electricity demand for air conditioning is one of the most critical blind spots in today's energy debate," Fatih Birol, the IEA's executive director, said in a statement. "With rising incomes, air conditioner ownership will skyrocket, especially in the emerging world. While this will bring extra comfort and improve daily lives, it is essential that efficiency performance for ACs be prioritized. Standards for the bulk of these new ACs are much lower than where they should be."

With climbing global temperatures, the IEA is pushing for more efficient units that use less electricity in preparation for the expected growth in air conditioning use. Currently, units sold in Europe and Japan are generally more efficient (typically 25 percent more efficient) than the units sold in the U.S. and China.

"Setting higher efficiency standards for cooling is one of the easiest steps governments can take to reduce the need for new power plants, and allow them at the same time to cut emissions and reduce costs," Birol said.

Such standards, according to the IEA’s estimates, could cut energy costs in half, resulting in an almost $3 trillion savings in operating costs, fuel costs and energy investments.

To contact the author of this article, email mdonlon@globalspec.com