The air conditioner is nearly 100 years old, and yet it hasn’t evolved much — the technology is essentially the same as it was the day it was invented.
It has, however, changed our lives, making it possible for humans to thrive in places where heat would otherwise make life unbearable.
Air conditioning is also essential to businesses and technologies that rely on controlled temperatures and humidity, such as the very internet servers that are sending this story to your device.
But this all comes at a cost: The cooling of our air is responsible for 10% of the planet’s electricity consumption, according to the International Energy Agency.
And as the world heats, demand for air conditioners will only grow, especially in developing countries.
This, in turn, will increase the impact that cooling appliances have on the climate, thus warming the Earth further and creating a vicious cycle.
The current technology is unsustainable.
That’s why a new coalition — led by India’s government and America’s Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), a nonprofit environmental research organization — has launched the Global Cooling Prize, a $1-million competition to design the next generation of air cooling systems.
“The first home air conditioner was brought to market in 1926 by Willis Carrier, who’s long since dead,” said RMI’s managing director, Iain Campbell, in a phone interview.
“If we brought him back to life and showed him today’s air conditioning product, not only would he know what it is, he could tell you how it works.”