Doing cold smarter

Toby Peters, Jonathan Radcliffe, Robert Elliott, Peter Fryer, Peter Braithwaite, Robin Teverson, Martin Freer, Lenny Koh, Tim Benton, Dinah McLeod, Sally Uren, David Sanders, Clive Hickman, Nick Winser, Gavin Harper, David Strahan

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


Cold has been much neglected in the energy debate. Governments are developing strategies and policies to green everything from electricity to transport to heat, but the energy and environmental impacts of cooling have so far been largely ignored. This is a serious oversight, since making things cold is energy intensive and can be highly polluting, and demand for cooling in all its forms is booming worldwide – especially in developing countries. According to one projection, by the end of this century global demand for air conditioning alone could consume the equivalent of half our worldwide electricity generation today – and most of the increase will come in developing markets. The ‘greening’ of cold is clearly an urgent global problem – but it may also offer Britain a massive business opportunity.
Cold may have been ignored but is vitally important to many aspects of modern life. An effective cold chain, for example, is essential for tackling problems such as food
waste, food security, water conservation and public health. Cooling is also critical for many less obvious but essential functions: data centres couldn’t operate without it, nor for example MRI scanners in medicine or superconductors in power electronics. Cooling also provides modern levels of comfort in hot countries – and can make the difference between some regions being habitable or not.
At the same time, vast amounts of cold are wasted – for instance during the regasification of LNG – which could in principle be recycled to satisfy some of this demand and start to reduce the environmental damage caused by cooling. Such a system-level approach – which starts by asking what energy services we need, and what is the least damaging way to provide them, rather than accepting existing practices as a fait accompli – has recently been coined the ‘Cold Economy’. It is clear the Cold Economy could unleash a wide range of innovative clean cold technologies and provide energy resilience, economic growth and environmental benefits, but there is an urgent need to develop a system-level analysis of this problem and the potential solutions to inform both industry and policymakers. The Birmingham Policy Commission: Doing Cold Smarter was convened to start this work.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUniversity of Birmingham
Commissioning bodyThe Birmingham Policy Commission
Number of pages84
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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