Air-conditioning adoption and electricity demand highlight climate change mitigation-adaptation tradeoffs

F. P. Colelli, I. S. Wing, and E. Cian

Scientific Reports (17 March 2023)

DOI: 10.1038/s41598-023-31469-z


We elucidate mid-century climate change impacts on electricity demand accounting for endogenous adoption of residential air-conditioning (AC) in affluent, cooler countries in Europe, and in poorer, hotter states in India. By 2050, in a high-warming scenario (SSP585) AC prevalence grows twofold in Europe and fourfold in India, reaching around 40% in both regions. We document a mitigation-adaptation tradeoff: AC expansion reduces daily heat exposures by 150 million and 3.8 billion person degree-days (PDDs), but increases annual electricity demand by 34 TWh and 168 TWh in Europe and India, respectively (corresponding to 2% and 15% of today's consumption). The increase in adoption and use of AC would result in an additional 130 MMTCO2, of which 120 MMTCO2 in India alone, if the additional electricity generated were produced with today's power mix. The tradeoff varies geographically and across income groups: a one PDD reduction in heat exposure in Europe versus India necessitates five times more electricity (0.53 kWh vs 0.1 kWh) and two times more emissions (0.16 kgCO[Formula: see text] vs 0.09 kgCO[Formula: see text]), on average. The decomposition of demand drivers offers important insights on how such tradeoff can be moderated through policies promoting technology-based and behavioral-based adaptation strategies.

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