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Richard Branson launches $3m challenge to reinvent the air conditioner

Richard Branson launches $3m c...
The amount of air conditioner units is expected to increase greatly over the coming decades – but is there a better way to keep cool?
The amount of air conditioner units is expected to increase greatly over the coming decades – but is there a better way to keep cool?
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The amount of air conditioner units is expected to increase greatly over the coming decades – but is there a better way to keep cool?
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The amount of air conditioner units is expected to increase greatly over the coming decades – but is there a better way to keep cool?

As the world continues to warm, you can expect more and more folks to be turning to air conditioners to keep their living environments cool and comfortable. And in that sense, this energy-intensive technology will do plenty to exacerbate the very problem it is designed to solve. The Global Cooling Prize is a competition to help stop runaway climate change, by dangling US$3 million in prize money for the development of more energy-efficient cooling solutions.

The Global Cooling Prize is backed by the Indian government among other partners, with Richard Branson taking on the ambassadorial duties. The organizers make a pretty compelling case regarding the need for a rethink in how we currently cool our homes. They say that there are around 1.2 billion room air conditioning units in action around the world today, and the most efficient of these operate at around 14 percent of the maximum theoretical efficiency. As a comparison, investments in R&D have led to products like LED lights that operate at up to 89 percent efficiency.

Meanwhile, a further 3.3 billion room air conditioners are expected to be installed between now and 2050, with little being done to make them more efficient. According to the competition organizers, this is because the industry focuses on lowering individual unit costs at the point of sale rather than their running costs (and energy usage) over time.

So, this is where they see an opportunity to shake things up. Much like the XPrize competitions that seek to inspire technological solutions to societal problems, the Global Cooling Prize will offer up some serious prize money for inventors who can meet a set of carefully designed criteria.

Entrants are tasked with developing an air-cooling technology that can be installed in existing homes and have five times less climate impact than a current baseline unit, at no more than twice the cost. Its power consumption at full load must not exceed 700 W and it mustn't consume more than 14 L (3.7 gal) of water per day.

The competition opened for submissions earlier this month with a preliminary application deadline set for June next year, by which time participants will need to submit initial ideas. A detailed technical application then needs to be submitted by August, with 10 finalists handed US$200,000 to build working prototypes in November. The final winner will be awarded $1 million in November or December 2020.

Richard Branson discusses the challenge in the video below.

Source: Global Cooling Challenge

Sir Richard Branson: Why the Cooling Challenge Matters | Global Cooling Prize

14 comments
Joshua Tulberg
This is awesome, but wouldn't it be more effective to just super-insulate homes? With a super-insulated home your need for cooling (and heating) would drop dramatically. All it would take to accomplish this is a change to building codes. IRC insulation requirements here in the USA are pretty good, but not what I would call "super-insulated" levels. Perhaps next up can be an insulation award?
myale
I would agree passive home design would seem to be a better way to avoid the need for the air conditioner, - so how could you do this with local sourced materials at a low cost for different countries. It is likely a more efficient air conditioner is achievable, but whether anyone wants to improve efficiency by a factor of five and yet only get twice the price would be the key item I can forsee. Saving the planet versus making money always still seems to be a key stumbling block, but I am still hopefull.
Bob Stuart
The X prize didn't have a "set of carefully designed criteria." They kept moving the goal posts, which is why I won't enter this one.
piperTom
There's a $3 million prize for better AC tech? Wow! And I always thought the prize for better tech was in being able to sell it to, you know, actual consumers. If you could make a buck on each of those 3.3 billion AC units (or even half) in your forecast, that would dwarf this silly prize. Customer WILL buy it, if it saves them money (or gives greater comfort, less noise, or whatever). The only way the prize makes sense is to pay for tech that people don't want. But Mr. Branson got his name in the news, for whatever that's worth.
Nik
I used to have a refrigerator that worked with a 100 W electric element, add a 250 W fan, and claim your prize! (My aunt, who lived in an old house with no electricity, had one that used paraffin, or kerosene.)
Douglas Bennett Rogers
You can make any air conditioner as efficient as you want by making it bigger. There is a size that minimizes life cycle cost. There are subsidies that promote the purchase of a larger unit. Market entry promotes a less efficient unit. The same thing goes for a house. The house with minimum life cycle cost will have a bit more insulation that you normally see but not be "super insulated" because that requires non-standard construction. Also, most houses were built for market entry.
Mzungu_Mkubwa
Just look to nature: https://youtu.be/620omdSZzBs ...and claim ur prize! (or just sell to the highest bidder and so u can just buy out Sir Branson and his paltry Virgin! ☻)
Grunchy
I have another problem, the latent heat of vaporization of water at 2260 kJ/kg is too much. It takes too much power to boil water. I want Branson to offer a $3 million prize to whoever can lower the latent heat of vaporization of water, please.
BeinThayer
"...LED lights that operate at up to 89 percent efficiency...." Dubious. Link, please. . One watt of 555nm wavelength light is 683 lumens. I have seen some research LEDs claiming 300 lumens per watt, which still has a way to go before it can claim 89% efficiency...even if these were 'available'.
BeinThayer
Grunchy, you requested a way to lower the latent heat of vaporization of water. Good news, no need to get Branson involved. The solution is available without delay... Simply increase the pressure.