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.