Rising to the Branson challenge

Virgin founder and world famous marketeer Richard Branson wants the air conditioning market to make radical technical changes, but James Henley, product development manager for Daikin Applied (UK), believes that manufacturers are already on the right track.


e should take it as a complement that one of the world’s best-known business figures has chosen air conditioning as the next target for his considerable skills in market disruption. Mr Branson’s intervention in the debate about energy efficiency has helped to raise the profile of an industry that is crucial to the lives of many millions.

Mr Branson believes air conditioning technology has not evolved much in the 100 years since it was discovered and criticises manufacturers for being “entrenched” and “complacent”.

Moreover, he believes there is still tremendous potential for innovation in an industry that is already worth around $100bn and could multiply by a factor of four in the next 30 years.

“As our planet warms, we need it [air conditioning] more than ever to keep our people cool,” Mr Branson wrote in his Virgin Blog. “Worldwide, by 2030, extreme heat could lead to a $2 trillion loss in labour productivity. India’s economy alone stands to lose $450bn (not to mention the 200 million Indians exposed to dangerous heat conditions each year). “If we can trigger a major technology change, it could be the single biggest technology-based step we can take to arrest climate change.”


The reason Mr Branson decided to get involved was the launch of the $3m Global Cooling Prize (www. by the highly respected energy research body the Rocky Mountain Institute. This prestigious and valuable award is supported by the Indian government, which is understandably concerned about how it is going to keep its huge and growing population cool in an economically viable and sustainable way.

34 March 2019

The award aims to “shine a spotlight on potential breakthrough cooling solutions” and provide funding for projects that can advance our knowledge of cooling technologies.

The Institute and Mr Branson argue that cooling technology has only achieved 14% of its ‘theoretical’ energy efficiency. This figure is misleading and manufacturers have already made great strides in this area. Clearly, they refer primarily to basic residential equipment and do not take into account many of the major technical breakthroughs our industry has already achieved. .Of course, there are thousands of installed systems around the world that fail to meet modern energy efficiency standards, but that is often because of the prevailing economic circumstances and does not mean better options are not widely available.

Air conditioning manufacturers are acutely aware that there is an inextricable link between efforts to minimise harmful emissions and the need for ever improving energy efficiency. As an industry, we have been challenged hard to find ways to minimise the use and leakage of potentially harmful refrigerant gases – driven primarily by the F-Gas legislation in Europe – but have also managed to do this while continually improving energy performance. The challenge we now face is to make our best technology available to the widest possible market and that, often, comes down to what a particular type of customer can afford. As a recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) revealed, by using technology that is already available it would be possible to keep building energy use at today’s level, in spite of a predicted doubling of demand for building air conditioning between now and 2040.

The EIA Energy Efficiency 2018 report showed that cooling energy use in buildings has already doubled since 2000 due to population growth and the surge in construction, but our

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