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As Africa gets more prosperous, more Africans than ever have the financial means to buy refrigerators, air conditioners (ACs) and other cooling equipment to keep perishable foods fresh, bodies cool and medicines safe, writes Peyton Fleming.

But that prosperity is causing a problem. Africans are mostly buying cheap, outdated cooling appliances that consume vast amounts of energy while using harmful refrigerants that are potent contributors to climate change.

In countries like Nigeria and Ghana, which have seen average temperatures rise by 2°C, the flood of energy-sapping cooling units is straining overburdened electricity grids, driving up household energy bills, and contributing to more frequent outages that make it hard to keep businesses open and economies humming.

That demand is increasing. According to the International Energy Agency, electricity demand for ACs and other types of cooling is on track to jump 10-fold across Africa by 2040, from 11 terawatt-hours (TWh) to 112 terawatt-hours.

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African countries are stepping up to solve the problem, although widespread adoption is still in its infancy.

Through regulatory changes, innovative technologies and decidedly low-tech solutions, Africa is delivering sustainable cooling services to vulnerable populations while protecting the climate and ensuring economic growth.

Many of these efforts are being supported by international groups such as the Kigali Cooling Efficiency Program (K-CEP), Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) and the UN’s United for Efficiency Program (U4E).

Top 10 African cooling trends

Here are the 10 most promising sustainable cooling trends in Africa for 2020

One
Mandating efficiency: Rwanda has enacted Africa’s toughest energy standards and energy labelling standards for new air conditioners and refrigerators sold in the country.  The mandatory standards, taking effect on 1 January 2021, are modelled after guidelines developed by United for Efficiency.

The UN group and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are now focused on getting East and Southern Africa countries to pursue consistent standards, which would send a strong market signal to the industry.

Two
Banning ‘zombie’ imports: Rwanda has also enacted a ban on imports of obsolete used cooling appliances, including refrigerators and ACs, starting 1 January 2021. Millions of secondhand cooling appliances are sold in Africa every year, most of them high-polluting units from Europe.

Ghana imposed an import ban about six years ago, which has been enormously successful in shifting its cooling market towards new appliances.

Three
Green Financing: Most Africans cannot afford the up-front expense of new cooling appliances. To get around this problem, Senegal and Ghana have launched a $25 million green financing program to help consumers qualify for zero per cent loans to replace old cooling units with eco-friendly ones.

In Ghana, workers can finance their purchases through paycheck deductions. In Senegal, loans are paid down through payments on electricity bills. “In many cases, consumers don’t even notice the extra cost due to the energy savings,” said Jalel Chabchoub, the AfDB’s chief investment officer, which is supporting the financing effort and is looking to expand it to Egypt and Tunisia.

The program also requires proper disposal of the used appliances which often contain banned ozone-depleting greenhouse gas refrigerants.

Four
Cooling as a Service: Food companies and farmers who cannot afford to invest in long-term cooling solutions have found a viable alternative Cooling as a Service (CaaS).

In Nigeria, a social enterprise, ColdHubs, rents out solar-powered cold space for small farmers who pay 50 cents a day for each crate cooled. The company has installed dozens of walk-in cold rooms around the country and its long-term goal is 200,000 units by 2030.

In South Africa, a major food company, Dr Oetker, has outsourced its refrigeration needs through a CaaS contract with Energy Partners.

Five
Cooling and Climate:
A growing number of African countries are integrating sustainable cooling objectives into their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), a core foundation of the Paris Climate Agreement.  Five African countries – Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Morocco, Nigeria and Tunisia – received K-CEP grants earlier this month to improve access and the efficiency of cooling solutions as part of their long-term climate plans.

Six
Better Information: Access to sustainable cooling and rising cooling energy demand is becoming a major global priority, and a big reason why is the growing body of research on this issue.

Among the noteworthy recent reports: UN research says African countries can cut energy demand in half by 2040, reducing GHG emissions by 40 million tons, by adopting stricter air conditioning efficiency standards.

A Lancet report says air conditioning accounted for 8.5% of global electricity consumption in 2018 and on hot days as much as 50% of peak electricity demand. SEforALL research shows that hundreds of millions of Africans have no access to any cooling services.

Seven
‘Last-Mile’ Vaccine Delivery: In 2016, only 16% of rural health centres in the DRC had working refrigerators to keep vaccines cool and safe. Today, nearly 80% of ‘last-mile’ communities have solar-powered refrigerators, most of them are innovative solar direct-drive units that do not require fuel or batteries.

A $250 million effort led by the global vaccine alliance, Gavi, has delivered more than 15,000 solar direct drive fridges to three-dozen African countries. Gavi officials credit the solar fridges for achieving a 25% jump in child vaccination rates in Africa from a decade ago.

Eight
National cooling plans: Rwanda’s landmark national cooling strategy, the first in Africa, has been the driving force for advancing efficient, sustainable cooling solutions, including policies, market incentives and other measures. Several other African countries are following in Rwanda’s footsteps, with Kenya next in line to finalize a national cooling plan in spring 2021.

Nine
Cool roofs: A decidedly low-tech cooling solution gaining more traction in hot areas of Africa is ‘cool roofs.’ By applying low-cost solar-reflective coating on rooftops, indoor building temperatures can be dramatically reduced, resulting in more comfortable living conditions and lower cooling-related energy bills.

Among the early adopters is South Africa’s Department of Defense, in partnership with the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI), which is installing cool roofs on dozens of buildings in Limpopo Province, where the temperature routinely exceed 40°C.

The first completed project, several iron corrugated training buildings, reduced indoor temperatures by more than 10°C. “These guys were essentially living in ovens,” said project manager Dr Karen Surridge. South Africa, Senegal, Cote D’Ivoire, Kenya, Rwanda and Niger are among 10 finalists in the global Million Cool Roofs Challenge.

Ten
Cool villages: Egyptian architectural firm has taken natural cooling design to a higher level in Egypt’s Sahara Desert. Using raised floors, reflective rooftops, cooling-friendly limestone and other natural materials, ECOonsult has built a naturally cooled tea farming community, Bahareya Village, where summer temperatures can reach 50°C. 

Home to 150 workers, the village was built with local materials and passive cooling techniques used by indigenous desert communities.

Article by Peyton Fleming, a freelance journalist who has written extensively on cooling-related energy challenges in Africa.