Incentivize Alternatives to Air Conditioning

Duluth’s typically cool summers have been getting warmer and warmer due to climate change, more people are turning to air conditioning (AC) units to keep their homes cool. And, this number will continue to grow. According to the Duluth Population Vulnerability and Climate Adaptation Framework report, by 2100 Duluth can expect 23 additional days above 95 degrees and a 514% increase in demand for air conditioning (AC) to keep their homes cool.

However, traditional AC units are not friendly to the environment and contribute to climate change. Traditional AC units use electricity which is still mostly sourced from non-renewable sources that emit greenhouse gases and they contain refrigerants, such as hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are also greenhouse gases. The global warming potential of chemicals like HFCs are thousands of times greater than carbon dioxide. Therefore switching to hydrocarbon-based coolants, like refrigerant-grade propane, can help reduce the negative climate impacts of traditional AC units. 

There are alternatives to conventional air conditioning as well, such as by building passive cooling mechanisms that don’t rely on mechanical techniques into the design of a building. Examples of passive cooling in buildings include, using heat-storing materials such as concrete to absorb heat and regulate air temperature, incorporating shade into the design of a building, using the cooling effect of water such as through an underground pipe system and using air movement, such as certain design elements that direct wind into the building. 

Already, the City of Duluth has committed to an energy plan to reduce community greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80% as compared to an emissions analysis done in 2008. Although some steps have been taken, such as raising energy efficiency standards for city-owned building, the city can take further steps to encourage a reduction of GHG emissions from private and commercial buildings. One such way is through incentive programs, such as rebates, that encourage consumers to invest in more environmentally friendly systems on their properties. While rebates, grants or other cost-saving programs already exist for adopting more energy efficient systems, weatherizing homes and switching to Energy Star certified appliances, the city could also adopt an incentives program, to encourage alternatives to traditional air conditioning units, such as adopting passive cooling strategies in buildings. While the city’s updated energy plan does include a policy suggestion of updating the UDC (Unified Development Chapter) to offer incentives for cool surfaces like reflective roofs, green roofs, and cool pavement, there has been no concrete changes to the UDC, nor mention of other passive cooling strategies.

As Duluth’s climate continues to warm due to climate change the city should address the increasing reliance on traditional air conditioning units, which themselves contribute to climate change, by incentivizing alternatives such as passive cooling strategies. While switching to alternatives to traditional AC units is only one small part of combatting the climate crisis, it is one action the city should not overlook. Take action today and urge city leaders to incentivize alternatives to air conditioning by sending a letter today.

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