The earth is getting hotter every year, and people around the world are experiencing temperatures they’d never before dreamed of. This summer, the Pacific Northwest suffered through a heat wave where temperatures climbed as high as 121 degrees, causing hundreds to die of heat-related illnesses. In Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia, where many homes don’t have air-conditioning, families rushed to buy AC units—only to find they were all sold out.
This run on ACs is part of a global pattern, experts say: Climbing temperatures, coupled with growing populations and rising incomes, will cause the demand for cooling to spike. The International Energy Agency estimates that over the next three decades, the number of AC window units installed worldwide will triple to nearly 6 billion from the current 2 billion. This creates a paradox: As more people buy ACs to cope with the climbing temperatures, they emit more greenhouse gases that accelerate global warming, making future heat waves even more likely.
The increasing demand for air conditioners presents an enormous financial opportunity. As a result, startups are entering the space, creating new competition in a formerly sleepy industry. This is spurring a wave of innovation on both the technological and aesthetic fronts, as companies look to develop more sustainable units that also look sleek and modern.