Solar farm

Decarbonizing cooling with renewable energy (SDG7.2)

  • Efficient renewable-powered cooling solutions can help deliver access to sustainable cooling for all while accelerating just and equitable clean energy transitions. 
  • In rural settings, integration of energy access planning with access to cooling is highly relevant for the delivery of energy services, including for healthcare and agriculture. 
  • Efficient appliances, and particularly refrigerators, can help stimulate rural electricity demand and thereby help strengthen affordability of renewable electrification.

Across sectors, renewable cooling technologies tap into the synergies between actions to meet growing cooling needs and decarbonize the electricity mix. Solar thermal and solar PV cooling systems are promising solutions to provide zero-carbon cooling services and help bridge peak cooling demand with available solar irradiation. District cooling systems can tap into renewable and free or waste heat sources to deliver efficient, affordable cooling services in densely populated areas. Countries where electricity demand for cooling is growing rapidly, such as China and India, are increasingly looking at the potential for combining renewable and efficient solutions to reduce pressure on the power grid, accelerate the penetration of renewable energy and improve grid flexibility. [1]  

In rural areas, achieving universal access to electricity by 2030 will require most high-impact countries to accelerate their electrification efforts. Distributed energy coupled with efficient end uses can stimulate rural electricity use to levels that support productive uses – including cold storage for agricultural and other small businesses. This, in turn, can improve the affordability of renewable-powered electrification, and support productivity and income.

For instance, the use of fans off-grid in Bangladesh increased productive time by more than two hours for over 60 percent of users. [2]  Affordable refrigeration, for both household and commercial use, is among the top services in demand in rural areas and one of the technology breakthroughs with the highest potential to stimulate rural electricity demand. [3]  According to a recent survey in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, 87 percent of off-grid refrigeration customers reported improved quality of life from refrigerator ownership and saved an average of USD 4.82 per week from improved food storage. [4]
In high-impact countries, with BAU efficiency, the estimated number of refrigerator-freezers remains largely incompatible with the electricity services estimated to be available to poor rural households in 2030 (Figure 7). Appliance efficiency standards could increase the number of refrigerators compatible with low electricity consumption by poor rural households from the current 2 million to over 71 million in 2030. Together with over 90 million fans, if adopted, they would lead to an increase of 33 TWh of annual electricity demand in rural areas.

Leveraging this latent demand to accelerate a renewable-heavy mix of grid extension and off-grid solutions will be crucial and would cut GHG emissions in half — to 19.5 MTCO2 per year in 2030 — compared to a BAU power mix and fossil fuel-based electrification scenario. However, increasing the actual penetration of refrigerator-freezers off-grid among poor rural households will require addressing affordability barriers with structured support and access to consumer financing.

In the health sector, access to both energy and cooling is essential for the delivery of routine and COVID-19 vaccinations. The integration of energy access planning with access to cooling is therefore critical for the delivery of healthcare in rural settings. In Malawi’s recent Integrated Energy Plan (IEP), a health facility needs assessment found that the cost of delivering both energy access and cold chain resiliency across off-grid and on-grid facilities was approximately USD 21.2 million, of which only USD 3.6 million is necessary for 186 off-grid facilities. 

Figure 7. Estimated number of compatible cooling appliances and annual electricity demand in poor rural households in 2030

Almost 56 percent of the population of high-impact countries is expected to live in cities by 2030. Urbanization drives higher adoption of more energy-intensive appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners, but also the absolute numbers of poor populations that live in cities. Infrastructure and urban expansion plans need to proactively consider these trends in order to provide for the adaptation needs of urban populations at risk, while reducing the pressure on urban energy systems and associated emissions.

For instance, identifying current and expected hotspots for cooling demand in cities is a powerful strategy for future-proof electrification and urban planning. It can help devise integrated plans to target cooling and electricity access gaps, deploy affordable and passive cooling measures such as cool roofs [5] to improve thermal comfort in informal settlements, and scale up nature-based solutions to beat the urban heat. 


Sustainable cooling solutions include the most efficient fans, air conditioners and refrigerators; measures to reduce the need for cooling through insulation, shading, reflectivity or ventilation; and using collective effort to deliver more sustainable products, services, policies and financial solutions to meet cooling needs.

Cooling Solutions Directory

Notes and references

[1] Cooling appliances include refrigerators-freezers, ceiling and portable fans and air conditioners. “Compatibility" is defined based on a comparison of average annual unit electricity consumption and assumed levels of electricity supply available to households with medium and low access to cooling risk. Learn more 
[2] Efficiency for Access Coalition, The State of the Off-Grid Appliance Market Report, 2019 (link)
[3] Rockefeller Foundation, Electrifying Economies; Achieving Universal Electrification in India, 2016 (link)
[4] Efficiency for Access Coalition, The State of the Off-Grid Appliance Market Report, 2019 (link)
[5] Mastrucci et al. (2022), Cool roofs can mitigate cooling energy demand for informal settlement dwellers (link)