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Richard Branson and the Indian government are offering $3 million to reinvent air conditioning

It’s pretty obvious that air conditioning is a necessary technology. Living in stifling heat isn’t just uncomfortable, it’s dangerous, which makes the fact that air conditioning is bad for our environment a difficult pill to swallow.

After all, you can’t just give it up, like plastic straws or enormous SUVs.

So the Rocky Mountain Institute, along with India’s Department of Science and Technology and Mission Innovation, is offering $3 million to the air conditioning genius who can solve this problem. It’s called the Global Cooling Prize, and it’s designed to find a more environmentally friendly solution to the growing demand for more A/C.

Oh, and the prize’s ambassador is famed billionaire philanthropist Richard Branson.

According to a report compiled by the backers of the prize, the number of room air conditioning units is set to triple over the next 30 years — ballooning from a current 1.2 billion units to 4.5 billion units by 2050. This, the report claims, will have a serious impact on global warming and could increase the global temperature by 0.5˚C by 2100.

Ironically, that outcome increases the demand for air cooling units.

“Our planet is getting hotter,” the Global Cooling Prize’s website says. “Already, 30 percent of the world’s population is exposed to potentially dangerous heat conditions; by 2100, up to three-quarters could be at risk. Affordable cooling is becoming a global necessity, allowing for increased productivity, positive health outcomes, and accelerated economic development.”

To claim the $3 million (a reward which pales in comparison to solving a serious global environmental problem), teams who enter the global competition have to fill a series of tall orders.

According to the Prize’s website, the solution, designed for a tropical or sub-tropical home, will need to:

  • have one-fifth of the climate impact of existing air-cooling tech
  • operate under specific material, consumption and maintenance guidelines
  • be affordable.

If you think you’re up for the task, preliminary applications are due in June 2019. Organizers say they will announce the finalists in November 2019 and award the prize in late 2020.