Tim Hartford talks to Derek Thompson of The Atlantic about his new book Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy. Their conversation begins with the air conditioner, where in New York City print shop workers tired of watching the building’s heat and humidity ruining their prints until a young engineer named Willis Carrier created a method to cool air moving over metal coils filled with compressed ammonia.
Since that time, the air conditioning industry has become big business in the United States. And big energy users. From the Buildings Energy Data Book by the US Department of Energy:
- Air conditioning makes up 10 percent of all housing energy use in the US, falling behind heating (37 percent) and water heating (12 percent) and right ahead of lighting (9 percent).
- In the three decades before 2009, energy consumption in all buildings (homes and commercial) increased by nearly half.
- Buildings now make up 41 percent of all US energy consumption. That’s compared to 30 percent of the industrial sector and 29 percent of the transportation sector.