Air conditioning units are harmful to the environment, according to a new report. The number of AC units may swell from 1.2 billion worldwide today to 4.5 billion by 2050–and household air conditioning, alone, could push global warming up half a degree by the end of the century, the Global Cooling Challenge Report states.

So, entrepreneur Richard Branson launched both the report and the Global Cooling Prize, a $3 million competition to spur new technology.

Fast Company writer Adele Peters writes:

The new competition is designed to provide an incentive to create higher-efficiency air conditioners and support startups in a field that’s currently dominated by a handful of major corporations. To participate, companies need to submit a solution that has five times less climate impact than a standard air conditioner, at no more than twice the cost, so it has a payback period of less than four years.

“This is a $20 billion market ready for a shake-up,” says Branson. “The challenge is that the market is broken. Incumbent manufacturers follow market signals, which currently reward high volume and low price. High R&D costs present a major barrier to entry.”

The competition is targeting a small group of researchers and startups that are already working on solutions that could meet the goals of the challenge. Startups like SkyCool Systems, for instance, are looking at the potential for deep space radiative cooling–technology that essentially helps throw heat into outer space with far less energy use. Others are working on systems that use semiconductors in a heat pump, or devices that use sound to turn heat into cold.

In 2019, 10 applicants will get $200,000 to build prototypes.

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