© WWF-US / Paul Fetters
Cool & Solar
The power pair: Efficient cooling and solar
How solar energy and sustainable cooling in buildings can be major solutions in a warming world

To cut greenhouse gas emissions and tackle the climate crisis, we need to rapidly change how we produce and consume energy. Using energy more efficiently and sourcing energy through renewables (rather than fossil fuels) will play a massive role in reducing global emissions.

But as the world warms and developing tropical countries grow, more energy-intensive cooling services (particularly air conditioners) will be needed, thereby exacerbating the sector’s impact on the climate.

Rooftop solar energy is a versatile solution for buildings and cities and the local, sustainable energy source with the largest potential globally. In cities with a warm climate, energy efficient and passive cooling solutions are one of the major sources of “negawatts” – energy that we don’t have to produce or use.

The combination of both solutions can ensure we can keep our people cool without contributing to global warming. WWF is working to drive this change through our ‘Cool & Solar’ initiative.

© Global Warming Images / WWF
Why is it important?

There is a huge potential for rooftop solar photovoltaics (PV), but we aren’t taking nearly enough advantage of this clean power source. Solar PV on existing buildings has the potential to provide a high share of a country’s total electricity consumption (e.g. 40% in the US and over 40% in Switzerland).

Solar PV can also be deployed very quickly (a few days to a few weeks for a new installation), compared to fossil or nuclear solutions which take years, and can be integrated in existing structures, without the need for new land. In recent years, solar PV prices have become much more competitive, and will often be cheaper than any other electricity producing technology.

While cooling is essential to meet sustainable development goals, it also presents a very significant threat for the climate. Nearly 20% of the total electricity used in buildings across the globe is spent on cooling technology like air conditioners and electric fans. Over the next three decades, the demand for cooling is expected to become one of the top drivers of increased energy demand.

It doesn’t need to be like this – cooling can be much more efficient and demand less energy. This can be done by reducing our need for cooling through improved ‘passive’ cooling solutions (such as better building insulation, optimised shading solutions and cool roofs), implementing robust standards for cooling appliances, and installing more rooftop solar to meet the growing electricity demand.

Both solutions create the perfect pair. The hotter the sun, the higher the solar production and the greater the need for cooling. Solar energy can directly provide energy to cooling systems, thereby reducing the need for electricity from large power stations far away, and alleviating pressure on the power lines.

Did you know?
 LED light bulb

A climate ally

Better energy efficiency policies could help the world achieve 40% of the emissions cuts needed to reach its climate goals. Source: IEA
 Air conditioning units on apartment buildings in China.

Overwhelming emissions

If the current trends in the growth of air conditioning and refrigeration continue over the next three decades, cooling alone could use up all of our remaining carbon budget to limit warming to 1.5°C. Source: Climate and Clean Air Coalition
What WWF is doing

Our world has been far too slow in recognizing the potential that sustainable cooling and solar energy offer as a solution to the climate crisis, and implementing this at scale. WWF’s Cool & Solar initiative is working to change this through:

1. Implementing pilot solar and cooling projects:

WWF Upfront: Since 2017, WWF has installed energy data visualization and monitoring tools in 23 of its offices, ranger stations and other locations around the world, while 44 have installed solar. The monitoring tools help us see how much energy a building uses, point the way toward additional efficiency measures, and motivate WWF staff to be smarter with their usage. One great example: our Peru office managed to reduce electricity consumption by 40% in just one week after monitoring which activities consumed the most energy.

Iconic buildings: We work with iconic buildings in major cities around the world to reduce their energy consumption and become green leaders. Currently, beautiful, famous buildings in Bhutan, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Viet Nam are monitoring their electricity consumption and getting efficiency upgrades to transition toward smart and efficient energy usage.

Cool and Solar Cambodia: We now also work with the tourism sector in Cambodia to catalyse rooftop solar and efficient cooling projects. We work with a wide range of actors, from large city hotels, to community-based ecotourism sites to implement efficient cooling and rooftop solar.

Climate-friendly refrigeration for fishing-communities in the South West Indian Ocean: WWF teams in Madagascar, Tanzania and Kenya have been implementing solar powered, climate friendly cooling solutions

2. Sharing knowledge and raising awareness:

WWF is working to inform more people about sustainable cooling and solar power as solutions for the built environment through various projects. These include:

Topten: WWF is a partner of Topten, an online tool which ranks home appliances and vehicles for efficiency in multiple categories. Topten aims to raise consumer awareness of how excess energy consumption contributes to global temperature rise and climate disruption; influence manufacturers to develop more efficient products; and encourage governments to set performance standards and eliminate inefficient products from the market.

Research: A number of research projects and publications in Singapore, India and Hong Kong have covered topics including the importance of cooling for achieving net-zero and how low carbon buildings contribute to a sustainable future. 

3. Driving better policy:

In all of our projects, we use the pilot results to inform policy. For example, in Cambodia and Madagascar, we have used the results of our pilot projects to lobby for more favourable solar PV regulations.

At the global level, WWF is working with the Cool Coalition to influence policy makers at global, national, and local levels to put in place policies that accelerate the strategic uptake of climate-friendly and efficient cooling.

In Pakistan, WWF has supported implementation of the country's cooling action plan, with our partners CLASP and Hima Verde.


Global Energy Efficiency Lead: Richard Scotney, richard.scotney@wwf.org.kh

WWF Upfront: Jean-Philippe Denruyter, jpdenruyter@wwf.panda.org

See the Case Studies

Case Studies: Energy Efficiency in Action

For over 25 years, WWF has been promoting energy efficiency, given its importance in the effort to avert catastrophic climate change. This report showcases ten WWF energy efficiency initiatives around the world.

Download (PDF)

Energy efficiency in iconic buildings
Iconic buildings are already in cities’ spotlights, and taking steps to improve their energy use can help them become climate champions too. Local citizens, visitors and tourists can learn more about the importance of energy efficiency from these famous landmarks.

WWF is working to identify iconic buildings in the world’s major cities that are ready for energy transition projects. Currently, beautiful buildings in Bhutan, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Viet Nam are monitoring their electricity consumption and getting efficiency upgrades, showing their users how to transition toward smart and efficient energy usage. These include:
  • The Municipal Palace of Lima, Peru
  • The Stock Exchange in Santiago, Chile
  • The headquarters of the Government of Cundinamarca in Bogotá, Colombia
  • The Huong Giang Hotel in Hue, Viet Nam
  • The Bank of Bhutan Headquarters in Thimphu, Bhutan.
Each WWF Iconic Building undergoes a similar process. First, data is gathered to help better understand the building’s energy use. Next, there is an effort to identify where energy savings are possible. Once efficiency improvements are made, a key step is to identify for all building users how much energy is being saved. This helps users stay motivated and on track with minimizing energy waste.