Keeping Cool in Southeast Asia: Energy Consumption and Urban Air-Conditioning

By McLellan, Benjamin C. | Southeast Asian Studies, December 2016 | Go to article overview

Keeping Cool in Southeast Asia: Energy Consumption and Urban Air-Conditioning


McLellan, Benjamin C., Southeast Asian Studies


Keeping Cool in Southeast Asia: Energy Consumption and Urban Air-Conditioning Marlyne Sahakian New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, x-xviii+229p.

This book offers insights into some critical areas of social and environmental aspects of the sustainable development paradigm. While being focused on south-east Asia (SEA), and in particular on the Philippines, the book has relevance to other areas of the world where growing urbanization, economic development, and the current and potentially-exacerbated effects of climate change are likely to have cumulative non-linear effects on energy consumption (the impact of which will not be equivalent to the sum of the individual components of change).

The book is largely based on interviews with a variety of general and institutional stakeholders, which lends a personal touch to the case studies. Quantitative statistics and evaluation are not widely used. There are sections including good precis of historical developments leading to the current situation, although brief. As a book that seeks to engage the reader in understanding a variety of social contexts and influences in the usage of air-conditioners and other cooling devices in the Philippines, the book succeeds. However, in building a quantitative and cross-country comparison, it has some shortcomings. The following paragraphs review the book chapter-bychapter in brief, highlighting particular points of strength or weakness.

The introduction of the energy situation in Chapter two, the author tries to contextualize the energy consumption in the region, and the importance of some specific climatic and socio-economic and political factors. While nominally discussing "consumption," the chapter in fact focuses to a large extent on the production or generation side, mainly examining electricity. The quantitative drivers for consumption are not well-examined, as there is little discussion of the split between sectoral demand. While this is not the focus of the book per se, it leaves some of the correlation between increased cooling load, energy consumption, and environmental impacts on a weaker footing. While discussing some of the major drivers in the residential sector, acknowledgment of commercial and industrial demand would have been welcomed. Moreover, the limiting factor of resource potential-for both conventional and renewable resources-would have been a useful point to consider in the comparison of various SEA nations.

Chapter three provides a good, if brief and perhaps a little outdated (given the publication date, much of the literature cited is from the 1980s-90s, while developments in the 2000s are minimallyaddressed) overview of the historical introduction of air-conditioning, the socio-economic disparities in its utilization, and cultural variations in usage. The importance of built-environment and passive cooling is somewhat understated, although the technological lock-in associated is an important concept raised in this context.

The fourth chapter is one of the most useful of the book, with an overview of some of the main reasons for people (in the Philippines) utilizing air conditioning. …

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