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Berkeley Lab Study Shows Significant Potential for Deployment of Superefficient Air Conditioners

Air conditioning is a rapidly growing end use, especially in emerging economies. The additional electricity demand in 2020 from room air conditioners (ACs) bought between 2010 and 2020 is expected to be over 1.2 terawatt-hours (TWh, equal to 1,200 billion kilowatt-hours) globally. The International Energy Studies group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), in collaboration with Navigant Consulting Inc., Europe, conducted a new assessment of the potential benefits from deployment of super-efficient air conditioners. The study found significant untapped potential for air conditioner efficiency, equivalent to avoiding over 120 Rosenfelds (i.e., 120 medium-sized [500 megawatt] power plants) by 2020 in the countries that were studied.

This landmark finding may have significant impact on energy-efficiency strategy for countries such as India and China as they attempt to cope with the impacts of the large demand and capacity required to address peak load. In India, China, and Brazil alone, electricity to power room ACs is expected to equal the output of five Three Gorges dams by 2020. Air conditioning also accounts for a significant portion of peak electricity demand-nearly 40 percent to 60 percent in some Indian cities in summer-which contributes to chronic electricity shortages.

Nihar Shah

Nihar Shah

Amol Phadke

Amol Phadke

Nihar Shah Nihar Shah Amol Phadke Amol Phadke

"The main significance of this study is that the estimated future electricity footprint of air conditioners is on par with or surpasses the electricity to be generated from renewable sources such as wind and solar," says Berkeley Lab scientist Nihar Shah, the report's lead author. "This implies that policies to promote more efficient air conditioning equipment should be pursued with a similar seriousness and concern."

The study was conducted in support of the Super-efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment (SEAD) initiative of the Clean Energy Ministerial. It found that air conditioning efficiency can be cost-effectively improved by 20 percent to 40 percent in most major economies.

"The information collected in the study can be used by governments and utilities to design a variety of air conditioner efficiency improvement policies and programs," said Amol Phadke, a co-author of the study and Deputy Leader of the International Energy Studies Group at Berkeley Lab.

Using the best technology that is already available can significantly improve energy efficiency-reducing energy use by 35 percent to 50 percent compared to the market average—and potentially save 100 Rosenfelds and reduce carbon emissions by about 240 megatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MT CO2e)/year in 2020. Using technology that is also cost effective—meaning the electricity savings over the lifetime of the AC unit would pay for any additional cost—can reduce energy use by 20 percent to 30 percent. Adopting energy-efficient AC technology that is also cost effective could save more than 192 terawatt-hours per year (TWh/yr) by 2020—saving 64 Rosenfelds. Widespread adoption of room ACs with variable speed compressors could further increase energy savings.

The study is the basis for a new three-pronged strategy being developed by the SEAD initiative to address the rapidly growing electricity demand from air conditioners: (1) creating common foundations for identifying efficient ACs in different climates by more effectively measuring real-world performance, (2) developing draft efficiency specifications using technology and cost data collected by SEAD, and (3) growing the market for highly efficient ACs by sharing and promoting best practices and providing technical assistance to create or enhance existing market transformation programs.

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of State and administered by the U.S. Department of Energy in support of the SEAD initiative. Researchers from Navigant Consulting, Inc., Europe, contributed to the report. Cooling the Planet: Opportunities for Deployment of Superefficient Room Air Conditioners can be downloaded the Superefficient.org website.

Additional information:


For information on getting involved with the SEAD air conditioning strategy, contact standards@superefficient.org.

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