BERKELEY, Calif. — A new assessment of the potential benefits from deploying super-efficient air conditioners has found significant untapped potential for air conditioner efficiency that could avoid more than 120 medium-sized (500 MW) power plants in the countries studied by 2020. The International Energy Studies group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in collaboration with Navigant Consulting Inc. Europe conducted the study.

The countries analyzed in the study include: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Commission, France, Germany, India, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The authors of the report noted that the study’s finding could have a major impact on energy efficiency strategy for countries such as India and China as they attempt to cope with high energy demand and the capacity required to address peak load.

“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,” said LBNL scientist Nihar Shah, the lead author of the report. “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, and found that air conditioning efficiency can be cost-effectively improved by 20 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 coauthor of the study who is deputy leader of the International Energy Studies Group at LBNL.

The study is the basis for a new strategy in development by the SEAD initiative to address the rapidly growing electricity demand from air conditioners. In India, China, and Brazil alone, electricity demand to power room air conditioners is expected to equal the output of five Three Gorges Dams by 2020 — more than 500 terawatt-hours (trillion watt-hours, TWh/yr). Adoption of cost-effective efficiency levels would save more than 140 TWh per year by 2020.

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of State, and administered by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in support of the SEAD initiative. Researchers from Navigant Consulting Inc. Europe contributed to the report.

Publication date: 4/29/2013