Improving the energy efficiency of room air conditioners (RACs) while transitioning to low global-warming-potential (GWP) refrigerants will be a critical step toward reducing the energy, peak load, and emissions impacts of RACs while keeping costs low. Previous research quantified the benefits of leapfrogging to high efficiency in tandem with the transition to low-GWP refrigerants for RACs (Shah et al., 2015) and identified opportunities for initial action to coordinate energy efficiency with refrigerant transition in economies constituting about 65% of the global RAC market (Shah et al., 2017).
This report describes further research performed to identify the best-performing (i.e., most efficient and low-GWP-refrigerant using) RACs on the market, to support an understanding of the best available technology (BAT). Understanding BAT can help support market-transformation programs for high-efficiency and low-GWP equipment such as minimum energy performance standards (MEPS), labeling, procurement, and incentive programs.
We studied RACs available in six economies—China, Europe, India, Japan, South Korea, and the United States—that together account for about 70% of global RAC demand, as well as other emerging economies. The following are our key findings:
• Highly efficient RACs using low-GWP refrigerants, e.g., HFC-32 (R-32) and HC-290 (R-290), are commercially available today at prices comparable to similar RACs using high-GWP HCFC-22 (R-22) or HFC-410A (R-410A).
• High efficiency is typically a feature of high-end products. However, highly efficient, cost-competitive (less than 1,000 or 1,500 U.S. dollars in retail price, depending on size) RACs are available.
• Where R-22 is being phased out, high GWP R-410A still dominates RAC sales in most mature markets except Japan, where R-32 dominates.
• In all of the economies studied except Japan, only a few models are energy efficient and use low-GWP refrigerants. For example, in Europe, India, and Indonesia, the highest-efficiency RAC models employ the low-GWP refrigerants R-32 or R-290.
• RACs are available in most regions and worldwide that surpass the highest efficiency levels recognized by labeling programs.
• Fixed-speed RACs using high-GWP and ozone-depleting R-22 refrigerant still dominate the market in many emerging economies.
There is significant scope to improve RAC efficiency and transition to low-GWP refrigerants using commercially available technology and to design market-transformation programs for high-efficiency, low-GWP equipment including standards, labeling, procurement, and incentive programs.