Challenges and Recommended Policies for Simultaneous Global Implementation of Low-GWP Refrigerants and High Efficiency in Room Air Conditioners

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Increasing incomes, electrification, and urbanization—as well as a warming world—are driving up the global stock of air conditioners (ACs), particularly in emerging economies with hot climates. AC energy consumption is expected to increase substantially as the global stock of room ACs rises to 1.5 billion in 2030 and 2.5 billion in 2050. Hence, improving AC energy efficiency will be critical to reducing AC energy, cost (consumer lifecycle cost, electricity generation cost, etc.), peak load, and emissions impacts. The 2016 Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol offers an opportunity to improve AC energy efficiency in tandem with the phasedown of high global warming potential (GWP) hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants. Based on the most recent information, a literature review, and interviews with manufacturers and industry experts, we find the main barriers to deploying high-efficiency ACs include concerns about market demand and cost, which could be mitigated by appropriately improved design of market-transformation programs such as standards and labeling, incentive, and procurement programs. The main barriers to the low-GWP refrigerant transition include the need for timely revision of safety standards and associated costs for capacity-building activities allowing safe use of low-GWP refrigerants in ACs. Policy action and the market transformation can be accelerated by advancing the refrigerant transition and efficiency improvements in parallel.

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