Lessons Learned From Incentive Programs for Efficient Air Conditioners: A Review

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One of the largest drivers of growing global energy demand is the increasing market penetration of air conditioners (ACs). Global sales of room ACs were up 9% in 2013 compared to 2012, and that growth is expected to accelerate in coming decades, particularly in large metropolitan areas with hot climates. This report focuses on financial incentive programs that aim to mitigate the energy consumption attributable to the growing stock of ACs. Financial incentives leverage private investments to pull higher-efficiency technologies into the market. Through detailed case studies of AC energy-efficiency incentive programs, we show the significance and diversity of these programs and describe and share lessons learned from their design and implementation. The report also describes how incentive programs can be designed to address other pressing concerns related to growing AC use, such as challenges to power supply reliability resulting from increased peak demand and the global warming potential (GWP) of AC refrigerants.

For policy makers and program administrators interested in addressing AC energy efficiency through incentive schemes, the report provides examples of past and present programs and highlights challenges that need to be considered when making program design and implementation decisions. The report begins with an overview of AC markets, highlighting their growth and savings potential, recent achievements from minimum energy performance standards, and typical barriers to the penetration of more efficient AC models. Next, we examine six AC incentive programs in depth, based on evaluation reports and/or interviews with program administrators. Finally, we outline program design features that could a) increase penetration of energy-efficient ACs, b) increase utility and customer participation in demand response programs targeted at reducing peak-load impacts, and c) phase out the use of high-GWP refrigerants in ACs. We find that incentive programs are particularly effective when they target emerging technologies that have still a low penetration in the market.

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