OECD Observer
Cool China

When a blackout hit part of New York recently, some people blamed the air conditioning, as demand soared during a heat wave. Air conditioning has caught on around the world, which means year-round demand for energy beyond cold winters, and so bigger bills and environmental costs.

New technology, such as Canada’s innovation to tap low temperatures from lakes to cool city tower blocks, can help relieve the strain. So can new practices. In June 2007, the Chinese government decided to limit the cooling of air conditioners in public buildings to 26°C (79°F). The State Council further announced that only energy-efficient models of air conditioners, and of energy-sucking computers and printers, will be considered for purchase in the future.

The International Energy Agency (IEA), a sister organisation of the OECD, reports that increasing the energy efficiency of such appliances could help decelerate soaring energy consumption in emerging countries. In China, the use of air conditioners alone has increased from 8% of urban area households in 1995 to 70% in 2004, and the trend is expected to continue as more households become wealthier and cities expand.

Higher energy efficiency comes at a price, yet the IEA believes it could help reduce electricity consumption in China by 38%, and bring a sharp reduction in CO2 emissions. China is a major global supplier of air conditioners and a quarter of its exports are shipped to developing countries. This means a balance between better technology and competitive pricing could bring energy cost-savings and environmental benefits to China’s customers too.

IEA (2007), “Energy Efficiency of Air Conditioners in Developing Countries and the Role of CDM”, OECD, Paris.

©OECD Observer No. 262, July 2007

See www.iea.org
And www.oecd.org/ccnm/china
See also OECD's Chinese site: www.oecdchina.org