Benefits of Leapfrogging to Superefficiency and Low Global Warming Potential Refrigerants in Room Air Conditioning

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Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) emitted from uses such as refrigerants and thermal insulating foam, are now the fastest growing greenhouse gases (GHGs), with global warming potentials (GWP) thousands of times higher than carbon dioxide (CO2). Because of the short lifetime of these molecules in the atmosphere, mitigating the amount of these short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) provides a faster path to climate change mitigation than control of CO2 alone. This has led to proposals from Africa, Europe, India, Island States, and North America to amend the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (Montreal Protocol) to phase-down high-GWP HFCs.

Simultaneously, energy efficiency market transformation programs such as standards, labeling and incentive programs are endeavoring to improve the energy efficiency for refrigeration and air conditioning equipment to provide life cycle cost, energy, GHG, and peak load savings.

In this paper we provide an estimate of the magnitude of such GHG and peak electric load savings potential, for room air conditioning, if the refrigerant transition and energy efficiency improvement policies are implemented either separately or in parallel.

We find that implementing HFC refrigerant transition and energy efficiency improvement policies in parallel for room air conditioning, roughly doubles the benefit of either policy implemented separately. We estimate that shifting the 2030 world stock of room air conditioners from the low efficiency technology using high-GWP refrigerants to higher efficiency technology and low-GWP refrigerants in parallel would save between 340-790 gigawatts (GW) of peak load globally, which is roughly equivalent to avoiding 680-1550 peak power plants of 500MW each. This would save 0.85 GT/year annually in China equivalent to over 8 Three Gorges dams and over 0.32 GT/year annually in India equivalent to roughly twice India’s 100GW solar mission target.

While there is some uncertainty associated with emissions and growth projections, moving to efficient room air conditioning (~30% more efficient than current technology) in parallel with low-GWP refrigerants in room air conditioning could avoid up to ~25 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2030, ~33 billion in 2040, and ~40 billion in 2050, i.e. cumulative savings up to 98 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2050.

Therefore, superefficient room ACs using low-GWP refrigerants merit serious consideration to maximize peak load reduction and GHG savings.


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