British and Irish Lions Media Session

America currently uses more air conditioning than the rest of the world combined. That could change.


Stephen Lacey: August 13, 2013


America used to be the king of car sales, but China took that crown in 2009. America also used to be the world’s biggest polluter, but China now has that dubious distinction as well.

Now China — along with India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines — could be set to surpass the U.S. in air conditioning use. By a lot.

The U.S. uses more air conditioning than all other countries combined. But according to a new study from Michael Sivak, a research professor at the University of Michigan, eight developing countries (including the six Asian countries previously listed) could eventually put the U.S. to shame when it comes to air conditioning use.

Sivak developed an index for cooling demand by looking at mean daily outdoor temperatures and factoring those with population figures and distribution. He then normalized the index with U.S. values. The result is a projection for air conditioning usage if it were as widely used as in America:

If the rest of the world caught up with the U.S., the 169 countries surveyed by Sivak could represent demand 45 times greater than current U.S. demand. If every country in the world were factored in, demand could be more than 50 times greater than in America.

“It is clear that the global energy demand for air-conditioning will grow substantially as nations become more affluent, with the consequences of climate change potentially accelerating the demand. This trend will put additional strain not only on global energy resources but also on the environmental prospects of a warming planet,” wrote Sivak.

Sivak isn’t making a prediction about when this spike in demand will happen. He’s only projecting what would happen if countries adopted American standards of cooling. But he points out some notable trends. In India, the country with the highest potential usage spike, air conditioning sales are increasing by 20 percent each year. And in China, 50 million air conditioning units were sold in 2010.

Two other researchers at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency projected that global warming could increase cooling demand by 72 percent by the end of the century.

In June, the International Energy Agency issued a report calling for basic efficiency standards for appliances, motors and air conditioning units in developing countries, concluding that these simple measures could account for half the carbon emissions reductions needed to stabilize global temperature rise at two degrees Celsius by mid century.


  • Tom G.

    I wrote the following posting for another article a few days ago and slightly edited it for this article. Hopefully some people will find it interesting.

    Well finally, some action is being taken to improve the efficiency of many of the things we take for granted. BUT we still need to do MUCH more when it comes to air conditioning [AC] units. Better appliances and improved efficiency standards are really important but in many cases when I go looking for NEW standards to improve efficiency I can’t find very much. Its as if we intentionally bypass these things.

    I can’t find anything on PORTABLE AC units, or window units or residential AC or heat pumps [HP] below 65,000 BTU’s. Where I live in Arizona, USA almost ALL residential AC or HP units are from 24,000-42,000 BTU’s. And based on sales in the U.S. this size range would cover at last 90+% of all American homes.

    O.K. air conditioners. I have a real love and hate relationship with mine. First roll around units; you know the ones on wheels you can roll around from room to room. Like the ones you can buy at Lowes, Home Depot and some Kmart and Walmart stores. These units are ALMOST a good idea EXCEPT for one little problem. Almost all of these units carried at the above named stores have a single hose which blows the hot air from the AC unit out of the room it is cooling. O.K. so where does this air come from? Yup you guessed it – the same air you just paid your electric company to cool. This is the dumbest idea I have ever seen. Two hose units that use outside air to cool the unit are much more efficient.

    RECOMMENDATION – NEVER, EVER, buy a roll around AC unit that has only ONE HOSE. You are just wasting your money since it will be using the air you just paid to cool to cool itself. If I were in a position to MANDATE the elimination of these single hose units I would. I would only permit the sale of TWO HOSE units that use outside air to cool the refrigeration unit. This is just one example of a low hanging fruit we forgot to pick.

    O.K. so window AC units next. They seem to be available everywhere and we see millions sticking out of windows all over America. Talk about gross energy hogs. Most were manufactured in the 1990’s to about 2010 and had an EER rating of about 8-9. In the last few years we have been able to squeeze efficiency up to about 10.9 which STILL in my opinion an energy hog.

    RECOMMENDATION – I would mandate that all window air conditioners [including roll around units] be inverter style AC and HP units going forward. Inverter style units vary the speed of the cooling [or heating] to match the cooling or heating needs of the room they are installed in. Inverter units are SIGNIFICANTLY more efficient, less noisy, last longer, and provide a much more comfortable living environment since there is less starting and stopping of the units. There are also other considerations like less stress on the electrical grid and fewer spikes and dips in electrical lines. The reason I added in the heat pump feature is that for almost all of the U.S.; heat pumps can to some extent reduce the amount of oil or natural gas used for heating. While heat pumps do not work well below about 25 F they are very efficient above that temperature and can be used in many areas even in the winter. Asian countries are far ahead of the United States in this area since many of their units are already inverter units.

    RECOMMENDATION – We need to do a much better job of educating the public. I can’t remember how many homes I have walked into where the digital thermostat is set on 65 F. When I ask the homeowners why they have the temperature set so low they say “well it cools faster at that setting”. For the life of me I can’t figure out WHO is tell these people that setting the thermostat at 65 F makes a unit cool faster. A unit rated at 12,000 BTU for example, will produce 12,000 BTU @ 85 degrees REGARDLESS of what temperature you set on the thermostat.

    RECOMMENDATION – We need to change industry efficiency ratings and standards to IEER instead of EER and SEER ratings.

    In the U.S. we use different efficiency measurements for air conditioners than we do for heat pumps and still more efficiency ratings for combined units which is very confusing for the consumer. For example my neighbor recently asked me if I know the name of a good contractor. I asked if he was considering a air conditioning unit or heat pump. His immediate response was I have propane heat so why would I even want a heat pump.

    RECOMMENDATION – If you are buying a new AC unit for your home, make sure it also includes the HP function.

    Today heat pumps are far more efficient than even 95% condensing furnaces. For each unit of heat energy input you get about 3 units of heat energy output back with a heat pump. Most American consumers are unaware of the value of heat pumps. Today if you want to buy a new air conditioning unit for your home the difference between it and the cost of a combined AC and HP unit is normally less than $100.00. Combined units are just a no brainer today. Even if you only use the HP function 3 or 4 months a year the cost difference will be quickly recovered.

    RECOMMENDATION – Increase the minimum industry standard for residential AC units to 16 SEER to take effect in two years. This is already the typical SEER rating being manufactured by industry. Furthermore we should only permit the application of the Energy Star label to INVERTER style units rated at 20 SEER and above. Our tax dollars should only be used to encourage the American people buy the most efficient appliances they can. The Energy Star tax credits should be more than enough to cover the difference in cost of the inverter unit. This would also encourage the industry to move more quickly to significantly more efficient inverter units. There is just NO EXCUSE for us to be manufacturing 13-15 SEER air conditioning units in U.S.

    O.K while not mentioning these within the posting we need to think about the following.

    1. STOP putting AC units on the roofs of buildings. AC units are rated at 85 F for efficiencies and the temperatures on roofs can easily reach 110-150 F which outside temperatures may only be 90 F. Remember, the higher the temperature the LOWER the efficiency. That is the dumbest place I know of to put an air conditioner. If you must put an AC unit on the roof, make sure it is a water cooled unit.

    2. STOP designing homes and businesses with AC and heating ducts in attic spaces. Temperatures can easily reach 130-150 F in even ventilated attic spaces and air ducts are only insulated to R-8. Whenever possible put air handling units and air ducts INSIDE the building insulation envelope.

    3. STOP installing air handling units in the attic or in unheated or uncooled garage spaces. You are wasting about 5-10% of every energy dollar you spend. Again install these inside the insulation envelope whenever possible and permitted by Code.

    4. STOP installing AC units where they sit in the afternoon sun. Whenever possible install the unit where it will be shaded from the afternoon sun.

    5. STOP feeding the oil industry if you can afford to install a ground source heat pump to heat and cool your home. You will save hundreds [$] every year. Not only that your home will be much more quiet and comfortable.

    That’s it, I’m done. Getting down off my soapbox now.

    • inzi

      You don’t mention radiant heating. Do you have thoughts on it?

      • Tom G.

        Hi Inzi:

        Just happened to check back and saw your question. Do I have any thoughts on radiant heating. Yup sure do, LOL. It can be more comfortable [steady state of heating] instead of the off and on again of say a typical force air furnace. Of course some of the very latest models of furnaces modulate the heating capacity to eliminate most of the off and on highs and lows. All depends on how much you want to spend.

        Also radiant heating can be quite efficient when paired with say a 94% efficient boiler. But as noted above – heat pumps can be 300% or more. Or if you happen to live in an area subject to things like tornadoes, wind and hail storms, freezing ice and floods then certainly consider a back up system using a Combined Heat and Power [CHP] unit. A heat pump, air or ground source, are worthless without electric power.

        When it comes to anything using fossil fuel I see them as only a temporary solution since all fossil fuels will increase in cost over time. While natural gas is cheap now it might not be in 5 years when we start exporting billions and billions of cubic feet out of the country.

        Electric radiant heating is a little better than say a oil burning furnace since 1 unit of heat input results in 1 unit of heat output or 100% efficient. Of course electric heating is never perfect since there are pipes, air ducts, blowers, and etc. And of course electric rates vary across the country. Consider an electric furnace to be about the same as a typical standard 80% efficiency natural gas furnace. Of course if you have really cheap electric rates then that could change things.

        Floor heating using PEX tubing buried in concrete is about the most even heat you can get. A fossil fuel heat source or heat pump for example, providing hot water which is run through that PEX tubing might be one of the most efficient and comfortable systems available. It is NOT the cheapest system by any means but for someone who intends to own their home for a long period of time it is certainly worth considering.

        Hope this help. Have a wonderful day.

  • Emily Victor

    This is not surprise news to me because these countries are also improving and in future their income will be increased. These countries are hot countries and they need air conditioner. In USA most people have air conditioner so number of air conditioners will not increase in future in USA, but in India and China many people need air conditioner and they will purchase this. So this is natural.

  • john258

    I would want to see the air conditioning per capita stats.

  • Joseph smith

    To sort out such kind of problem we need to buy most energy efficient air conditioner. Panasonic introduces ECO NAVI air conditioner that are completely energy efficient.