Aussies are aircon ‘wasters’

A survey published by consumer comparison site Finder has highlighted the extent to which Australians waste energy by running their air conditioning when they are not at home.

The survey reports that 2.3 million Australians – or 24 per cent of the population – have their air conditioning running when they are out. Put another way, Australians are wasting on average almost an hour each day cooling their houses when nobody is home, adding almost $100 to their summer bills.

Finder’s Energy Expert Graham Cooke says that most of this “wastage” is generated from three main causes. These are people remotely activating their AC units to cool down their homes before they arrive, forgetting to turn them off when they leave, or setting them on timers.

“Our recommendation is to get smarter with home devices, to reduce the amount of time that the aircon is on unnecessarily,” says Cooke. “If you get the IFTTT (If This Then That) app for example, which is free, you can use a trigger based on your location, you can connect that directly to a modern Internet of Things (IoT) aircon, or you can get a universal remote control for all aircons that you can connect to the app.

“And you can then trigger your air conditioning to come on when you’re in within a certain distance of your home and turn off when you leave it. You can get the same thing to trigger your lights – it’s a great way to save energy.”

As reported in the February issue of Ecolibrium, however, there are differing perspectives on whether such technology really does save energy. Ethnographic studies conducted at the Centre for Urban Research at RMIT University have noted that the movement towards smart devices – and smart homes in general – is leading to an increased use of air conditioning and other appliances, rather than energy savings.

“[Smart homes] could increase our expectations for comfort,” says Associate Professor Yolande Strengers, “and make us desire more thermostatically controlled and very stable environments. They can elevate our standards in a way that could actually increase energy demand in the future.”

The same research revealed that, as well as smart technology, the need to keep pets and equipment cool could be major factors contributing to increased air conditioning use. This would suggest that the extra energy use is not so much waste, but rather an unidentified need for cooling when no one is at home.

The Finder report also highlights set-points as an area for potential savings. According to the survey, the average Australian’s air conditioner is set to 22°C.

“We normally recommend upping it to 24°C,” says Cooke. “Every degree higher you set it to can save about 10 per cent of the energy consumed, so you can save 20 or 30 per cent just by doing that.”

Although there have been campaigns encouraging offices to revise their set-points – such as Expand the Band – it appears there may be value in aiming similar initiatives at households.

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2 Replies to “Aussies are aircon ‘wasters’

  1. It may be true that some energy is wasted cooling or heating a home while the occupants are absent. However the article does not take into account the energy consumed by cooling or heating the thermal mass of the home once it has become hot or cold as the case may be.
    Most domestic air-conditioners these days are variable speed capacity control therefore the energy used running the A/C to prevent the thermal mass of the building from heating up or getting too cold is greatly reduced. The compressor and fans will run at lower speeds and therefore consume far less power than they would running at full speed. Generally this means your A/C may run longer but actually use less power than waiting untill 10 minutes before you get home to turn it on and having run flat out for 3 hours just to remove heat or add heat from or to the building structure.
    The article also does not appear to address impact on national power grids when, during a working week we all turn our Air-conditioners on at 6pm or 7pm on a day that has been 40°C + ?
    It would be far more useful to show the energy consumed by an average 6kW split system being used to cool or heat the home by turning the A/C on as you get home or 30 minutes beforehand vs setting the temperature up or down a couple of degrees and preventing the gain or loss of heat energy during the day. The data would need to be recorded at various ambient temperatures as well as on new construction homes vs and older construction homes to highlight the advantages of a thermally efficient domestic building on your energy usage.
    If people are armed with the correct information then they are equipped to make more informed and smarter choices.
    All of the major manufacturers of A/C systems take the time to educate their dealers on the best products and most efficient systems to use as well as the best way to use them.
    As it stands this article is just a headline basically accusing Australians of being lazy. Just a statement no facts. Something that is becoming very common in our society. I do not believe an organisation such as AIRAH should be giving oxygen to this sort of article.

    1. Hi Gary,

      Thanks for your comment. Energy used by cooling and heating in our homes is certainly a complex topic, and the intention of the article was not to dumb it down, but rather to highlight a report that has been picked up by mainstream media and provide a more nuanced view by pointing out the links between smart homes and energy use, and the overlooked “pet factor” in Australia.

      Another finding of the ethnographic research mentioned in the article was that comfort is more of a driver for smart home users than energy efficiency; that is, although studies could show that running an AC all day at a lower load reduces energy consumption, it still might not change behaviour. What appears to be driving the AC use mentioned is the desire for a cool/warm home when someone arrives home, not a desire to spare the grid or save the planet. So, will people armed with the correct information really make smarter decisions? It may not be that straightforward.

      We invite you to read AIRAH’s publications, available online, for more in-depth analysis of this and other topics related to HVAC&R.

      In general, AIRAH recommends the following approach:
      – Ensure the building envelope is as efficient as possible (for new build) and addressed for existing build too.
      – Work out your minimum needs (whether heating or cooling). Consider a “climate refuge” for really hot or really cold weather – i.e., don’t try to make the whole house comfortable.
      – Select, install and commission the most efficient bit of kit possible in accordance with AS 5141 by a licensed technician, and maintain and operate it well.
      – Use low-carbon energy to run it where possible.

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