Latest trends in global energy-saving regulations

Standards and regulations relating to air conditioners in each country have increasingly become more diversified each year, with a wider scope of targeted products and stricter requirements. Regulations are classified as voluntary (recommended) and mandatory. In case of mandatory regulations, manufacturers must comply with regulations by changing product specifications or withdraw from the market since the import, production, and sale of noncompliant products are prohibited. Compliance with regulations often varies. Depending on the circumstances, manufacturers must either submit a self-certification of conformity or have their products tested by a third-part inspection body authorized by regulatory authorities.

Most countries across the globe require certification of products safety based on International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards and a performance inspection. Recently, more countries are implementing regulations relating to the issue of global environment. Environmental regulations tend to start with energy-saving regulations, then progress to refrigerant regulations, hazardous substances regulations, and recycling regulations.

Energy-saving regulations in developed countries

The electricity consumption of air conditioners continues to rapidly expand as more air conditioners are installed. Many governments have established policies to curb increases in electricity consumption and reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions through the promotion of high energy-efficient air conditioners. Generally speaking, energy-labeling that ranks energy efficiency by product category is required to enable end users to easily distinguish energy efficiency. In other words, although energy-saving products are expensive, end users can expect to save on electrical bills if they choose the more expensive products. However, a considerable number of countries keep electricity rates low with government subsidies, and it is difficult to significantly raise electricity rates since this often proves quite unpopular with the people. Accordingly, end users in countries where electricity rates are low compared with consumers price levels have a lower awareness for energy savings and pay less attention to more expensive energy-efficient products.

More countries implement minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) upon introduction of energy-labeling schemes and prohibit sales of products with energy efficiency ratios (EER) lower than the rated values. Furthermore, the rated values are raised generally every three to five years. Similarly, subsidy schemes for high energy-efficient products often appear, but such schemes are quickly reduced or discontinued in face of tighter financial conditions. Energy-savings regulations at this outset usually target only residential-use window type and wall-mounted single split type air conditioners with capacities of less than 7 to 10 kW. The minimum EER values are then raised, and the targeted scope of products is enlarged to include commercial-use cassette and ducted type packaged air conditioners (PACs) and multi-splits. Variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems are targeted at the next stage.

Conventionally, EER has been commonly adopted as an index for evaluating energy-saving performance. However, inverter type units that can curtail electricity consumption according to load fluctuations enjoy advantages in markets with sharp fluctuations of cooling and heating load throughout the year. In recent years, the tendency toward adopting ‘seasonal efficiency’ as an index for evaluating energy-saving performance during an air conditioner’s operating period takes into consideration the season instead of evaluating solely on rated performance. Japan adopted the annual performance factor (APF); the United States, the seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER); and straight cooling regions, such as Southeast Asia, the cooling seasonal performance factor (CSPF), respectively. The Japanese Ministry Of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) mainly encourages developing countries in Asia to promote energy-saving regulations that evaluate performance with indexes of seasonal efficiency that are supported with the full cooperation of Japan Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Industry Association (JRAIA).

In the European Union (EU), the Directive on Ecodesign of Energy-using Products (EuP) was revised to the Directive on Ecodesign of Energy-related Products (ErP) in November 2009, enlarging its targeted scope to include energy-related products in general and aiming to promote energy-savings with environment-conscious eco-design. This in the world’s first regulation to require environmental-conscious products design during the entire life cycle, from acquiring raw materials to product disposal. The ErP Directive has been adopted by the regions surrounding the EU.

Generally speaking, the penetration rate of high energy-efficient split type inverter air conditioners is rather high in countries with strict energy-saving regulations. In North America, the Middle East, and Latin America, there remains an unusually high penetration rate for fixed-speed window type air conditioners. This outdated approach is the result of end users lacking an awareness for energy savings due to the particularly low electricity rates relative to user incomes.

Although the United Stated raised the minimum rated value from SEER 10 to 13 for residential-use single-phase air conditioners with capacities less than 65,000 BTU/h (about 19kW) in January 2006, split type inverter air conditioners still remain niche products with 7 to 8 % share in the RAC market. However, the inverter ratio of the market is expected to gradually grow since the minimum SEER values will be raised again from 13 to 14 % from June 2017 in the southeastern and southwestern regions.

Unlike the United States, the inverter ratio of RAC markets in the EU, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand has reached 100 %. Even in Singapore, Taiwan and Turkey the ratio exceeds 80 %, whereas in China and South Africa the ratio is about 60 %.

Energy-saving regulations in developing countries

CSPF adoption has accelerated in Asian countries. In Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and India, there has either been a shift from EER to CSPF or a commitment to shift. The energy-savings regulations in Thailand and Indonesia adopted weighted average EER (0.4 x EER at 100 % load + 0.6 x EER at 50 % load).

In Latin America, Brazil started first with a voluntary energy-labeling scheme at the end of 2003 and made MEPS regulations mandatory in 2008. It was followed by Argentina, Chile and Mexico. Energy-labeling and MEPS regulations were implemented in Uruguay in May 2016, and in Colombia at the end of August 2016, respectively. Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, implemented an energy-labeling regulation mandated by U.S. federal legislation.

In Mexico, a draft for a revised energy-saving regulation was announced in which the country will adopt its own seasonal energy efficiency ratio called Relación de Eficiencia Energética Estacional (REEE). Its energy labeling system requires no indication of grade but instead shows the percentage of increase in efficiency compared with MEPS values.
In Africa, there is no clear information on energy-saving regulations thus far except in South Africa, bur Kenya announced energy-labeling and MEPS regulations in July 2016 that will be made mandatory in July 2017. Egypt also announced energy-labeling regulations in November 2016 that will be mandatory in May 2017.

Trends to integrate energy-saving regulations

Upon introduction of an energy-labeling scheme and SEER as well as raising the minimum rated values, trends indicate an attempt to integrate energy-saving regulations in each region. Turkey and Jordan, which are in a region surrounding the EU, introduced the ErP Directive in 2014. Each Mediterranean coastal country in the Middle East and Northern Africa is likely to conclude conformity assessment agreements called Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of industrial Products (ACAA) with the EU. The ACAA is expected to harmonize local regulations with the EU´s to eliminate trade barriers.

The five countries of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz, and Russia, which comprise the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), aim to create a single economic zone similar to the EU and are investigating the immediate integration and common adoption of EU safety regulations and the ErP Directive for EAEU technical regulations.

The ASEAN SHINE sponsored by the united Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Copper Association (ICA) is the EU’s multilateral program aiming to promote harmonization of performance test methods and energy-saving regulations and introduction of common minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) rated values as well as consumer awareness towards saving electricity in the ASEAN region. It is expected that straight cooling type inverter air conditioners will become mainstream in the region through integration of each country’s rated values as well as through adoption of the seasonal efficiency standards.

Also, the Barrier Removal to the Cost-Effective Development and Implementation of Energy Efficiency standards and labeling (BRESL) project is an international cooperation project sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), including the six Asian countries of China, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Although BRESL was likely to summarize a plan to evaluate fixed-speed room air conditioners (RACs) by EER and inverter RACs by weighted average EER, the Japanese air conditioner industry has suggested BRESL to adopt international seasonal efficiency standards (ISO 16358) instead.

The Gulf Cooperation Council Standardization (GSO) which includes Yemen and the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member countries of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, aims to integrate standards and regulations in the Gulf region. The mandatory unified safety standard requires manufactures from July 2016 to display a G-mark on products that comply with the standards. However, in regards to energy-savings regulations, each country still has its own regulation. At this moment, Saudi Arabia and UAE are individually studying their own draft of energy-saving regulations targeting large-sized air conditioners. On the other hand, Bahrain and Qatar have implemented energy-labeling and MEPS regulations in July 2016. These regulations seem comparable with Saudi Standards, Metrology and Quality Organization (SASO) standards. This suggests that energy-saving regulations in the Gulf region will be tailored in the future to Saudi Arabian standards, which are the strictest in the Gulf.

Green building certification system

Environmentally-friendly buildings are called ‘green buildings’. Schemes promoting energy savings of an entire building are found in various contries through the spread of green buildings. In the EU, recent air conditioners can sufficiently cool or heat at on-size smaller capacities than before, since the performance of thermal insulation in floors, walls and window frames has been raised due to the ErP Directive. This has contributed to the promotion of energy savings for the entire building. The energy performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) implemented in 2002 aims to reduce energy use in houses and buildings and requires real estate agents to submit Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) at the time of real estate transactions. Display of an EPC evaluation was first required for public buildings with a floor-space area exceeding 1,000 m2, and now the requirement is for an area in excess of 250 m2.

In the United States, the U.S. Green Building Council (USBGC) developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system. The LEED rating system is a program that provides third-party verification of green buildings. Only buildings verified by the LEED can be called green buildings in the United States.

LEED targets new and existing commercial buildings and houses. New construction of green buildings and green renovation is increasing rapidly. This can help reduce environmental local and operating costs, including utilities, and have a positive impact on the health of residents. Another benefit is higher property values. Currently, green buildings seem to occupy roughly half of new commercial building construction in the United States. Local governments are also actively introducing the LEED system. In 2005, New York City implemented its Green Building Law, which requires LEED verification in the case of city projects with construction costs exceeding USD 2 Million.

In Japan, the Comprehensive Assessment System for Built Environment Efficiency (CASBEE) was developed by the Japan Sustainable Building Consortium (JSBC) in 2001. It is widely used as a standard evaluating environmental performance of buildings. CASBEE is run and promoted by the Institute for Building Environment and Energy Conservation (IBEC). Also, the Development Bank of Japan (DBJ) began a financial service called DBH Green Building Certification in 2011. In Japan, not only skyscrapers but also small and medium-sized buildings typically are green buildings.

In 1999, green building councils in eight countries established the World Green Building Council (WGBC), aiming to jointly promote green buildings across the world. Its secretariat is located in Toronto, Canada, and the network covers organizational bodies promoting green buildings in over 100 countries and includes JSBC as a founding WGBC member.

While situations differ according to the country, energy-saving regulations of air conditioners is being introduced and tightened in each country. To meet stricter regulations in each country, the entire global market is increasingly witnessing a remarkable shift from fixed-speed units to inverter units.


JARN February 25 and March 25, 2017