Measures for more energy-efficient air conditioning in Saudi Arabia

Date: 30 December 2020
Measures for more energy-efficient air conditioning in Saudi Arabia

According to a recent article, Saudi Arabia has the world’s highest share of air conditioning (AC) in household electricity consumption, at 70%. This compares with 57% in the United Arab Emirates, 25% in the U.S., 20% in Malaysia, 18% in India, 13% in Mexico and 12% in Egypt. [1] The authors of the article indicate that the cooling demand and its impact on electricity consumption are affected by temperature, AC unit efficiency, and other factors such as the size and type of dwelling to be cooled and subjective perceptions of comfort (e.g. thermostat or temperature setting).

Energy Efficiency Rating (EER) standards

Established in 2010, the Saudi Energy Efficiency Centre (SEEC) has steadily increased the minimum energy efficiency rating (EER) standards of all major AC types. Since 2007, the minimum EER for split-type AC units has risen from 7.5 to 11.8, and the EER for window-type units from 7.5 to 9.8. The current EER standard for commercial chillers is 9.7, and the variable refrigerant flow (VRF) rate is 11.2. The government has also introduced a price discount scheme for the purchase of highly efficient split AC units with an EER of 13.8 or higher. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the International Energy Agency (IEA) has examined the EERs in some countries and found large differences between the best units available on the market and the EER of the average unit purchased, including in Saudi Arabia. [2] 

The authors suggest that the minimum standards should be strengthened in order to close the gap between the average AC EER purchased and the best available EER. Furthermore, the adoption of a seasonal energy efficiency rating (SEER) rather than a standard rating (EER) is seen as one way to promote inverter units, since energy savings are estimated to be higher for inverter units with SEER energy performance labels.

Adoption of more energy-efficient models and “smart” ACs

According to the Japan Refrigeration and AC Industry Association (JRACIA) overview of world AC demand by region, relatively inefficient but cheaper window units accounted for 63% of the residential market in Saudi Arabia. In 2018, 772,000 window units were sold, compared to 455,000 of more efficient split units. The uptake of inverter (variable-speed drive) technology used in split units could result in energy savings of up to 30%.

Intra-year seasonality data reveals extreme variability between winter and summer temperatures and the corresponding demand for cooling. As a result, the daily electricity generation during the summer months (August or July) is almost twice as high as during the winter months (December or January). A likely explanation is that people manage their ACs and thermostat settings more actively during autumn or spring, whereas in the summer, once temperatures reach a certain level, the ACs are left to operate continuously. This provides a rationale for ‘smart’ ACs with networked connectivity to help consumers manage AC usage during the hot months, especially when they are not in their home or in a particular room.

For more details on policies related to electricity consumption and cooling demand in Saudi Arabia, the full article is available on FRIDOC.

[1] Howarth, N.; Odnoletkova, N.; Alshehri, T.; Almadani, A.; Lanza, A.; Patzek, T. Staying Cool in A Warming Climate: Temperature, Electricity and Air Conditioning in Saudi Arabia. Climate 2020, 8, 4. 

[2] IEA (2018), The Future of Cooling, IEA, Paris. 

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