China to enforce a more stringent energy efficiency standard for air conditioners

A new standard, which will come into effect on July 1, 2020, increases the minimum energy efficiency values of room air conditioners, resulting in the elimination of the least efficient air conditioners, i.e. 45% of the Chinese market.

As pointed out by the International Energy Agency (1), driven by increasing income and growing demand for thermal comfort mostly in urban areas, air conditioner (AC) sales in China have grown fivefold since 2000, accounting for nearly 40% of world sales in 2017. As around 40% of households still do not own an air conditioner, AC ownership could reach as much as 85% by 2030.

Consequently, China’s energy use for space cooling has increased dramatically, growing from 6.6 TWh in 1990 to 450 TWh in 2016. Due to the strong reliance on coal-fired power generation in China, this corresponds to about 28% of global air conditioning emissions. Furthermore, the IEA stressed that without strengthened policies and energy performance standards, space cooling electricity use could swell to 750 TWh or more by 2030. (2)


In a recent article, researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in the US (3) stress that the minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) existing until recently in China explain the high number of very low energy efficiency ACs currently in service. Until the end of 2019, China had kept two standards in force, one for fixed-speed-drive (FSD) dating from 2010 and the other one for variable-speed-drive (VSD) – “inverter” – room ACs dating from 2013. VSD ACs, equipped with a variable speed compressor, are more energy-efficient since they are able to adjust the cooling output to changes in demand.


The continuation in force of the standard relating to the FSD ACs, with requirements in terms of energy efficiency much less stringent than those applicable to VSD ACs, has kept on the Chinese market inefficient equipment, unlike the situation in Australia, Europe, Japan and the United States, where VSD ACs dominate the AC market. However, in recent years, China has been working on updating its room AC efficiency metrics and MEPS so that FSD and VSD ACs can be covered under a single harmonized standard. (3)

Finally, on December 31, 2019, the Chinese State Administration for Market Regulation and the National Standardization Administration issued the new standard “GB21455-2019: Minimum allowable values of the energy efficiency and energy efficiency grades for room air conditioners” (4). This standard, which replaces the two existing standards dedicated to FSD and VSD ACs, will be enforced on July 1, 2020.


According to JARN (5), the GB21455-2019 standard introduces changes such as unifying the efficiency evaluation method of the two types of room ACs, and utilizing seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) for cooling-only room ACs or annual performance factor (APF) for heat pump ACs. It also introduces a new energy efficiency Grade 1 which corresponds to a very high level of APF, i.e. 5.0. The implementation of the standard will phase out low energy efficiency room ACs, corresponding to an estimated total elimination rate of about 45% of the market.  In particular, “non-inverter” room ACs – categorized as Grade 4 and 5 – will be phased down and finally phased out in 2022. Even inverter room ACs with Grade 3 energy efficiency will be phased out.


JARN stresses that Chinese manufacturers have already developed products complying with the new standard. In particular, Haier released high energy efficiency ACs with an APF of 5.6 and TCL developed wall-mounted ACs and package units with an APF higher than 5.0. (4)


In their article (3), LBNL researchers have modelled the costs and benefits of this new standard. Their results suggest that it will allow cumulative CO2 emissions reductions of 12.8% between 2019 and 2050. This standard also will allow a cumulative saving of 2620 billion RMB (about 370 billion USD or 335 billion EUR) to Chinese AC users during the same period. In addition, continuous revision of the minimum energy performance values could more than double the overall benefit in terms of CO2 emissions reduction during the 2019-2050 period.


(1) International Energy Agency, The Future of Cooling in China. Link

(2)International Energy Agency, The Future of Cooling - Opportunities for energy efficient air conditioning. Link

(3)Karali N. et al; Improving the energy efficiency of room air conditioners in China: Costs and benefits; Applied Energy, January 2020. Link

(4)Code of China

(5)JARN, February 25, 2020