The air conditioning boom in South-East Asia

According to a recent survey, Southeast Asia faces a looming crisis as more people crank up inefficient air conditioning (AC) to cope with rising temperatures.

Southeast Asia faces a looming crisis as more people crank up inefficient air-conditioning (AC) to cope with rising temperatures, according to a recent survey. The survey of 424 managers and experts from government agencies and multinational companies mainly in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam was conducted by Eco-Business and released at the end of January 2018.

The report concludes that this crisis could be avoided if the region adopts more efficient technologies and supports a culture change in cooling consumption.

In the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), electricity consumption has increased at a rate of around 7.5% annually since 1990. Over 80% of this electricity comes from fossil fuels, with coal-powered stations particularly dominant in Indonesia and Vietnam. Overall carbon dioxide emissions for the region have therefore grown at similar rates. The majority of citizens in ASEAN countries live in cities, and AC contributes to the bulk of the region’s electricity bill. AC is currently estimated to take up as much as 60% of the overall electricity load in cities with hot climates. Electricity demand in ASEAN countries is expected to more than double to 2,000 terawatt hours (TWh) by 2040. Most of this growth comes from the cooling of residential and commercial buildings: AC could thus account for up to 40% of overall electricity demand in ASEAN countries by 2040.


When energy consumption for ACs in ASEAN countries is forecast using the best available technology (BAT scenario), it seems clear that immense savings could be made, since the most advanced ACs are over 30% more efficient than the average products on the market. In two cases, Malaysia and Singapore, the BAT scenario would lead to an actual reduction in energy consumption by 2030 compared with 2015 levels.

However, there are multiple parameters and stakeholders to consider in implementing a region-wide upgrade. One of the main challenges is consumers’ lack of awareness, since only 7% (in The Philippines) to 38% (in Singapore) of the respondents to the survey highlight AC efficiency improvement as the best way of reducing CO2 emissions.

This lack of awareness is not helped by the experience of the average city dweller in the region, who regularly encounters excessive cooling in buildings which sends the message that controlling efficiency is not a major priority: 68% of respondents in Singapore indicate that they often encounter settings that are too cold.

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