World air-conditioning market: figures and technical trends

The global air conditioning market, which slowed down in 2018, was characterised by several trends: accelerated penetration of inverter technology, confirmation of R32 as alternative refrigerant, penetration of smart air conditioners.

According to JARN1, after five years of rapid growth, the world air-conditioner (AC) market began to slow down significantly in 2018 with a 0.6% year-on-year increase, corresponding to a total demand of 130.1 million units.

China, despite a 2.3% decline in 2018 compared with 2017, remained the first AC market with 59.5 million units sold. China’s AC export volume – including foreign brands produced in China – reached 49.1 million units, indicating a 9% year-on-year growth. The highest rate of owning ACs is in Japan where it has reached 2.7 units per household.

JARN forecasts a 3% increase of the global AC market in 2019, with the following geographical breakdown (in million units sold):


The main recent technical trends regarding the 2018 global AC market were the following:

  • Accelerated penetration of inverter technology

  • As an energy-saving product and thanks to standards encouraging their use in several countries, inverter ACs are becoming more popular.

    In China, according to China Market Monitor, inverter ACs accounted for 70% of the total retail volume in refrigeration year 2018 (ending July 2018), and grade-one energy efficiency ACs accounted for 44% of it, indicating a 14% year-on-year growth.

    Two years ago, inverter ACs represented only 30% of all room ACs in Thailand. This figure increased at 50% in 2018 and is expected to reach 60% in 2019 and 80% in 2020.

    In India, inverter units in split-type room AC market accounted for about 15% in 2017 and 35% in 2018.

    Similar trends are observed in Japan, Australia, Europe, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam.

    However, the percentage of inverters in the traditional USA unitary segment is still very low at 4%. One factor hindering the uptake of inverter technology is the high initial cost, which today is roughly 20-25% higher while manufacturers are developing inverter units with seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) reaching 20-24.

  • Confirmation of R32 as alternative refrigerant

  • Japanese manufacturers had pioneered the use of R32 refrigerant in ACs. From 2016, several Chinese manufacturers also launched R32 products in the domestic and overseas markets. Southeast Asia, India and Europe have also accelerated a shift to R32 in 2018.

  • Penetration of smart ACs

  • New room AC models utilizing Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) were recently launched by several Japanese manufacturers. Thanks to these technologies, some functions that were unimaginable in the past are available right now.

    AI allows notably to foresee changes in room temperatures and controls the room AC to offer constant comfort by analyzing the residents’ sensitivity to cool or warm environments during the daily operation and by judging the influence of changes in the outdoor temperature and solar radiation, and also the influence of tiny heat sources.

    Beyond contribution to more comfort and energy savings, AI and IoT can monitor vulnerable situations of elderly persons. For example, in Japan where one in three persons are over 60 years old, Panasonic and Fujitsu have teamed up to design an in-home monitoring service that combines the functionalities of the air conditioner and the non-contact life-sign sensors – a feature that is essential when senior citizens live on their own.<2

1 JARN, January 25, 2019