Air-conditioning may be to blame for Australian power outages

The current heatwave in Australia of some 40 degrees Celsius is leading many to turn up their air-conditioning – triggering power outages.

Australia is currently experiencing a heat wave. As a result the governments in New South Wales (NSW) and Australian Capital Territory (ACT) have warned residents that air-conditioners should go no lower than 20 degrees Celsius. Authorities warn any extra power could lead to load shedding.

The issue of energy demand is not limited to the eastern seaboard. The Guardian reports that the use of air-conditioning is being blamed for the blackout that affected 40,000 people in South Australia on Thursday.

AEMO, the Australian Energy Market Operator, expects energy demand to be at its highest in six years.

Residents in NSW and the ACT have been asked to turn off all electronics between 3.30pm and 6pm today, so other power grids do not fail.

The temperature is only set to get worse on Saturday. Stephen Wood, a senior forecaster at the Bureau of Meteorology, said about 20% of Australia would go on to experience high temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius.

Reducing energy consumption of air-conditioners

During the twenty-second meeting of the Conference of Parties on Climate Change in Marrakesh (COP22) last November, Didier Coulomb, director-general of the International Institute of Refrigeration, put pressure on the refrigeration and air-conditioning sector to improve energy efficiency and reduce HFCs, to meet the pledges of Kigali Amendment and the Paris Agreement to significantly reduce global emissions and energy consumption.

“The replacement of today’s technologies using high-GWP refrigerants needs to go hand in hand with a true effort of increasing the energy efficiency of facilities and systems more generally,” Coulomb told delegates at COP22.

Recent reports by the Montreal Protocol-funded PRAHA project and natural refrigerant advocates Eurammon have pointed out that the natural refrigerant propane could increase the energy efficiency of air-conditioning systems.

“Propane [...] is considered to be one of the most efficient refrigerants,” Eurammon says in its latest paper on hydrocarbons. It points out that hydrocarbons are already being applied to air-conditioning systems.

Ahead of the upcoming global HFC phase-down, a Multilateral Fund of the Montreal Protocol-backed project investigated the feasibility of alternatives to HFCs. R290 air-conditioning emerged as the leading alternative given its superior performance to traditional systems.

Researchers for the project ‘Promoting Low-GWP Refrigerants for Air-Conditioning Sectors in High-Ambient Temperature Countries’ – also referred to as PRAHA – write, “using HC-290 has a higher cooling capacity than the base HCFC-22, and a similar EER [energy efficiency relative]”.

Unlike the northern hemisphere, Australia’s energy consumption peaks in the summer months. This is directly attributed to the use of air-conditioning. Energy-efficient air conditioners reduce energy consumption.

By Charlotte McLaughlin

Feb 10, 2017, 18:00

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