It's not easy evaluating the differences between different air conditioners - especially with so many different models on the market, and with so many different technologies being constantly introduced to improve performance and efficiency. Thanks to the efforts of the Federal Government though, there are some basic requirements that all residential air conditioners need to adhere to, and they all now come bearing a label that gives some indication of their efficiency and the various things they're capable of beyond just cooling.
Energy rating labels
The most obvious indication of how efficient an air conditioner is, for most people, is the star rating it's given under the Federal Government's energy rating system. Air conditioners are now rated up to 10 stars, with six to 10 star rated appliances highlighted by a second row of stars on the label.
Energy efficiency labels on air conditioners show:
- The brand and model name of the unit
- A star rating - measured in terms of how well the unit performs under standardised test conditions
- Power input - how much power the air conditioner consumes under a standard set of conditions
- Capacity output - the cooling capacity of the unit under a standard set of conditions
- Input and output data for heating cycles, if the unit is a reverse cycle air conditioner
- Variable output compressor - this part indicates whether or not the air conditioner uses an inverter for added efficiency
- Demand response capabilities - the demand response modes, as outlined below
Demand response modes for 'PeakSmart' air conditioners
Another interesting aspect of air conditioner energy efficiency labels is that they now list the 'Demand Response Modes' that the system is capable of. Demand response refers to a system that allows the power company to send a signal to your smart meter to control how your air conditioner operates. Systems with demand response systems are also referred to as 'PeakSmart' aircondidtioners.
This is particularly useful for preventing rolling blackouts on hot days when electricity demands soar. The demand response modes for PeakSmart air conditioners are:
- Mode 1 - Turn the compressor off
- Mode 2 - Restrict operation to less than or equal to 50% of rated heating or cooling capacity
- Mode 3 - Restrict operation to less than or equal to 75% of rated heating or cooling capacity
Another function of demand response / PeakSmart capabilities is to allow the meter to automatically limit the air conditioner's energy usage based on the electricity price. This is particularly important if your electricity supply is regulated based on peak and non-peak rates.
For now, these modes are a voluntary measure for manufacturers in Australia. In Queensland, energy suppliers are now offering significant financial rewards to people who install demand-response ready airconditioners.
Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) are one way the Federal Government is working to ensure that only the most efficient air conditioners are available in the Australian marketplace. They are a powerful tool in reducing our overall power consumption. All air conditioners that have been made in or imported to Australia since 1987 are subject to MEPS. The only real exclusions that apply to residential installations are multi-split systems (i.e., those having more than one indoor unit with an independent control for each), and evaporative coolers or other types of coolers that don't use the same mechanisms as refrigerative air conditioners.