Experts want air-con “clunkers” replaced to soften Victoria demand peaks, cut bills

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Industry body calls for more support to replace air conditioner “clunkers” as Victoria hails successes of energy efficiency scheme

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Industry experts have urged state governments to provide more incentives for households to replace their old and energy hungry air conditioning units, to help add to the billions being saved by energy efficiency schemes – and to help manage the demand peaks and grid problems expected in the extreme heat of the coming summer.

The call came as the Victorian Government estimates that its energy efficiency scheme has helped save households $3 billion in electricity costs since its inception in 2009.

The Victorian Energy Upgrades (VEU) scheme provides financial support for households to replace their old appliances with energy efficient alternatives, providing discounts on replacement lighting, hot water systems, heating and cooling systems and household appliances like televisions and fridges.

“Doing something as simple as installing energy efficient lights can make a big difference to power bills and this program makes it easier and cheaper to do,” Victorian energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio said.

The Energy Savings Industry Association has now urged the government to turn its attention to old, inefficient, air conditioning units, saying it would drive down energy costs and provide some relief to stained electricity networks during demand peak periods.

The VEU program provides incentives for the replacement of old air conditioning and space heating units with energy efficient alternatives, but they suggest more could be done because the high upfront cost of these newer efficient systems could be leading to households delaying replacements until old systems stop working altogether.

Air conditioners can be some of the largest contributors to summer peak demand, as households crank up their use during hot summer days and evenings. This places a strain on an electricity system that can often be battling to deal with an increasingly fragile fleet of coal  and gas fired generators.

Reducing the demand created by air conditioning units could be key to avoiding a repeat, and the spread, of load shedding events that have hit Victoria and South Australia in recent summers.

“We want old clunker air-conditioners changed out rapidly which will require a significant financial incentive, as households and businesses don’t bother otherwise – even though inefficient systems cost more to run,” president of the Energy Savings Industry Association (ESIA) Rod Woolley said.

“High volume change-outs will drive down peak demand significantly. This is especially high impact during high temperature days throughout summer when air conditioners go on simultaneously across Victoria – and in neighbouring heat-affected South Australia and New South Wales which all share power supply through massive transmission lines and interconnectors.”

Around 1.8 million homes have participated in the Victorian program during the 11 years it has been operating, along with more than 100,000 businesses. The Victorian government estimates that the average home could save $110 each year through energy efficiency measures, with the average business potentially saving $3,700 per annum.

The discounts are funded through the creation of Victorian energy efficiency certificates, corresponding to a one-tonne reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, with an obligation on electricity retailers to purchase a minimum number of certificates each year.

It is anticipated that a statutory review of VEU scheme will commence before the end of the year. Industry participants hope that this can serve as an opportunity to expand the scheme to additional appliances and accelerate the energy efficiency gains incentivised by the program.

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