The demand for high efficiency central air conditioning systems in the U.S. can be segmented into several categories.
- One type of efficiency buyer is mostly interested in the financial/economic incentives and these consumers tend to come and go with the vagaries of government and utility based incentives.
- Another type of efficiency buyer tends to be influenced by either the current or anticipated future impact of energy costs and these consumers tend to come and go with fluctuations in various related and unrelated energy costs (e.g. electricity, oil, gasoline, natural gas, etc.).
- The third type of efficiency buyer tends to be influenced less by economic concerns and is more influenced by environmental, comfort and technology concerns. These high efficiency consumers tend to stay in the market irrespective of other factors but only to the point that the prices for high efficiency equipment are not too high. At very high price points, these consumers typically decide to invest in other products and services to meet their needs.
In summary, we believe the communication of all the benefits of higher efficiency systems is important to maximize their adoption. Communication should not be limited to only talking about energy savings or economic payback, but should always include the total benefits, such as environmental, technological and comfort considerations.
Emerson Climate Technologies, who sponsors this site, has identified a phenomenon related to what type of air conditioning equipment consumers “say” they would want to buy and what they actually buy as defined by industry statistics. Basically, Emerson’s research suggests that almost 70 percent of consumers polled indicate they would purchase premium systems based on the factors discussed above (economic payback, energy savings, comfort, etc.) but in reality only about 30 percent actually purchase these systems. Emerson has continued to research the reasons for this disparity and the initial findings suggest that while there are a number of factors affecting this decision, some of the major influencing elements are:
- The timing of the equipment replacement decision which limits the consumer’s ability to make good decisions (e.g. peak season failure), particularly if the homeowner had not planned for the financial investment for replacing the system
- The availability of basic information on all the factors which come to bear in their HVAC investment decisions, alternatives available, etc., leading to confusion and anxiety
- The effect of the poor state of the general economic recovery, high rates of unemployment and “underemployment” along with gloomy consumer expectations
- Skepticism about further investments in their homes due to lower real estate values and their ability to secure financing for home purchases and home improvements
Emerson believes continued consumer education programs focused on the above four areas is essential to a successful campaign to drive increased consumer adoption of higher efficiency central air conditioning systems.
In order to drive higher adoption of high efficiency systems, the industry should provide:
- Affordable alternatives to basic, minimum efficiency systems
- A “step change” in cost-effective energy efficiency upgrades that translates into quantifiable future cost savings
- Equipment that can provide a noticeable improvement in other factors such as comfort and indoor air quality along with effective communications which can explain “comfort” to consumers
- Some flexibility to zone off certain areas of the home – either manually or automatically without damaging their HVAC equipment
- Easy installation into existing homes with ducted central AC infrastructure (75percent of segment)
- Equipment that is sized to fit into the common space allowed for HVAC systems in existing homes
- The optional ability to tie into peak-load management and other connected system controls where regional requirements require it
As an industry, we should continue to promote the development of superior HVAC systems that truly meet the needs of consumers and then also (and maybe more importantly) develop effective ways to communicate and sell these systems and the benefits they can provide.