Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

A View from the Outside at Texas’ Love Affair with AC

Photo courtesy of A. Seigel www.flickr.com/photos/a_siegel/

AC use is a big driver in electricity usage during the summer in Texas.

I’m as annoyed as the next guy by reductionist cliches about about our state. But sometimes they feel so good, like air conditioning on a hot Texas summer day.

Air conditioning. It’s as Texas as cowboy hats and high school football. But, as we noted ast week, it’s also partially responsible for Texas’ impending electricity shortage. And in other parts of the world, its use is highly regulated to save power. That’s something Texans should consider as they tackle the state’s energy challenges, says Mincheul Kwon, a South Korean journalist visiting Austin from Seoul.

“In South Korea the government regulates indoor temperature in summer,” Kwon says in a report for KUT Austin. “Large commercial and office buildings must maintain a temperature of 79 degrees Fahrenheit or 26 degrees centigrade.”

Compare that to here in Texas, where the state suggests that “a typical occupied office or classroom” be kept between 72 to 76 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and 70 to 75 degrees in Fahrenheit in the winter, though such suggestions are completely voluntary. In other states the minimum limit is lower. New York, for example, says government buildings can only go as low as 78 degrees in the summer.

As we know, even a few degrees can make a big difference in terms of energy use. Kwon reports that a room “consumes seven to ten percent more energy to become one degree centigrade cooler.” So moving to a higher temperature like in South Korea could mean big electricity savings here in Texas. He says the E.U. has similar limits to how low the AC can go.

For Koreans, however, the question of AC use seems to be a public health issue as well. Something that may make regulations easier to swallow. Kwon describes the affliction of “air-conditioningitis,” which Korean doctors describe as similar to the common cold.

In any case, regulating AC use in private buildings is probably a non-starter in a state where smart grids are viewed with deep suspicion by some groups. But necessity is the mother of invention and, it’s always useful to keep an eye on how other parts of the world are responding to the challenges of growth and energy use.


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