AC Is More Efficient Than Heat

A blog about business and economics.
March 28 2013 10:01 AM

Air Conditioning Is Less Energy Intensive Than Heat

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San Diego, the least climate-intensive metro area in America.

Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images

For whatever reason, in the United States and Europe colder places (Minneapolis, Boston, Copenhagen, Stockholm) generally seem more likely to adopt the kinds of public policies that progressives praise than hot ones. But as Emily Badger points out, there's more to ecological sustainability than the adoption of "green" policies. The fundamentals count too, and using air conditioning to cool down hot cities is much more energy efficient than heating cold ones. She writes about this in the US context, compared Minneapolis to Miami. It's something I learned about several years ago in Denmark where they have ultra-green policies and very low carbon intensity for such a rich country but do really struggle with the home heating element. If the temperature falls to freezing, it just takes a lot of energy to bring a room up to a comfortable range in the high-sixties or low-seventies.

The only way to address the problem is with much better insulation and weatherization.

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Of course the best solution of all is to not need much in the way of either heating or cooling. Metro areas like San Diego and Los Angeles are just naturally very "green" even without any particular policies in place thanks to the good weather. That's one reason that the California Environmental Quality Act's restrictions on denser development is so perverse. By making it difficult to locate new homes and new infrastructure in the most climate-friendly portion of the country, CEQA has the effect of pushing people into much more energy-intensive locales. Laws of that sort were drawn up in a way that's excessively focused on highly local impacts and don't grapple properly with the big environmental problems of the day.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.