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Are Air Conditioners Gas or Electric?

Air Conditioning Gas or Electric?

As Calgary Air Conditioning experts, we have been asked numerous times whether air conditioners are gas or electric powered.

The Vast Majority of Air Conditioners Run on Electricity – And For Good Reason

Air conditioning has become an expected norm in homes and businesses across much of the world. On sweltering hot days, the cool air from air conditioners provides welcome relief. When we flip that switch to turn on an AC unit, we expect it to start blasting out cold air without delay. Ever wonder why the vast majority of air conditioners run on electricity rather than gas or other fuels?

There are some very practical reasons why electricity dominates as the power source for most air conditioning systems today.

How Air Conditioners Actually Work

Before explaining why electric power just makes more sense for operating air conditioners, let’s take a quick look at what’s going on inside these magical machines that lower temperatures and reduce humidity indoors on command. An air conditioner has three main components:

Evaporator Coils – Absorb heat from indoor air into cold refrigerant liquid which evaporates into a gas

Condenser Coils – Release concentrated heat from refrigerant gas into outdoor air, converting it back into a liquid

Compressor – Pumps, pressurizes and circulates the refrigerant between indoor and outdoor coils

This evaporation and condensing of the refrigerant is a closed-loop system that transfers heat from inside a room to the outdoors, cooling the indoor space.

Power is required to run a compressor that enables this refrigerant cycle to occur. The vast majority of compressors inside air conditioners run using electric motors.

Now let’s explore the advantages electricity provides towards powering these critical compressor components.

Key Reasons Electricity Dominates Powering Air Conditioners

Electrification Revolutionized Air Conditioning

Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla’s contributions led to transformers that could increase voltage from power plants which enabled electricity to be distributed efficiently to factories, buildings and residences.

The electrification of cities and supply of AC current opened the door for electric motors to be developed and utilized in all sorts of mechanical applications. This included being able to drive compressors needed for refrigerant-based cooling systems. Safe, compact and reliable electric motors powered the revolution of commercial and consumer air conditioning systems to function and spread as never before.

Less Complex, More Compact and Quieter Operation

Air conditioners powered by electricity require less complex infrastructure compared to gas or alternative fuels. No storage tanks, fuel lines, exhaust or combustion considerations exist. This enables AC systems themselves to be self-contained and compact. That’s why window AC units requiring only an electrical outlet to operate have become so popular.

Furthermore, the overall operating noise profile is lower without the combustion, fumes or accessory components needed to manage gaseous or liquid fuels. The relatively quiet and steady humming sound of electric AC compressor motors is far more pleasant than the noisy operation associated with internal combustion engines or turbines.

More Efficient and Controllable Temperature Regulation

The precision speed control and torque characteristics enabled by electric motors make them very well-suited for driving refrigerant compressor operation. This is important for efficient refrigerant circulation and closely regulating the desired indoor temperatures. Electric compressors also avoid energy loss from combustion inefficiencies or waste heat.

Smart compressors are being developed which self-adjust circulation speeds based on cooling demand analysis. Such intelligent optimization is realistic with electric units, whereas the intricate valve adjustments needed for fuels to achieve various heating outputs pose much greater challenges. Lastly, indoor temperatures can be easily maintained to within 1°F accuracy using electric versus difficulty for combustion heating systems to finely tune flame levels.

Lower Maintenance and Operating Costs

For home and business owners, savings come not just from lower energy consumption but also significant reductions in maintenance. Electric motors have far fewer parts requiring service compared to combustion engines.

Operating expenditures are primarily just the electrical usage costs rather than purchasing coal, propane or other consumable fuels. Modern high-efficiency electric compressors can rival and even drop below combustion systems in total lifecycle costs. Also, as renewable energy sources like solar and wind are increasingly adopted into local power grids, operating air conditioners using electricity gets greener and cheaper over time.

Safer and More Universal Integration

Avoiding on-site fuel combustion, waste exhaust, flammable piping and high-pressure gases provides safety advantages to people and structures. This removes risks from potential gas leaks, tank ruptures or fires that fuel-based cooling historically has suffered from. Steam-driven systems common in early 1900s factories were notorious for explosions causing injuries and destroying facilities.

Electric power is ubiquitously available whether from centralized large grids or local solar panel arrays. This universality means air conditioning systems using electric motors can essentially get installed anywhere without special infrastructure. Compare that to the constraints and regulations involved when needing to route and store fossil fuels. The versatility benefit has helped immensely to spread electric AC adoption faster across more regions worldwide.

Recent Trends Expanding Popularity of Electric Air Conditioners

Several recent developments explain why we can expect the dominance of electricity powering air conditioners to become even more prevalent moving forward:

  1. Fast-Growing Global Middle Class – As developing nations lift more citizens to middle income standards, demand rises for once-luxury appliances like air conditioners. Electric units better suit the expanding electrical infrastructure in these regions versus fossil fuels.
  2. Extreme Weather – Increased frequency of heatwaves, expanding deserts and warming climates is necessitating more cooling capability globally. Electric air conditioning offers the greenest solutions to emit less greenhouse gases while operating.
  3. Urbanization Megatrends – With over two-thirds of the world population expected to live in dense metro areas by 2050, compact living will require more window-style electrical AC units which take minimal space versus bulky fuel combustion options more suited for rural areas.
  4. Energy Efficiency Innovations – Electric motor and compressor optimizations will squeeze out more cooling performance using less electrical input. Smart grid integrations will help balance load demands to prevent brownout spikes during blistering afternoon heat peaks.
  5. Renewables Integration – As solar panels get embedded across more rooftops and surplus renewable energy gets produced mid-day when AC usage also peaks, directly powering air conditioning using clean energy sources will make sustainable sense.

In Summary – Why AC and Electricity Are the Ideal Match Air conditioners fundamentally require a power source to operate their internal compressors that facilitate heat transfer from inside to outside. Of all the potential energy options, electricity provides unique advantages related to efficiency, size, controllability, lower operating costs and safety. Relatively quiet, compact and self-contained electric units can treat indoor spaces without risky fuels or exhaust.

Universal electric availability coupled with the bulkiness and maintenance hassles of alternate combustion fuels has led to rapid dominance of electric-powered air conditioning. As global middle classes boom, weather patterns worsen and cleaner energy abounds in coming years, expect electricity to continue widening its lead as the preferred way to run cooling systems providing comfort from the heat.

George Pinel
George Pinel

Master Plumber

I have been involved in this family owned business for 33 years now.

It has always been and will continue to be the core focus of Instant Plumbing & Heating to provide a long lasting relationship with our customers based on trust and integrity of our service and products.

This achieved by using the best quality materials. I as a business owner continue to mentor and treat my staff with the highest regard and respect, this interns helps them deliver to the client great quality workmanship and service.

It is our professional goal to leave a situation better than when we arrived both in how we do our work and in how you feel for having chosen us to do your work, we are in the anxiety reduction business using plumbing and heating service work to do it.

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