Flickering lights, freezing blasts

Air conditioner

Today’s announcement on phasing out incandescent light bulbs by 2012 is supposed to be good news. But once again, today’s announcement overlooks one of the biggest and fastest-growing causes of peak demand during our not-all-that-hot, not-all-that-long summers: air conditioning.

More homes in Ontario have air conditioning than anywhere else in the country — although the city in Canada with the most days of temperatures above 30 degrees is in BC. There is a greater proportion of homes with air conditioning in Ontario than in Sydney, Australia.

Nationally, the average percentage of homes with air conditioners was 44% in 2005, up from 36% just four years earlier. Is that because the temperatures have risen dramatically over the last few years?Well, no. The hottest day in Toronto in the last five years was in fact in the scorching summer of 2002. The hottest days with humidex in June, July, and August were in 1957, 1995 and 1955 respectively. The average number of days with temperatures over 30 degrees tops out at 5.7 for July.

What’s wrong with air conditioning? Well, it’s unnecessary in our climate for 95% of the year. It wastes a great deal of energy. It adds to our smog problem. It makes us forget how to be comfortable outside in warm weather by not allowing our bodies to adjust to pleasant, warm temperatures. And yet, according to the provincial government:

Air conditioners can put an enormous strain on our power supplies. They’re the reason the risk of power shortages is greatest in the summer. If you have an air conditioner, it can account for as much as half of your energy use on hot summer days.

Can’t live without it?

Let’s be honest – most of us wouldn’t give up our air conditioner. That’s okay; you don’t have to feel guilty.

Why not?

Personally, I think Hydro Quebec has the right idea. I hope Ontario hydro authorities are paying attention.