BEE Raising the Bar: Increased Appliance Efficiency Standards Rolled Out Across India

It may be blizzarding in Europe but here in India, including Hyderabad and Ahmedabad, cars, office buildings, and hotels are blasting their air conditioners. Last week, NRDC’s president, Frances Beinecke, Radhika Khosla and I toured the building boom in High Tech City, Hyderabad, where we saw more and more split air conditioning (A/C) units being installed. Although Southern India, and especially Hyderabad, is currently leading the nation’s market for energy efficient split air conditioners (as A/C window units are losing popularity), India still has a long way to go to become energy efficient.

Last month, as sales of air conditioning units skyrocket for homes and businesses across India, the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) took an important step by raising minimum energy efficiency standards for A/C units and refrigerators. The more stringent rating system means that former top 5-star rated products now carry a 4-star rating and former minimum 1-star rated products are no longer available on the market.

BEE operates under the Ministry of Power and implements the energy efficiency standards and labeling program in India. BEE’s primary objective is to reduce energy intensity in the Indian economy through sustained adoption of energy efficiency measures. BEE aims to achieve this goal by enforcing minimum efficiency standards for all sectors – including buildings, lighting, appliances, and agriculture – and providing consumers with an informed choice about energy saving through labeling products with a consistent 1-5 star rating system.

Improving appliance efficiency offers long-term cost and energy savings to consumers. More efficient A/C units can also reduce the increasing peak demand and strain on electricity supply infrastructure in India, while curbing global greenhouse gas emissions. A/C producers in India point to BEE’s new, stricter standards as necessitating price hikes on frost-free refrigerators and split A/Cs, as more expensive raw materials are needed to make their products energy efficient. These higher prices may reduce consumer demand initially, but are offset by the low energy spent on their consumption over the efficient appliance’s life cycle.

It sounds like BEE is turning its attention to the exploding cell phone market next, with energy efficiency guidelines for mobile phone chargers in the works. Compliance with these soon-to-be finalized ratings will initially be voluntary, but could become mandatory in the future. I am encouraged by India’s holistic approach to addressing its ever-increasing energy demand which include energy efficiency measures through the National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency, as well as renewable energy development through the National Solar Mission.

Co-authored by Meredith Connolly, NRDC Energy Law & Policy Fellow