Momentum Towards Cooling With Less Warming (Part II)

Air Conditioning Units in New Delhi
Credit: NRDC

This is a two-part blog series on India’s initiatives on sustainable cooling.

Urbanization, rising temperatures, and more frequent heat waves in India are driving cooling demand higher. Further, as living standards rise and electricity reaches more homes across India, sales of room air conditioners (ACs) are growing. The room AC stock has skyrocketed from 2 million units in 2006 to approximately 30 million units in 2017. ACs are now viewed as a necessity for a healthy lifestyle, similar to the perception of refrigerator ownership in the 1990s. But, ACs also burden electric grids with greater peak power demand, leading to higher power plant fuel consumption and increasingly poor air quality. Increased AC use also exacerbates harmful climate change caused by emissions of carbon dioxide from power generation and the release of refrigerants such as HCFCs and HFCs.

Given the projected demand for cooling, the sales of room ACs are projected to increase significantly between 2017 and 2030, leading to an installed stock of between 55 and 124 million room ACs in 2030. For the room AC market to grow sustainably, “climate-friendly” room ACs, which are both energy efficient and use climate safe refrigerant gases are the need of the hour. The benefits of improved ACs are huge. In India alone, fulfilling the Kigali Amendment is expected to avoid the use of HFCs equivalent to between 2 and 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide through 2050 – about 20 to 25% of which is likely to come from reductions in HFCs used for room ACs.

In July, this year, India’s super ESCO, Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL), made big progress towards improving room ACs by rolling out a second tranche of its bulk procurement of super-efficient and affordable ACs. Leading AC manufacturer Voltas responded with a strong bid: a seven-star-equivalent inverter-air room conditioners at a discount price of ₹41,300 (US$603) for a 1.5-tonne unit, which is cheaper than a five-star rated AC in the market. The RACs will also use lower-GWP refrigerant, HFC-32.

EESL has already begun selling the super-efficient AC units. The price, which is about 20% below the market equivalent, is a result of EESL’s bulk procurement of 50,000 room ACs. As per EESL’s estimates, these ACs will lead to 30-40% reduction in energy consumption compared to an existing 3-star AC. It is estimated it will save around 500 kWh per year per AC, saving in total 25 million kWh per annum from the deployment of 50,000 ACs. These inverter ACs are designed to be efficient up to 52°C and over a range of voltage. They also have a triple filter, with no derating at 43oC and uses 100% copper.

In the first phase, EESL started to distribute on a first come first served basis to the customers of four distribution utilities in Delhi. The consumers are able to order their product through EESL’s dedicated online portal of EESL Mart ( and the aim is to install the AC within 72 hours of ordering through the portal.

The average efficiency level of ACs in Indian market is about ISEER of 3.2 and the 5-star AC is with ISEER 4.5. EESL’s super efficiency AC has an of ISEER 5.4 and 1.5 TR capacity. In bringing higher efficiency ACs in the market, EESL not only intends to leapfrog the current energy efficiency levels in the Indian air conditioner market but also aims to promote the use of low GWP refrigerants. The super-efficient AC uses R-32 refrigerant which has GWP less than 700, much lower than the most prevalent refrigerants in the market.

The pilot project is partially supported by a grant from the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Additionally, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is providing necessary grant support and loans, with United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) providing technical assistance. The program was started in Delhi, couple of months back and has now spread on a pan-India basis covering almost all states.

EESL first launched the Super Energy Efficient Air Conditioner Program (ESEAP) in FY 2016-17. In the first procurement phase ACs, using conventional refrigerant, EESL targeted ISEER of 5.2 (which is 15% more energy efficient than latest BEE 5-star labelled product and 35% higher than the average EER of 3.5). The repayment mechanism to EESL was based on PAYS (Pay as You Save) model, targeting only the institutional consumers.  It only targeted institutional consumers – primarily government buildings. The experience of the earlier program offered important lessons for a more targeted and improvised program now. Introduction of direct sales to individual consumers through the online portal is an important and a promising feature of the new program to meet its targets. EESL also feels that consumers are more aware of such products now than the level of awareness that existed two years back. In addition, working through with the distribution utilities to raise further awareness as part of this program, is expected to help reach program goals.

Programs, such as these, are much needed, EESL's program is the first steps toward providing cooling that is much more sustainable and affordable than the options currently available in the market.

What is also noticeable and encouraging in India, currently, is the drive for local innovations for more sustainable and climate friendly cooling technologies. Rocky Mountain Institute’s Global Cooling Prize- a competition designed to incentivize development of a residential cooling solution that will have at least five times (5X) less climate impact than standard residential/ room AC units in the market today. The prize launched in India in November last year, received a positive response from countries across the world with major submissions coming from US and India. The prize has selected up to 10 submissions to take to prototype testing in 2020 and these finalists will be announced at an upcoming award ceremony in Delhi, India on 15th November 2019.

As the world moves to the implementation of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, these programs can help India make strides towards more climate-friendly cooling and reduce super pollutants. We at NRDC are looking forward to the rapid developments in the country, nationally and working through the Montreal Protocol process with the country’s leadership.

Prima Madan leads NRDC work on HFCs in India and is based as a consultant in New Delhi.