Opportunities for Cooling with Less Warming: India Focus

With skyrocketing temperatures and June 2019 as officially the hottest month ever recorded in Europe, a major topic of discussion at the Montreal Protocol meetings this week is improving cooling while protecting the planet. Keeping it cool, is a priority with India’s fast and rapidly urbanising economy and growing cooling demand. Recognizing this growth trend, the Government of India, launched the India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) earlier this year, as a bold response to addressing  future cooling needs while reducing climate impacts.

Countries around the world are gathering in Bangkok for the Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) meetings under the Montreal Protocol this week. Several countries, including India, China and Rwanda, are discussing strategies to improve cooling and phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)—potent heat trapping gases used in air conditioners. The strategies emerging during the discussions this week focus on energy-efficient and climate-friendly air conditioning while reducing the demand for cooling through initiatives such as cool roofs and green buildings.

India Cooling Action Plan

Led by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MOEFCC), the ICAP aims to meet the India’s rapidly growing cooling needs across sectors while addressing climate action needs. The ICAP looks at the cooling demand comprehensively, both from end-use sectors perspective (such as space cooling, transport and cold chain) as well as from the perspective of managing this demand through better servicing and research and development. With both the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the Kigali Amendment informing context, it is one of the first national policy documents that harmonizes two separate policy streams of energy consumption and refrigerant use.

Among the sectors highlighted in the ICAP, the India government expects that space cooling will make up 70-80% of India’s cooling energy demand by midcentury. The India government projects that in 2050 India will account for 30% of global emissions from space cooling. Efficient cooling has a big impact on future GHG emissions. In a warming world, efficient space cooling will have a significant impact in CO2 reduction. More so in India than anywhere else in the world. The ICAP, has far-reaching objectives and includes considerations ranging from thermal comfort, energy efficiency through building design, and standards and labeling for appliances.  


Montreal Protocol

In addition to the increased demand for cooling, another key driver for the ICAP is the Montreal Protocol and the landmark Kigali Amendment, which calls for a phase down potent heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and integration of energy efficiency into air conditioning. This is a main topic of discussion for countries across the globe also here in Bangkok.

The ICAP and the Montreal Protocol together offer four big opportunities for action for India to meet its growing cooling demand in an efficient and climate friendly way, while ensuring thermal comfort and well-being for all citizens by providing affordable and reliable cooling options.

  • First, by advancing its international engagement at the Montreal Protocol level. 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. India has an opportunity to avoid an additional 950 million tons of HFC use through 2050, by phasing down faster, on pace with the majority of developing countries under the Kigali agreement.
  • Second, improving air conditioning (AC)—both in terms of the refrigerants used and energy efficiencies—offers major benefits, and right policy solutions ensuring this will go a long way in maximizing the benefits. The room AC stock in India has skyrocketed from 2 million units in 2006 to approximately 30 million units in 2017, which is still less than 10% market penetration. Room ACs account for the highest area of growth, mostly in apartments and homes. The ICAP finds that room air conditioners will remain pervasive well into 2038 and will consume nearly as much energy as the all commercial AC systems combined, including cooling chillers and HVAC systems. Policy solutions, aiming to possibly double AC energy efficiency standards improvement from 3% to 6% per year and those that strengthen top tier labels up to 33% and require a low GWP refrigerant to accelerate the efficient AC market.
  • Third, building the business case is another major opportunity. Business leaders are critical to moving toward more efficient cooling. Specifically, stakeholders can work to increase the rate of efficiency improvements with an aim to grow the market share from 20% to 100% for low-GWP and high efficiency ACs through industry support by 2025. This is will require a major push for local innovation such as the Cooling Innovation Platform launched by TERI and NRDC earlier this year, which propels local innovation in air conditioning technologies. It is also crucial to identify and highlight energy efficiency champions through case studies and reports, for others to learn from. Design and support financing incentives and technical assistance to accelerate domestic manufacturing of high-efficiency and low GWP AC and components. This has also been highlighted by the Technical Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP) Taskforce report at OEWG in Bangkok, while discussing energy efficiency. Improving national level regulations such as minimum energy performance standards (MEPs), market incentives and increasing servicing capacity and training, along with promoting financial support for local industry for access to capital, would be important for energy efficiency improvements as countries phase down HFCs. This, along with robust awareness building would also influence market and consumer choice, leading to critical increase in market penetration of more efficient products.
  • Fourth, reducing cooling energy demand is key to implementing the ICAP and achieving the Montreal Protocol goals. The ICAP proposes an approach that reduces the cooling energy demand through climate appropriate and energy efficient building design, and low cost strategies such as cool roofs; meets the demand through energy efficient appliances; and finally, controls and optimises the demand through demand-side and user adaptation strategies, such as adaptive thermal comfort. Within this, nationwide implementation of energy conservation building code (ECBC) would ensure cooling demand reduction and create a stock of climate friendly buildings, using policy tools such as the online ECBC compliance system.

The ICAP also focuses on action ensuring energy efficient mobile air conditioning (MAC), more efficient cold chain infrastructure, building a sustainable ecosystem of servicing and promoting consumer awareness by developing effective information, education, and communication tools (IEC) to understand and influence consumer behaviour.  

With a comprehensive approach, the ICAP has provided India the direction it needs for an energy efficient and sustainable cooling sector. During the OEWG this week, stakeholders are exchanging best practices towards effective implementation of cooling action plans and our global efforts to combat the climate crisis.

Prima Madan leads NRDC’s cooling work in India and is based as a consultant in New Delhi.