Hydrocarbon Room Air Conditioners: Energy-Efficient, Commercially Viable and Safe

Picture of Bhaskar Deol
Guest blog by Bhaskar Deol, NRDC India Representative based in New Delhi

(This is the third and final post in a series of blogs on environmentally friendly refrigerant alternatives for India’s room air conditioner (AC) sector. The first two posts are available here and here.)

Continuing our discussion about safe, energy efficient, commercially proven, low global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants for the Indian room AC industry, we detail key characteristics and advantages of using propane (R-290) based room ACs in a new profile. A close look at the application of R-290 in room ACs shows that it presents a compelling case both for policymakers and for room AC manufacturers considering a transition to alternative refrigerants to use R-290. Using R-290 would simultaneously phase out ozone depleting hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFCs) and phase down high global warming potential (GWP) hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) while saving energy. Some highlights from the profile:

Energy savings: The biggest advantage of R-290 is its energy efficiency. As the profile demonstrates, R-290-based ACs show superior energy efficiency when compared to alternatives with higher GWP. R-290 based ACs available on the Indian market already meet India’s highest standards for efficiency established by Bureau of Energy Efficiency, with room for further improvement. Switching to this refrigerant would allow Indian AC market to continue on its growth trajectory while also conserving scarce energy resources. R-290 is a freely available, patent-free refrigerant that any chemical manufacturer can produce and any appliance manufacturer can use as refrigerant.

An analysis carried out by Delhi based think tank Council on Energy, Environment and Water demonstrates that a switch to R-290 air conditioners with energy efficiency improvements could offer 15% energy savings over the business-as-usual scenario using the longer-established, but high GWP option HFC-410a, leading to a lower burden on the electricity grid and reduced need for new power plants. Other studies also conclude that R-290 would provide energy savings over HFC-410A. R-290 is especially appropriate for India because it is able to better retain cooling performance at high ambient temperature conditions common in many parts of the country.

Significantly lower climate change footprint: R-290 has global warming potential of less than 5, as compared to GWP 2088 for HFC-410a. Switching to R-290 based ACs would mean that global warming emissions resulting from refrigerant leakage are eliminated. Better efficiency means that emissions from electricity generation too would be reduced. In total, the switch to R-290-based ACs could reduce 38% of CO2 emissions resulting from use of room ACs in the Indian residential sector between 2010 and 2050.

Commercial availability: The first R-290 based AC was launched in India in 2013. Over the last 18 months, Godrej and Boyce report sales of over 100,000 AC units using this refrigerant. In addition to Godrej, several component suppliers and leading manufacturers in China have switched to hydrocarbon refrigerants and are contemplating product introductions.

Safety: R-290 is a flammable substance, but global experience in refrigeration and air-conditioning over the past decade shows that it is possible to manage risks posed by the refrigerant flammability by engineering design, risk management, and training. The R-290 based appliances available in India are safe and are designed to meet international safety standards.

For more details about application of R-290 in room ACs, please follow the link to the detailed profile here.