Keeping India Cool: Tomorrow's Refrigerants Today

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Guest Blog by Bhaskar Deol, NRDC India Representative based in New Delhi

Last week a number of the world’s most loved brands and the largest technology companies came together to pledge to eliminate use of high global-warming-potential (GWP) hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) to slow down the effects of climate change. Companies such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi committed to eliminate HFC refrigerants from their business operations. Leading industry associations too committed to action, for instance the Air Conditioning Heating & Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), which committed to spending $5 billion to bring low GWP technologies to market. Globally a transformation is underway to move towards environmentally friendly refrigerants. Indian industry too can be a part of this transformation. It can even benefit if it takes early action by taking advantage of financing available for the transition, avoiding higher costs of transitioning later, and gaining greater access to domestic and foreign markets that are moving away from HFCs.

With the use of ozone depleting refrigerant, R-22, being phased out as part of India’s commitments under the Montreal Protocol, the Indian room air-conditioner (AC) industry too is poised for a transition. The industry has the option to switch to R-410a, a high GWP refrigerant, or choose from a range of alternatives to R-410a that already exist and to which companies the world over are beginning to switch because of the serious consequences of high GWP refrigerants. Many of these alternatives are technologically superior to R-410a and are being commercialized already, with some Indian companies leading global competition in bringing safe and energy efficient refrigerants to market. These alternatives were not available a decade ago when developed countries phased out ozone depleting chemicals and opted to use R-410a, but are available today and make a compelling business case for AC manufacturers, representing an opportunity to leapfrog current technologies that are already becoming out-of-date. Instead, timely action now can help Indian industry transition with the market instead of behind the curve.

The choices made by industry could have far reaching climate-change consequences, as shown by a new analysis by New Delhi based think-tank, and NRDC partner, the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW). CEEW evaluates HFC emissions from India’s residential AC use under a range of scenarios. CEEW’s analysis outlines the long-term impact on global warming emissions from policy and business choices made while phasing out R-22. The study is based on integrated assessment modeling using the Global Change Assessment Model (GCAM), a proven tool for energy and climate policy analysis relied upon by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It considers the three most viable, currently known, R-22 alternatives available for room ACs.

  • R-410a, the high-GWP HFC blend currently in use by most developed country manufacturers, but is also currently in the process of being phased out (as demonstrated by the commitments made last week). Some companies have started to introduce the refrigerant in India, but it is not yet in widespread use;
  • R-32, a mid-GWP HFC developed by Japanese manufacturer Daikin and commercialized by several manufacturers globally and by Daikin and Fujitsu General in India; and
  • R-290: a low-GWP hydrocarbon (propane) commercialized by Godrej Appliances in India.

CEEW examines several scenarios, including various rates of growth in India’s economy, a best practice scenario focusing on curtailing emissions from leaking refrigerants, and high energy efficiency scenarios resulting from transition to R-290 and R-32 respectively. For each scenario considered, the analysis predicts direct emissions resulting from refrigerant leakage over an AC’s life, and indirect emissions caused during production of electricity required to run the AC. Some important conclusions emerge from the analysis.

  • If no action is taken and India’s entire residential AC sector switches to R-410a, high-GWP HFC usage is expected to increase dramatically, and direct HFC emissions are expected to contribute to 32% of the sector’s total global warming impact by 2050, independent of future economic growth. However, total emissions in 2050 will be 50% higher in the high growth scenario, relative to the low growth scenario.
  • By adopting energy efficient, low-GWP alternative refrigerants, the global warming footprint of India's residential AC sector reduces by 31-38% by 2050. Reductions are driven both by the lower GWP of the refrigerants as well as the increased energy efficiency likely to accompany the transition to lower GWP refrigerants.
  • Adoption of best practices for minimizing leakage can lead to significant additional reductions in direct emissions of greenhouse gases.
  • The aspirational and sustainable lifestyle scenarios (AL sc and SL sc below) highlight the contrast between various lifestyle choices of the Indian consumer. Total emissions from residential AC use show significant variation depending on consumer choices regarding the size and efficiency of their homes and AC equipment.

 

Scenarios: Aspirational Lifestyle (AL sc), Low Economic Growth (LEG sc), High Efficiency R-290 (HE290 sc), High Efficiency R-32 (HE32 sc), HFC Best Practice (HBP sc), Sustainable Lifestyle (SL sc)

Source: Modeling Long Term HFC Emissions from India's Residential Air-Conditioning Sector, CEEW (2014)

CEEW’s analysis shows that substantial reductions in India’s greenhouse gas emissions are possible simply by transitioning away from high-GWP refrigerants, but that even greater reductions are achievable if accompanied by best practices to contain refrigerant leakage and sustainable choices in building and AC efficiency. Nations across the world are taking strong domestic measures to curtail the rapid growth of HFCs. It is time for India to rise to the challenge and demonstrate the same perseverance and innovation that successfully put a spacecraft in Mars’ orbit on a shoestring budget, to solve the relatively less complex problem of keeping India cool without causing global warming.

You can find the complete report on CEEW’s analysis here