A “Cool” Energy-Saving Opportunity for India

Energy-efficient air conditioning presents a significant saving opportunity for India in the face of rapid economic growth and rising energy demands. As temperatures across the world and incomes in India rise, growing demand for cooling appliances such as air conditioners (ACs), threatens India’s already strained power grid and its energy security. Consumers are increasingly opting for more efficient cooling to manage energy bills, presenting a market opportunity for AC manufacturers to push the edge on energy efficiency. However, large-scale proliferation of energy-efficient ACs remains a challenge due to the affordability of more efficient appliances and the cost to manufacture them.

Supporting AC manufacturers to make energy efficiency improvements is key as India transitions to a low-carbon economy. Representatives of more than 190 countries, including India, met in Bangkok earlier this month to discuss, among other things, the role of the Montreal Protocol—the world’s most successful environmental protection agreement—in supporting energy efficiency improvements as a co-benefit of transitioning to climate-friendly refrigerants in air conditioners. This was the first meeting of the signatories to the Protocol after the October 2016 Kigali Amendment, where Parties agreed to phasedown hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)—potent greenhouse gases packing thousands of times the heat-trapping power of a kilogram of carbon dioxide- in a landmark amendment. India is a key supporter of the Kigali Amendment and hopes to secure better AC technology to meet its growing cooling needs.

As our colleagues report here, energy efficiency “stole the show” at the Bangkok meetings. Two groups of countries, including India, submitted statements on energy efficiency. Further, India kicked off a constructive conversation highlighting the critical importance of improving the efficiency of cooling appliances as a means to reducing climate-damaging carbon pollution.

NRDC contributed by holding a side-event reporting on global pathways to improve energy efficiency of air conditioning in tandem with the refrigerant transition. NRDC shared preliminary findings from a global study on strategies to achieve climate-friendly cooling including air conditioning-related policy, technologies, and economic barriers and solutions to reducing the climate impact of air conditioning in particular.

Key takeaways for India

  • Under the accelerated phaseout schedule of ozone-depleting hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), six Indian room AC manufacturers are leapfrogging part of their production to more climate-friendly refrigerants ahead of time, indicating readiness of the market to move toward more advanced technology. Coupled with energy efficiency improvements, this transition can present a significant opportunity for India to lock-in energy savings while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and making ACs more affordable for consumers to own and operate.
  • Supportive government policies, such as the Energy Efficiency Services Limited’s (EESL) bulk procurement program, can help move India’s market toward more affordable energy-efficient AC technology faster. In this effort, EESL has already aggregated demand for a 100,000 super-efficient ACs (ISEER 5.2 or higher) and plans to tender out 400,000 more ACs over the next two phases of the program.
  • Building consumer awareness is key in moving the market toward more energy-efficient technology, especially in India. India’s standards & labeling (S&L) program can be strengthened to enable end-users to appropriately evaluate the life-cycle cost and savings achieved from the equipment, including efficiency gains from a shift toward more-climate friendly refrigerants. In order to capture energy efficiency gains from a shift toward more climate friendly refrigerants, S&L programs across the world, can integrate minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) and seek support under the Montreal Protocol’s Multilateral Fund (MLF).
  • India’s own research and development efforts are underway. The Indian government is working with Indian industry and technical experts to advance climate-friendly AC technology. Part of the funding can be dedicated to support energy efficiency improvements, as India looks to improve domestic technology.

These are some ways in which India can move toward more cost effective, energy-efficient, climate-friendly AC technology sooner, especially with support from the Montreal Protocol. Recognising this opportunity, at the Bangkok meetings, India called the Technology and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP) to consider how the Montreal Protocol could support energy efficiency projects. The parties agreed to holding a workshop on energy efficiency next year to address some of these key questions.  

The actions taken domestically and at the international negotiation table are critical for rapidly growing country such as India. The benefits of the reduction in HFC-use as a result of the Kigali Amendment are significant—up to half a degree reduction in the increase in global temperatures, a major contribution toward achieving the goal of the Paris Agreement to limit future warming below 1.5-2.0˚Celsius , as my colleagues discuss here. The meetings in Bangkok indicated that countries are willing to work together to curb climate change, and develop approaches that leverage the co-benefits of moving toward climate-friendly AC technology, including significant gains in energy efficiency. 

This post is co-authored with Karan Chouksey, NRDC India Initiative. 

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