India Pushes for More Super-Efficient, Climate Friendly ACs

New government initiatives seek to promote a transition to a more efficient, less polluting air conditioning market. 

Co-authored with Karan Chouksey

Only about 6 percent of Indian households today use air conditioners, but as income levels rise, air conditioner sales are increasing by 10 to 15 percent every year. The International Energy Agency estimates that by 2040, 70 percent of Indian households will own an air conditioner. This rapid expansion of the air conditioner market in India poses a couple of challenges. First, the energy required to run all those new units strains the electric grid, and adds to the burden of air pollution as well as heat-trapping climate pollution. On top of that, the refrigerant gases used in most air conditioners are potent greenhouse gases.

NRDC and our partners are working in India to advance strategies that will help keep India cool while protecting its citizens from the impacts of global warming. As the number of air conditioners increases, dialing down their energy and climate impacts becomes even more urgent. Several encouraging new government initiatives are aimed at expanding the market for super-efficient air conditioners and helping manufacturers embrace less harmful refrigerant gases.

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Super-efficient air conditioners can help reduce energy demand as well as consumers’ energy bills. The state-run agency Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) recently announced a new plan to help consumers replace old air conditioners with new super-efficient air conditioners, at zero upfront cost. The owners would pay back the cost over a period of two or three years through savings on their electric bills. The agency has already issued a request for proposals to supply 100,000 of the new air conditioners, which are 40 percent more energy efficient than the top rated units on the Indian market today. The agency had remarkable success with a similar program to popularize and bring down costs for LED light bulbs. In future, EESL may also stipulate that new units should use more climate-friendly refrigerants as well.

India’s Bureau of Energy Efficiency will soon be rolling out its new star rating system, the Indian Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (ISEER) for air conditioners. By 2018-19, all room ACs will be rated based on this methodology. BEE is continuously improving its label ratings by 20 to 25 percent, so a 4-star split AC in 2016-17 will be rated 2-star in 2018-19. Under this new rating system, a 5-Star AC will have a minimum ISEER of 4.5. The new super-efficient ACs promoted by EESL will have an ISEER of 5.2.

To help consumers understand that an energy-efficient unit saves money, the BEE has also launched a mobile app called BEE Star Label, which allows shoppers to calculate their electricity consumption and cost savings. These efforts represent significant progress for the BEE, however, implementation is still a challenge.

Finally, under its Make in India initiative, the Government of India is encouraging manufacturing and service sector leaders to build a workforce of skilled technicians and professionals who can help effectively transition the Indian AC market to using low global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants.

Rising concerns about climate change and energy create a host of challenges and opportunities for India’s air conditioning sector. Integrating energy efficiency improvements with low GWP refrigerants can generate multiple benefits from energy saving, cost savings and a cleaner environment. By supporting the industry to make this transition smoothly, the Government of India is moving in the right direction — toward a cleaner energy future. 

About the Authors

Anjali Jaiswal

Senior Attorney and Director, India Initiative

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