Guest Blog by Amartya Awasthi and Bhaskar Deol
With 2017 marking the fourth straight hottest year recorded in India, the need for cooling solutions is becoming even more urgent. India is moving forward with a comprehensive plan on meeting the country’s skyrocketing cooling demand, as highlighted recently by Joint Secretary Mr. Gyanesh Bharti with the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MOEFCC). The Ministry is leading efforts to create a National Cooling Action Plan (NCAP) – a vision document to meet the country’s rapidly growing cooling needs in a climate-friendly manner. Building on the historic 2016 Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase down potent heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons and integrate energy efficiency into air conditioning, the Ministry has hosted a series of discussions, detailing the strategy and approach of the NCAP.
The NCAP aims to develop comprehensive, sustainable and smart cooling strategies. The objective to the NCAP is far-reaching and includes considerations ranging from thermal comfort, building design, and standards and labeling for appliances, while also considering energy poverty, energy access challenges and the impact of emissions from increased cooling.
“By improving its AC energy efficiency policies, India can save almost $17 billion cumulatively for consumers through 2030. If ‘access to cooling’ is to be prioritized as a development goal, India needs a strong facilitative framework, which will help reach a comprehensive solution for curtailing emissions from the cooling sector.” Joint Secretary Gyanesh Bharti
The MOEFCC’s Ozone Cell – tasked with phasing down substances depleting the ozone layer and causing adverse climate impacts – is constituting a steering committee comprising government, industry and civil society stakeholders. They key government partners include the Bureau of Energy Efficiency and Energy Efficiency Services Limited given the focus on integrating energy efficiency. The industry stakeholder include, the Room Air Conditioning Association (RAMA), AC companies, refrigerant manufactures, and key business leaders. The civil society groups include, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), the Alliance for an Energy Efficient Economy (AEEE), the Council on Energy, Environment, and Water (CEEW), the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), among others.
The objective of the stakeholder group is to work with the Ministry and propose a multi-year plan strategy to examine outlay, technology and various refrigeration and cooling demand sectors. For example, the ministry announced earlier this year a collaborative R&D program bringing together government, research institutes, industry and civil society to develop next generation, sustainable refrigerant technologies as alternatives to HFCs.
Room Air Conditioners – Main Opportunity
A central focus of the National Cooling Action Plan is on room air conditioners (ACs) and implementation of the Kigali Agreement. 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. Urbanization, rising temperatures, and increased heat waves are also driving cooling demand higher. But ACs burden electric grids with greater peak power demand, leading to higher fuel consumption and worsened air quality. Increased AC use will also exacerbate harmful climate change caused by emissions of carbon dioxide from power generation and the release of refrigerants, such as HFCs.
For the room AC market to grow sustainably, “climate-friendly” room ACs – those that are both energy efficient and use climate-safe refrigerant gases – are needed.
Improving ACs – both in terms of the refrigerants used and energy efficiencies – offers major benefits. Managing refrigerants in ACs is the single greatest opportunity to stave off the worst effects of climate change, according to a 2017 study by Paul Hawken. Leading AC manufacturers recognize this opportunity and are aggressively working to increase market share for AC models that are both more energy efficient and that use better refrigerants. The best room ACs have already reached ISEER 5.8 in the Indian market, sold by companies such as Daikin, Godrej, and Hitachi.
Energy efficient room ACs, of course, are part of a broader approach that include reducing actual demand for cooling. For example, buildings constructed to energy conservation building code standards and those using adaptive thermal comfort approaches – such as cool roofs – will need less mechanical cooling, saving energy even before the AC turns on. Minimizing cooling-related electricity demand reduces the risk of power cuts and frees up electricity for poorer communities.
The Ministry is continuing stakeholder discussions to chart a path for the National Cooling Action Plan focused on improved room ACs during the World Sustainable Development Summit (WSDS) in New Delhi in February. TERI, NRDC and IGSD will be discussing national and international perspectives on cooling as well as releasing a new research paper, “Improving Air Conditioners in India: Business Engagement with Manufacturers on Climate-Friendly Room ACs.”
With a comprehensive approach to arrive at a sustainable, smart and resilient National Cooling Action Plan, India is leading on developing innovative cooling strategies that improve resilience against extreme heat, save energy, and curb climate change.
Amartya Awasthi and Bhaskar Deol are energy efficiency and clean energy experts working with NRDC as consultants in New Delhi.