Energy Efficiency: How Cool is This?

Above: Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan (far left) releasing the draft India Cooling Action Plan/Photo: As cooling demands are set to rise, India becomes the first country to release a draft action plan in this regard. But providing thermal comfort to all will come with huge costs  By Papia Samajdar On World Ozone Day on September 16, India released the draft “India Cooling Action Plan” and became the first country to come out with such a plan. The draft aims to provide solutions and prepare the country for a future where the cooling demand is set to rise. Cooling is energy intensive and has far-reaching effects. Globally, cooling is estimated to contribute to global emissions three times more than aviation and shipping combined. In Dubai, 50 percent of the energy used is for air conditioning. In Europe, 75 percent of food goes through cold storage at some point. Up to 50 percent of the harvest lost in post-production in developing countries is due to the lack of cold storage. In fact, food lost due to lack of cold storage occupies an area almost twice the size of Australia and emits 3.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. The largest emitters are the US and China. This has its repercussions on the lives of people. More than one billion continue to live in abject poverty and about 800 million are malnourished. About 200 million preventable-by-vaccine-deaths are caused due to lack of cold storage facilities. Further, the pollution caused by refrigerated vehicles kills 3.7 million worldwide. Cooling for All, as the name suggests, is a global concept to provide thermal comfort to all. In the wake of rising temperatures, the need for cooling is predicted to rise, especially in developing countries. According to estimates, by 2030, 60 percent of India’s housing stock will be air conditioned. This implies that its aggregate cooling requirement is to increase eight times in the next 20 years. Additionally, India lacks cold storage infrastructure for post-production harvest. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), it loses up to 40 percent of its total food production due to lack of cooling facilities. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 seek to abolish poverty and hunger, provide good healthcare, education, gender equality and clean access to water for all and promote affordable clean energy, sustainable cities, infrastructure, climate change, economic growth and responsible consumption. These goals are directly influenced by the access to cooling for all. As the world has learnt in the past, solutions to provide cooling are not easy. The late ’80s sent the world into a tizzy when it discovered a gaping hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica. It was discovered that the gases used in refrigeration and other cooling technology were responsible for the phenomenon called the Ozone Hole. Thus, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was signed by world leaders in 1987, which sought to phase out ozone-depleting gases. The transition, however, led to emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), an intensive greenhouse gas, which, in turn, contributes to climate change. The Kigali Amendment of the Montreal Protocol strives to limit the production of HFC. The Cooling for All initiative was created to explore opportunities to maximise energy efficient and sustainable solutions to meet the rising cooling demands across all sectors. The India Cooling Action Plan draft seeks to address this multi-sectoral issue. One of the key points of the initiative is equitable cooling for everyone. Highlighting that India has one of the lowest rates of acc­ess to cooling in the world, the draft provides a 20-year perspective to provide sustainable cooling for all. The draft looks at different sectoral demands for cooling and calls for technological and policy interventions. It sets in place some ambitious targets. These are:
  • Reduction of cooling demands across sectors by 20-25 percent by 2037-38
  • Reduction of cooling energy requirement by 25-40 percent by 2037-38
  • Reduction of refrigerant demand by 25-30 percent by 2037-38
Seven different thematic areas were identified after stakeholder consultations to develop the Cooling Action Plan. These areas are: Space Cooling in Buildings; Air conditioning Technology; Cold-chain and Refrigeration; Transport Air conditioning; Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Servicing Sector; Refrigerant Demand and Indigenous Production and R&D and Production sector—Alternative Refrigerants. Various technological interventions have been suggested to make these gad­gets more energy efficient and ensure phasing out of ozone depleting substances. As India is also party to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, energy efficiency and cutting emissions in all future technological interventions is critical. India pledged to cut its emission intensity by 33-35 percent (below 2005 levels) of its GDP by 2030. This ambitious pledge is pegged to transition to renewable energy, increasing its forest cover and optimising its technology to reduce emissions. However, any type of transition from current technological practices comes at a cost. And the cost to transit to clean energy technology in the wake of rising demands is going to be substantial. The government needs to create enough market conditions for companies to eventually move towards energy efficient technologies. It is estimated that India will be 39-45 percent urbanised by 2037-38. This will drive the demand for air conditioned spaces at home and work. The usage, however, will be varied depending on the temperature and climatic conditions, according to the draft. The cooling demand is estimated to be driven by the rising urban middle class for their comfort. The ICAP draft, which focuses on markets for air conditioners and coolers, however, ignores the rest of the population which will not have access to these cooling devices. This falls short of the vision of thermal comfort for all. “If we are planning to provide ‘Sus­tainable Cooling’ and ‘Thermal Comfort for All’, we cannot ignore 90 percent of the population’s need for thermal comfort,” Anumita Roy­chowdhury, executive director, research and advocacy, Centre for Science and Environment, reportedly said. “This lack of planning can completely upset the energy budget of the country. At the same time, the ICAP has not indicated the benchmark for thermal comfort, a key factor to guiding energy efficiency measures for all—users of active as well as passive cooling.”