With rapid urbanisation and a growing population, there is a demand for sustainable, clean, and energy efficient cooling solutions. Access to cooling has become a development need and an equality issue. The interplay of a variety of factors is important to understand in order to encourage energy efficiency in cooling.
Rising temperatures have affected people across the globe, and it is therefore imperative to address the importance of cooling for all. With rapid urbanization and a growing population, there is a demand for sustainable, clean, and energy efficient cooling solutions in India. A large part of the population lies at the risk of being exposed to life-threatening temperatures, as the frequency of heatwaves across the country increases due to climate change. Therefore, access to cooling has become a 'development need' and an equality issue. It can add on to the larger developmental goals on clean energy, sustainable cities, health, and well-being. How can India overcome existing challenges to meeting the rising cooling demand without further warming the planet?
An Overview of Policies and Global Commitments
Energy efficient and sustainable cooling lies at the intersection of key international multilateral agreements,1 that is, Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, the Paris Agreement under the UNFCCC, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Recognizing 'cooling as a development need' is important, as it is linked with achieving the SDGs, such as the health and well-being (SDG 3), decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), sustainable cities (SDG 11), and climate action (SDG 13). The Kigali Cooling Efficiency Program2 (K-CEP) is a philanthropic programme on the global scale, which has been launched to support the successful implementation of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol.
It promotes collaborative research to help countries find innovative cooling solutions and make an accelerated shift away from hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Ratification by 65 countries or parties brought the amendment to force on 1st January 2019. However, India and major countries such as China, USA, Brazil, Thailand, and South Korea, which make up about 77% of AC compressors' trade flow, have not yet ratified the Kigali Amendment.
The Government of India launched the India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP)3 in 2019 to provide a 20-year view on the evolving cooling demand, along with several short-term and long-term recommendations to achieve sustainable cooling. If robust policies are implemented to encourage the use of best available energy efficient cooling technologies in the cooling sector, the associated emission (GHG) reductions from cooling will also decrease. The ICAP has close links with several other governmental programmes, such as the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (Housing for All), Smart Cities Mission, and National Mission on Enhanced Energy Efficiency.
Mainstreaming of Energy Efficient Cooling Technology and Non- HFC-Based Refrigerants
Energy systems that power Indian cities today will decide how cities meet challenges in the future and make resources available for their residents. A major share of the increase in energy use for space cooling comes from emerging economies, such as India, China, and Indonesia – the three nations that are predicted to account for half of the global cooling energy demand growth by 2050.4
In India, roughly 8% of the households were air-conditioned as of March 2018. This coverage is expected to rise to 50% by 2050, which would translate into a significant increase in energy needs in addition to HFC leakage from AC units.5
The government can support interventions and energy efficiency measures in cooling through standards and labelling schemes, as well as by introducing new ways to regulate energy consumption, such as MEPS (minimum energy performance standards). Energy efficient appliances will not only help consumers save money, but also reduce overall energy consumption and therefore emit less CO2 over their lifetime. The interplay of a variety of factors is important to understand in order to encourage energy efficiency in cooling.
Consumers tend to buy air conditioners whose average efficiencies are less than half of what is available on the market.6 There is a need to bring energy efficient and low global warming potential (GWP) non-HFC-based refrigerants to the mainstream. To enable this transition, the ICAP highlights the importance of an accelerated 'HFC phase-down' process and further development of cooling technologies. This includes the use of energy efficient appliances with environment-friendly refrigerants. The current models of high efficiency ACs are either unaffordable for majority of Indian consumers or their additional benefits are unknown to most consumers. Hence, it is key that any technology that expects mass adoption must be affordable for consumers. Relevant policy interventions for market transformation, including public procurement of energy efficient equipment, are key to speed up transition.
As per an IEA report, 'not-in-kind' solutions are likely to play a key role in the area of climate-friendly HFC-free cooling. These include various types of cooling systems, such as evaporative cooling, adsorption cooling systems, and district cooling, where a central cooling facility is in use and cool water is delivered to houses in the district. Other climate-friendly systems are available that reduce the electricity consumption by being paired with a waste heat energy source or a solar thermal energy source, such as solar adsorption chillers. Many 'not-in-kind' technologies are still in the early stages of research and development.7
The transition to low GWP and natural refrigerants will have several economywide impacts and would require companies and research institutions to come together and discuss changes required in the national policy. Direct impacts of this transition include GHG emission reduction, energy savings, cost of technology change, and so on. Some of the indirect impacts could be job creation and skill development. There would be further impact on other sectors, such as hydrocarbon/HFC manufacturing, copper manufacturing, and the automotive industry. A systematic phase-down schedule for HFCs is needed that can specify how their usage can be reduced, and by how much, as per a timeline that best suits India's economic conditions. Such a phase-down plan will ideally need to be regularly updated with the latest developments in each sector, market trends, and changing consumer perspectives. Policy reforms must ideally focus on controlling the use of refrigerants with high GWP and promote the use of natural refrigerants.
Building guidelines and behaviour change
India needs to define thermal comfort in order to guide interventions for energy efficiency in buildings. Building codes should be amended to ensure all buildings are designed such that passive design is preferred. Passively cooled building design and natural ventilation can reduce cooling load and minimize peak power requirement.
New housing coming up across urban centres in India is mainly focused on being 'affordable' as it is backed by the housing scheme Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY). The PMAY is primarily aimed at achieving government's objective of housing for all and has also been included in the COVID stimulus package. The scheme also attempts to boost demand for affordable housing and create jobs. However, it is important that the building envelope should comply with the requirements of Eco-Niwas Samhita 2018 to ensure thermal comfort for the occupants of these upcoming housing projects. This increased residential building stock is linked with an increase in electricity use for space conditioning. Studies carried out by the NITI Aayog indicate that by 2047,8 the electricity consumption for the residential sector is expected to increase several folds because of this development.9 Therefore, low energy cooling options for affordable homes need to be promoted.
The ICAP encourages the uptake of climate responsive built spaces and passive cooling. This can be done through (i) increased public procurement of energy efficient ACs, chillers, fans, and so on and (ii) providing consumer incentives and awareness campaigns to drive market demand of energy efficient cooling appliances and equipment. HVAC manufacturers now recognize this as a potential opportunity and are trying to introduce such products in the Indian market.10 From a behaviour change perspective, a communication campaign targeted at building awareness on the climate benefits of HFC-free and low energy consuming appliances may also boost their sale in the market over time.
Cooling as a Service and District Cooling
Efficient consumption of electricity for cooling can be achieved with the Cooling as a Service (CaaS) model. This pay-per-use innovation eliminates the need for upfront investment in the clean cooling technology and customers can pay per unit of cooling they consume. In turn, the service provider owns the equipment and oversees maintenance and utility bill payment. As per the Climate Finance Lab, this model has significant incentives to improve the overall system energy efficiency to reduce the cost of operation.11
District energy systems can be powered by local power generation plants using the combination of energy efficient technologies such as trigeneration, industrial-grade electric chillers, and recovery of waste heat. Such a system provides cooling or heating through a network of pipes with hot or cold water to reach multiple buildings in a neighbourhood or the industrial area in a city.12 It enables a strong synergy between production and supply of heating or cooling and can also be integrated with other municipal systems such as power supply or sanitation. The 'District Energy Initiative' by the UNEP highlights the potential offered by these systems to make a cost-effective transition to sustainable refrigerants and energy efficient cooling, as well as reducing primary energy consumption.13
Development of Energy Efficient and Clean Cold Chain
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost all sectors of the economy and several economic package and structural reforms have been announced by the Indian government to tackle the situation. As a positive side effect, the opportunity for a faster transition to clean energy across key sectors of the economy has opened up. In addition to this, special emphasis is being placed on doubling farmers' income. Urban slums and rural poor have been identified as one of the most vulnerable groups that need access to cooling with rising temperatures.14
It is important to focus on a sustainable cold chain, which forms the basis of a more inclusive economy and broader economic development. Integrated cold supply chains can help small farmers get a higher value for their products as they are able to access more distant markets. They play a critical role in ensuring longer shelf-life of produce and reduction in post-harvest food loss. Not only for agri-produce supply chains, a reliable and robust cold chain is of high importance for vaccine and medicine delivery. Vaccines require thermally controlled conditions for storage, right from the point of production to the point they reach the final recipient. This shows a strong link between a robust cold chain infrastructure and livelihood provision for farmers and prospects for overall economic success and well-being. Developing a reliable cold chain network is also an important step towards addressing Sustainable Development Goals and alleviating poverty and hunger.
Challenges and solutions
Maintaining an integrated cold chain is an energy intensive application.15 A key challenge with clean cold chain development in India is the availability of uninterrupted power supply and the adoption of energy efficient technologies. To begin with, it is important to estimate the state level as well as the national requirement for temperature-controlled logistics. The development of cold chain infrastructure should be based on the renewable energy resource, new thermal technologies, less harmful refrigerants with more efficient electricity, and the fuel consumption technology. Moreover, if access to cooling can be designed as a service for the benefit of the rural community, then it could be utilized to fulfil a wider range of cooling needs, such as veterinary care, storage of vaccines and medicines, domestic refrigeration, food processing, and ice for fisheries. Such multi-use models for cooling are being explored by the University of Birmingham to design an integrated 'community cooling hub' with support from Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation. It is a step towards enhancing the commercial viability of a cold chain infrastructure and creating social impact.16
To keep food fresh as it travels from 'farm to fork', cooling solutions that can optimally preserve its value and minimize energy consumption are required. Perishable foods such as fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, and dairy require an uninterrupted cold chain. A Global Food Cold Chain Council (GFCCC) study17 highlights how the expansion of the food cold chain in developing countries can reduce food waste related greenhouse gas emissions by a large percentage. A thorough review of the entire value chain is needed to identify the risk involved at each stage and create appropriate mitigation strategies and set policies.
Need for Data-Driven Decision-Making
Better data collection on cooling needs across different sections of the society, urban and rural areas, and commercial and residential sectors will lead to more reliable estimates of the cooling requirement, energy demand projections, and appropriate technical solutions. The new 'clean cold chains' must be seen as a key component of the agri-supply chain. The journey of produce from the farm to end consumers should occur with minimal environmental impact. Information flow through mobile-based apps and technologies can have a significant impact on establishing a data-driven decision-making for the farmer community. This can help prevent unnecessary storage and wastage and increase energy efficiency.
It is important to foster collaboration across different stakeholders from the industry, think tanks, academic institutions, and so on to understand the cross-sectoral nature of cooling. Sharing experiences will help formulate the most suitable solutions for clean and energy efficient cooling in India.
Originally published in the July - September 2020 issue of Energy Future magazine.
Ritika Jain is a Program Manager (Energy Efficiency) with Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation. The views presented in this article are personal and not necessarily the views of Shakti Sustainable Energy Foundation.
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