With Earth Day top of mind this week, what do you think is among the top strategies for protecting the planet from climate change? Improving air conditioners? Yes, that’s true for India and the world.
With rising income and heat levels in India, the demand for air conditioners is increasing. Though less than 10 percent of Indian households currently use air conditioners, sales are increasing by 10 to 15 percent every year.
Sales of room air conditioners have skyrocketed from two million units in 2006 to approximately 30 million units in 2017. These units burden electric grids with greater peak power demand, leading to higher fuel consumption by power plants and increasingly poor air quality. Increased air conditioner use also exacerbates harmful climate change caused by emissions of carbon dioxide from power generation and the release of refrigerants, usually hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), potent heat-trapping gases used in air conditioners.
To beat the heat without harming the environment, India is looking at a combination of strategies, including climate-friendly air conditioners, cool roofs and energy efficient buildings. The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), and the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD) have partnered to examine strategies to improve air conditioning in a new report: “Cooling India With Less Warming: Affordable and Efficient Room Air Conditioners”.
In terms of both the refrigerant greenhouse gases and energy efficiency, improving air conditioners offers major benefits. Leading AC manufacturers recognise the tremendous business opportunity and are aggressively working to increase market share.
In October 2016, 197 countries reached the historic Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, to cap and then phase down production and consumption of HFCs worldwide. HFCs have a thousand times higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide, and phasing down HFCs is one of the greatest opportunities to stave off the worst effects of climate change.
The benefits of improved ACs are huge. In India alone, fulfilling the Kigali Amendment is expected to avoid the use of HFCs equivalent to between two and six billion tonnes of carbon dioxide through 2050 — about 20-25 per cent of which is likely to come from reductions in HFCs used for room ACs. India has an opportunity to avoid an additional 950 million tonnes of HFC use through 2050, by phasing down faster. Manufacturers in India already offer ACs using refrigerants such as low global warming potential (GWP) hydrocarbon HC-290 (propane), with GWP 3, and transitional refrigerant HFC-32, with GWP 677, compared to the refrigerants HCFC-22 with GWP 1760 and HFC-410A with GWP 1924.
In addition to switching to better refrigerants, improving the energy efficiency of room ACs can deliver even more remarkable climate benefits. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) estimates that if, by 2030, India’s AC stock improves in average efficiency by 30 per cent from 2015 levels, annual carbon dioxide emissions will decrease by approximately 180 million tonnes per year — equivalent to about 10 per cent of the carbon dioxide emissions reductions expected from India’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement in that year.
More than 50 room AC models that meet the climate-friendly LBNL scenario — Indian Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratios (ISEERs) of 4.0 or greater — are already in the market. These ACs include several using low-GWP refrigerant HC-290 (up to 1.5 tons) and lower-GWP HFC-32 (up to 1.8 tons). The best room ACs as of April 2018 have already reached ISEER 5.8 and upwards in the market, sold by Daikin, Godrej, Panasonic, LG and Hitachi. Yet, more needs to be done to advance markets that improve air conditioning.
Energy efficient and climate-friendly room ACs are just part of the solution. Passive cooling techniques, such as using shading, ventilation, and cool roofs, homes built to energy conservation building codes, and adaptive thermal comfort strategies, will lessen dependence on mechanical cooling, saving energy and reducing pollution even before the AC turns on.
Six strategies have been suggested to advance climate-friendly ACs in India and globally. Some are already underway but may benefit from higher ambition or better integration. Others require longer time frames, while some call for government or industry leadership. Consider:
* Opportunities under the Montreal Protocol. Phasing out HCFC-22 should continue, leapfrogging traditional high-GWP HFCs in favour of the lower-GWP alternatives with funding support from the Montreal Protocol while also working with UN agencies to facilitate co-funding and/or financing energy efficiency upgrades.
* Energy Efficiency and Low-GWP Standards & Labels. The Bureau of Energy Efficiency Star Labelling programme has succeeded in strengthening AC efficiency standards and labels by about 35 per cent since 2006, representing major cost and energy savings in India. One immediate opportunity is to consider advancing the rate at which the Star Rating programme is strengthened to foster competition and help consumers identify the most efficient ACs.
* Bulk Procurement Programmes. Bulk procurement programmes, such as EESL’s AC programme, are revolutionising the landscape for high-efficiency products, and a strategy to advance efficiency is encouraging lower-GWP refrigerants as part of the procurement process.
* Raising Consumer Awareness. Differentiating among room ACs with stronger efficiency standards, above ISEER 4.5, would help consumers identify the most energy-efficient room ACs as well as including GWP-based refrigerant labels to the Star Rating programme.
* Local Supply Chains and R&D. Leveraging programmes such as Make in India, the AC industry can work with the government to increase domestic components used in room ACs.
* National Cooling Action Plans. India is developing a National Cooling Action Plan that brings cooling strategies together from more efficient AC designed, low-GWP refrigerants, and passive cooling technologies. (MR, Inputs: Agencies).