How India plans to address cooling needs

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  • With many high-temperature cities in India set to only get hotter, the requirement for cooling is being recognised as key to health and well-being.
  • To assess the requirement and plan ahead, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has released a draft India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP).
  • The draft by the MoEF Ozone Cell provides a 20-year perspective, with projections for cooling needs in 2037-38. It aims to provide sustainable cooling while keeping in mind, at the same time, the need to protect the ozone layer from substances that can deplete it.

The need

  • The document puts India at the bottom in “access” to cooling, compared to the rest of the world, which it says is reflected in “low per-capita levels” of energy consumption for space cooling — 69 kWh against the world average of 272 kWh. The cooling requirement in India, in tonnes of refrigeration (TR), is projected to grow around eight times by 2037-38. The building sector shows the most significant growth in required TR, nearly 11 times as compared to 2017-18. “The cold-chain and refrigeration sectors grow around 4 times and transport air-conditioning grows around 5 times the 2017-18 levels,” the draft says.
  • The draft looks at two scenarios: a reference scenario that assumes current policies and level of effort, and an intervention scenario that factors in impacts of new interventions. “The projected cooling growth leads to a 5 to 8 times increase in the aggregated refrigerant demand by year 2037-38. The intervention scenario suggests that through proactive measures, this total refrigerant demand can be reduced by 25-30% by 2037-38,” the draft says.

The ozone factor

  • The draft notes a large part of the cooling demand is met through refrigerant-based cooling. These refrigerants are regulated under the Montreal Protocol regime on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. India is a signatory. In the 2016 Kigali Amendment to the Protocol, India and a few other developing countries had agreed to phase down hydrofluorocarbons — commonly used in air-conditioners — by 85% of their 2024-26 levels by 2047.

The suggestions

  • The MoEF states that the plan takes a “holistic and balanced approach” by combining active (air-conditioning) and passive cooling strategies. For instance, it considers passively-cooled building design that deploys natural and mechanical ventilation, promoting the use of energy-efficient refrigerant, adoption of adaptive thermal comfort standards to specify pre-setting of temperatures of air-conditioning equipment for commercially built spaces, and development of energy-efficient and renewable-energy-based cold chains for perishable foods besides other things.
  • It points out that “even by 2038, a significant percentage of households will not be able to afford refrigerant-based cooling equipment. Therefore, wider proliferation of thermally efficient residential built spaces, which have reduced heat load and enhanced ventilation, is required. This should be coupled with availability of efficient non-refrigerant-based cooling equipment, such as fans and coolers, to fulfill the cooling need.”
  • MoEF Secretary C K Mishra said that the ministry has developed a very strong linkage with the industry and other stakeholders and it is critical to identify the usage of gases and not merely replacement of gases. “There are alternative ways to cooling that should be looked at,” he said.

Sector by sector

  • For space cooling, room air-conditioners constitute the dominant share of cooling energy consumption — around 40% in 2017-18 and projected to grow to around 50% in 2037-38. “The intervention scenario projects that around 30% reduction in cooling energy can be achieved just through improvements in cooling equipment efficiency and operation and maintenance (O&M) practices.”
  • The report estimates that the growing transport sector, alongside growing income levels, will increase ownership of cars, a majority of these air-conditioned, at an expected growth rate of almost 9% annually up till 2040. “India’s transport sector refrigerant demand is estimated to grow from ~6000 metric tonnes (MT) in 2017 to ~22000 MT by the year 2038”.