India’s ambitious plan for sustainable cooling - GulfToday

India’s ambitious plan for sustainable cooling

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

India Climate Change

The Taj Mahal as seen through polluted air in Agra, India. Reuters

India’s new comprehensive Cooling Action Plan targets an increase in sustainable cooling for the good of its population, while helping to fight climate change

As UN Environment pointed out, four years after temperatures hit the high forties in India, claiming over 2,000 lives, parts of the country are again baking in intense and deadly heatwaves. Throughout April and into May, the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan have seen daily highs of 42°C.

As climate change increases, such temperatures are becoming the new normal. Combined with economic growth and urbanization, this brings a huge growth in cooling demand. The number of air-conditioners in India is expected to rise from 15 million in 2011 to 240 million in 2030.

Cooling isn’t just about protecting against extreme temperatures. A recent study from the UN’s ‘Sustainable Energy for All’ initiative puts India in the top nine countries at greatest risk from lack of access to cooling technology that also keeps food fresh, vaccines stable and children in education.

To give just a few examples, a recent UN Environment press release states that a quarter of vaccines in India arrive damaged because of broken or inefficient cold chains, while only four per cent of fresh produce is transported in refrigerated vehicles, leading to economic losses of US$4.5 billion annually.

Aware of these worrying statistics, the government launched earlier this year the India Cooling Action Plan, the first such holistic plan from any national government.

In many regions of India, space cooling is no longer a luxury but a critical element in promoting health and wellbeing (SDG 3), sustainable cities that are resilient to changing climates (SDG 11) and economic development (SDG 8).

According to India’s Cooling Action Plan, demand for space cooling in buildings will grow by 11 times between 2018 and 2038. By 2050 the International Energy Agency forecasts that India is likely to be the largest consumer of space cooling in the world with space cooling responsible for 28% of electricity demand and 44% of peak load.

This demand for space cooling will be concentrated in India’s rapidly growing cities — driving power shortages, water scarcity and increasing urban temperatures. In addition, the majority of space cooling is today run on coal-based electricity and use environmentally-harmful refrigerants — exacerbating local air pollution, ozone layer depletion and climate change.

By 2038, the plan aims to reduce cooling demand by up to 25%, refrigerant demand by 25–30% and cooling energy requirements by up to 40%. It aims to double farmers’ incomes by improving the cold chain and so wasting less food.

These are big goals, but experts believe India’s plan is sensible and achievable. Crucially, the plan also aligns India’s cooling growth with the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. This international agreement obliges nations to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – refrigerants that are thousands of times more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide.

Globally, the agreement can deliver up to 0.4°C of avoided warming by the end of this century just by phasing out hydrofluorocarbons. Simultaneously improving the energy efficiency of cooling equipment could double the benefits. According to a study by the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, such energy efficiency improvements can benefit India.

If the average room air-conditioner efficiency improves by six per cent per year, more than 64 TWh per year of energy could be saved by 2030. This would cut greenhouse gas emissions, protect cities’ power infrastructure from overload, and bring cumulative consumer benefits of up to US$25 billion.

The plan doesn’t just look at efficiency. It prioritizes other solutions, such as passive cooling, building design, fans and coolers, new technologies and behavioural change. Among the new technologies is district cooling – the distribution of cooling energy from a central plant to multiple buildings.

The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change is co-chair of the UN Environment-led District Energy in Cities Initiative, which is working with three pilot cities – Amaravati, Rajkot and Thane – in India to demonstrate these technologies. Three-quarters of the buildings required for 2030 have yet to be built, so there is a huge opportunity for new urban developments to use district cooling, which can be up to 50% more efficient than stand-alone solutions.

The UN Environment, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, the Kigali Cooling Efficiency Program, and Sustainable Energy for All launched the Cool Coalition recently. It will inspire ambition, identify solutions and mobilize action to accelerate progress towards clean and efficient cooling.

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