“As I reflect on completing five years at Alliance for an Energy Efficient Economy (AEEE), one of the early bets that the organisation decided to make was how big and important cooling and refrigeration is going to become in India’s and indeed world’s pursuit of sustainable development. It culminated in AEEE playing a leading knowledge partner’s role in the publication of Govt of India’s India Cooling Action Plan last year which has spurred a host of activities that bodes well for the Indian people, country and the environment. Here is more than five year old blog that I wrote on LinkedIn to highlight the issue that is even more important and relevant today.” Satish Kumar, AEEE President
Ask any building energy professional about the top three issues that the Indian building sector is likely to face by 2047 and air-conditioning demand is likely to appear in most responses. This article is going to explore the reason behind this and the steps that need to be taken now for India to tackle this massive challenge confronting it, which, if not addressed adroitly, has the potential to derail the economic growth projections because of associated energy security and climate change implications.
Estimating cooling demand
India is going to experience a perfect storm when it comes to the burgeoning cooling demand, which is already growing at the rate of 15-20% annually. A large population living in a tropical climate, a fast growing building sector that is likely to quadruple or quintuple in terms of built-up area, and rising aspiration of hundreds of millions of people to own an air-conditioner at home or work in an air-conditioned building is likely to create electricity demand in excess of 100-200 gigawatts. This is based on conservative estimate of current air-conditioner efficiency (150-200 m2/TR) with reasonable assumptions in the growth rate in ownership of air-conditioners – rising from a current ownership of approx 7% in urban households to around 50-60% of total household – and a desire to work in air-conditioned buildings in 2047. Nowhere in the world, one sees such a large population living in largely tropical conditions, and striving towards a better quality of life epitomised through the ownership of air-conditioners. No points for guessing where the big growth will come from as far as cooling demand is concerned and why air-conditioning manufacturing companies see India as such a critical market.
Policies needed to promote sustainable cooling
First and foremost, India must revisit its thermal comfort standard and revise it based on the largest empirical research conducted by CEPT university involving more than 8,000 subjects in three season covering five climatic zones and three different types of buildings. Results published by the CEPT Researchers under the India Model for Adaptive (Thermal) Comfort study supports the evidence of adaptive thermal comfort and expands the thermal comfort envelope to 22-27 ℃ from the classical thermal comfort envelope of 21.5-23.5 ℃ in air-conditioned building. Efforts are already underway to incorporate the findings of this far-reaching study in the National Building Code, currently under revision by the Bureau of Indian Standard. It will also equally important to make the HVAC designer community aware of this research through ISHRAE, modifications in the Green Building Rating programs (LEED, IGBC, and GRIHA) and by modifying the next version of ECBC since India can slash its electrical consumption (to satisfy the cooling demand) by approx. 10-15% by promulgating this standard.
Secondly, India needs to have the most stringent air-conditioner standard for all air-conditioning equipment using conventional vapour compression technology (e.g. Window, Split, Packaged/Rooftop, to Chillers) and should continue to set new benchmarks for air-conditioner efficiency over the next 2-3 decades. By doing this, India will set a level playing field for the fastest adoption of the most efficient air-conditioning technology by giving a clear signal to the manufacturers. Lessons from Japan, Europe and US show that contrary to expectations that stringent efficiency standards will lead to higher prices, industry competitiveness and innovation has always been able to deliver higher efficiency with a better than expected payback for consumers. The benefits of such a policy option should be articulated through the development of a long-term sustainable cooling program that will deliver negawatts savings at a price lower than any of the power generation options. It is critical that the benefits to the power sector must be articulated not only in terms of consumer benefits, GHG reductions and better air quality for Indian citizens but also through a robust cost of conserved energy calculation methodology to provide policy makers with the options that will facilitate better allocation of resources and allow for energy efficiency policies to receive the attention that it deserves.
Thirdly, considering that India will be the largest growth market for air-conditioner companies and is likely to become the largest air-conditioner market in the world, Government of India should develop a Sustainable Cooling Challenge program in partnership with the industry to incentivise the private sector to commercialise promising air-conditioning technologies (e.g. radiant cooling, district cooling for dense CBD-style developments, indirect-direct evaporative cooling, Ground Source Heat Pumps, Combined Cooling and Power CCP as a variant of CHP – etc.) that will deliver gigawatt-scale reductions as compared to conventional cooling technologies. If coupled with “Make in India” campaign, these kind of incentives will not only create jobs but will also help create a cleantech manufacturing sector that will give a significant boost to the Indian economy.
Lastly, Indian policy makers and regulators must look at the peak energy demand that will be caused by increasing air-conditioning demand. A look at the summer peak demand being faced by distribution companies in New Delhi and Mumbai will warrant immediate actions on Time of Use pricing and promulgation of demand-side and demand response programs that will be fair and reasonable to distribution companies on one side and will elicit the right consumer behaviour in the face of appropriate economic signals that will capture the true cost of electricity at peak and non-peak prices. It is clear that the business model of the Indian distribution companies will undergo a massive transformation as they gear up to address massive transformational changes resulting from increasing cooling on the demand side and distributed energy generation (e.g. roof top solar) and energy storage options (e.g. Tesla Powerwall and JuiceBox Energy) that will be adopted by consumers on the supply side as prices keep coming down offering affordable solutions to homeowners.
Building capacity of Indian building and HVAC system designers
There are approx. 32,000 architects in a country of 1.2 billion – one of the worst ratios in the world in terms of no. of people being served by one architect. Out of that, only a handful practice sustainable or integrated building design because a) majority of the architects are not being prepared well to tackle the challenges of a carbon constrained world; b) architects and consultants are not rewarded for the expertise and time needed to design high performance building which will incorporate sustainable cooling principles. While government policies mandating a certain level of building energy performance can improve the demand for more skilled high performance building designers, Indian universities need to offer sustainable building design courses – both at the undergraduate and at the master’s level to produce a cadre of building designers who are fluent in building science fundamentals and at the same time can use the latest design aids and tools and are conversant with the techniques to measure and validate building energy performance.
There are some promising developments recently. Center for Building Energy Research and Development (www.cberd.org) – a joint India-US research collaboration is helping develop R&D capacity in many Indian academic institutions and can help develop energy-efficient solutions for the building sector with global application potential. CEPT University has recently launched a Master’s in Building Energy Performance program (http://cept.ac.in/11/671/faculty-of-technology/master-of-technology-in-building-energy-performance) where students will learn to solve complex technical problems while designing low-energy buildings through the use state of the art tools to conduct simulations and assess building energy performance while considering the architecture and environment, occupants’ behaviour, their health and comfort. The goal of these and many other academic programs should be to help produce designers who can design low-energy and yet high performance buildings from the first principles with a power density of no more than 25 Watts/m2 and with cooling efficiency of no more than 0.5 kW/ton using a combination of design and engineering excellence and most efficient technology.
While rapidly increasing cooling demand poses a significant challenge to Indian policy makers and building designers, it is also true that with a bold and ambitious action plan, government, technology companies, design professionals and our academic institutes can forge a future pathway that will turn this challenge into a massive opportunity and propel India at the forefront of sustainable cooling technology, policy and building design through a combination of innovation, skill development and policy interventions. It is not inconceivable that in another decade time, India can be home to the most efficient air-conditioning technology deployed at scale, the most visionary and comprehensive policy framework to support the most efficient and sustainable cooling development and deployment and a cadre of most innovative and brilliant high performance building designers that will be renowned for their professional pedigree and ingenuity.