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Keeping cool beyond the pandemic

Karan Mangotra/Manjeet Singh   |   September 1, 2020

For an energy-efficient and climate-friendly recovery, coordinated action from policymakers, consumers and industry is required

“There is a painful beauty in the collapse of our global climate,” said @paulnicken while posting this on Instagram. This harsh and ugly reality of climate change is being seen in various aspects of our lives — from more frequent and intense disasters to increasing man-animal conflicts. The roaring pandemic, while bringing the world to its knees, is raising questions about the choices we make to keep individuals, societies, and nations resilient.

Beyond the immediate impact on health, the current crisis has major implications for global economies, energy use and CO2 emissions. The recent IEA report states that global energy-related CO2 emissions could fall by 8 per cent in 2020 and this global economic downturn will also have an impact on investment in energy systems, including efficient climatefriendly cooling. While it’s heartening to see the emissions dip dramatically, a perpetual state of lockdown is surely not the way to achieve environmental sustainability. We need to get our economies up and running through conscious and collective action.

Climate-friendly cooling provides us with an opportunity to kickstart the economy while catering to the developmental needs of the country. The essential nature of cooling services is underlined by the Covid-19 pandemic as temperaturesensitive vaccines will require quick deployment around the globe and lockdowns forcing people to stay at home for long periods of time are a health concern in many countries with a warmer climate.

The recent UNEP-IEA Cooling Emissions and Policy Synthesis Report stated that up to 0.4oC of warming could be avoided by 2100, by transitioning to energy-efficient and climate-friendly cooling solutions. We provide a few insights on how countries can enhance their efforts to provide thermal comfort to all.

Coordinated actions 

Cooling is a cross-sectoral aspect and this means that in most countries, it is viewed from different perspectives and vantage points leading to disaggregated actions that have lesser impacts. India paved the way for coordinated action on all cooling- related activities through its ambitious India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP). The rationale behind the ICAP was that coordinated policy action quadruples the benefits compared to policy action taken in isolation.

The ICAP envisages (i) reducing cooling demand across sectors by 20-25 per cent by 2037-38, (ii) reducing refrigerant demand by 25-30 per cent by 2037-38, (iii) reducing cooling energy requirements by 25-40 per cent by 2037-38, (iv) recognising “cooling and related areas” as a thrust area of research under national Science & Technology Programme, and (v) training and certification of 1,00,000 servicing-sector technicians by 2022-23.

However, its implementation would be challenging without coordinated actions between other line ministries, industries, academia, and civil society.

Reducing cooling demand

The UNEP-IEA study acknowledges the importance of reducing cooling demand through promoting sustainable built spaces and air-conditioners’ efficiency enhancement through policy solutions such as building codes and minimum energy performance standards. In India, the Energy Conservation Building Codes for commercial buildings have existed since 2007 and have recently been extended to multi-storied residential buildings.

While the implementation of the code has remained weak across States in India, the popular star-labelling programme for ACs has done wonders. Since its inception in 2007, the AC efficiency standards have been strengthened by about 35- 40 per cent through the programme. According to the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE), the AC labelling programme has resulted in 12.9 BU of electricity saving in 2018-19 (approximately ₹64.5 billion of monetary saving for consumers in 2018-19 at ₹5/unit of electricity) and contributed to an overall emission reduction of 10.62 MT CO2 during the same year.

With the economy hit by the pandemic and heading towards an all-time low, experts are looking to increase the demand in the economy. Energy efficiency is one of the major tools to put liquidity in the consumer’s hands as the household efficiency result in substantial monetary benefit to consumer and may help to increase spending. This may potentially be one of the post-Covid green recovery tools in the developing world.

Crossing the price-hump

The prime challenge to the introduction of better (higher energy efficiency, low GWP refrigerant) air conditioners is an initial price hump which makes them less competitive as compared to more prevalent (lower efficiency, higher GWP refrigerant) product. These affordability concerns influence consumer behaviour. The recently concluded perception study by TERI shows that over 90 per cent of the consumers for cooling products look at the star-rating of the appliance but the cost is always of paramount importance.

To make the most efficient option the more preferred option, crossing the price-hump is extremely crucial and the role of business models to reduce costs becomes important. Public bulk procurement programmes, like that by EESL, leverage economies of scale through demand aggregation to significantly reduce the prices of the latest equipment and make them available to the masses at a much more affordable price.

Through the first tender, EESL delivered ACs that are comparably priced with average efficiency units, but over 40 per cent more efficient, perform at high ambient temperatures and are reliable over a wide operating voltage range and are backed by five years of additional warranty.

Building civil society coalitions

Civil society plays a crucial role in raising stakeholder awareness, facilitating governments, financial institutions and international organisations to plan for a climate-change constrained future through informing policy-making and stakeholder convening. There are aspects of cooling which enhance the social resilience of citizens and this is an area where civil society can play a critical role.

However, there is a need for effective civil-society coalitions to come up with well-thought-out solutions that are costeffective and practical in these uncertain times. One such civil-society initiative is SHEETAL — an alliance for ‘Sustainable Housing, Energy Efficiency and Thermal Comfort for All’. It aims to integrate the Indian civil society endeavours to facilitate the implementation of the ICAP.

The pandemic has shown us that living in harmony with nature is the only way forward. Unprecedented action and leadership from governments, companies and decision-makers will be required to put the world on an economic recovery path, retaining and creating new jobs, while at the same time generating the conditions to make our growth environmentally sustainable. Cooling can provide one such solution to the various challenges that have been thrown onto us by the pandemic and India can lead the way through its cooling action plan.

The writers are Associate Director and Associate Fellow, respectively, Earth Science & Climate Change, TERI