India recently prepared and released a comprehensive Cooling Action Plan for the country and in the course became one of the first countries in the world to do so. The Plan, called India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP), is supposedly has a long term vision to address the cooling requirements across the sectors. The overarching goal of ICAP is to provide sustainable cooling and thermal comfort for all while securing environmental and socio-economic benefits for the society. This, it’s hoped, will also help in reducing both direct and indirect emissions.
The India Cooling Action seeks to (i) reduce cooling demand across sectors by 20% to 25% by 2037-38, (ii) reduce refrigerant demand by 25% to 30% by 2037-38, (iii) Reduce cooling energy requirements by 25% to 40% by 2037-38, (iv) recognize “cooling and related areas” as a thrust area of research under national S&T Programme, (v) training and certification of 100,000 servicing sector technicians by 2022-23, synergizing with Skill India Mission. These actions, according to the government, will have significant climate benefits.
There is no doubt that the intent of the government in coming out with such an action plan is noble one, but its feared that the government may ultimately end up in providing personal/room ACs to every home at a subsidized rate. Some experts fear that the plan may eventually end up in subsidizing AC industry. An action plan with such myopic goal is not sustainable and is disastrous. Too much importance seems to have been laid on active cooling which makes the entire plan non-sustainable in the long run.
At present cooling comfort is enjoyed by hardly 10% of the population and the goal of making its application universal also calls for energy sufficiency throughout the country and throughout the year. In the mean time, efforts may have to be put in to improve the energy efficiency of the air conditioners used in the country which still are energy guzzlers despite the rating system in operation.
Too much emphasis on cooling than thermal comfort
Cooling action plan without improving the energy efficiency in buildings is bound to fail. We need to define benchmark for thermal comfort (including ambient temperature, humidity, air flow etc) in different climatic zones of India and implement it religiously. Energy efficiency and cooling factors are given the least significance even in Light House project where primary concerns are cost and speed of completion of the project. An affordable house under Light House project should also include energy efficiency factors and natural cooling factors.
Default temperature varies considerably
Strangely, different default temperature range indicated by different agencies for active cooling or ACs which varies considerably. For example, it is 200C for popular AC setting; 240C proposed by the power ministry as default thermostat setting advisory; 270C is suggested by BIS standard indoor temperature for AC testing; and 300C by NBC comfort limit for naturally ventilated building etc. The government needs to come out with uniform guidelines and reduce ambiguity.
We need a proper thermal comfort definition
Unless we have a proper and universally acceptable thermal comfort definition it’s impossible to estimate cooling demand in the country. Cooling demand cannot be estimated simply based on the sales of air conditioners. However, the government seems not to have done enough home work in this regard while finalizing the report. In the absence of such authentic study we do not know where we stand vis-à-vis cooling demand in the country. Developed nations and some of the emerging markets have thermal comfort goal and it’s high time that we too develop one without wasting further time.
Adaptive model ignored
We need to give enough importance to adaptive model too and for this we need to amend national building codes. Codes need to be drafted in such a way to ensure all buildings are designed in a way that indoor conditions don’t get hotter than the national goal for majority of hours in the year using passive design. Housing of the poor needs to be improved to meet the national thermal comfort for all targets, while housing of rich has to adapt to non-freezing temperatures. The code should promote and if need be incentivize construction of buildings which keep in mind thermal comfort. The cooling plan should have a holistic approach to solve the problem than laying undue importance on active cooling alone.
Relook at the active cooling industry
The government needs to relook at active cooling industry and its composition. Presently, the active cooling sector is overwhelmed by the air conditioners while some parts of the country can do very well with just air coolers. Air coolers are less expensive, consume less energy and have far better emission records. Even in case of air conditioners we need to have robust standards, labelling and testing methodology. The system should discourage and if possible discontinue manufacturing and selling of energy inefficient equipment/appliances. For instance, people tend to compromise and settle for a middle option when presented with menu of options. Consumers settling for 3-star appliances and can it be overcome by offering only 4 and 5 star rated appliances.
Need strong monitoring mechanism
Any government plan and programme will not work unless there is strong and efficient monitoring and verification mechanism. The government has targets with corresponding timelines but without proper monitoring mechanism targets and their achievement cannot be tracked. Without proper monitoring and enforcement mechanisms these targets have little meaning.
On the whole, it seems that not much study and analysis has gone into the preparation of the plan and the entire exercise seems to have been done hurriedly. Though the significance of the issue and the government’s intent cannot be doubted, it should also be borne in mind that unless we set our goals based on concrete data and analysis it may turn out to be a futile exercise. Plan has been announced without giving enough attention to factors like enforcement, monitoring and operations. After all, we have already wasted 10% of time without achieving even one per cent of the goal.