Currently, the earth is already about 1.1°C warmer than it was in the late 1800s, and emissions continue to rise. To keep global warming to no more than 1.5°C, emissions need to be reduced by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. To achieve this goal, an immediate emission reduction is required. The global renewable energy market was valued at $880 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach $ 2 trillion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 8.4% from 2021 to 2030.
In a world of breakneck-paced innovation, modern technological advancements have shaped and reshaped the world, human connectivity and consumerism. In a warming world, prosperity and civilisation depend more on access to cool. The growing demand for cooling will contribute significantly to climate change. This is from both the emissions of HFCs and other refrigerants and CO2 and black carbon emissions from the mostly fossil fuel-based energy powering air conditioners and other cooling equipment.
Climate change continues to fuel catastrophes across the world, and India stands to lose immensely. We're straddling the cusp of being the most populous country in the world, and growing extreme weather events are a major hurdle in our path towards sustainable development. India will likely face the brunt of adverse impacts.
The months that remained much-loved for mingling a departing winter with the joys of spring now come bearing woes of premature heat waves across north India. February 2023 recorded the highest temperatures in 122 years. And in 2022, India experienced the hottest March in a century. The anomaly's effects were visible across the country Auli cancelled its winter games, Shimla in Himachal recorded its second-lowest snowfall since 2008-09 and migratory birds in Uttarakhand left early.
India is currently experiencing rising temperatures due to climate change, which could expose 160-200 million people to deadly heat waves every year by 2030. To address this issue, a recent World Bank report suggests that investing in alternative and energy-efficient cooling technologies could generate a $1.6 trillion investment opportunity by 2040 while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The report proposes investing in building construction, refrigerants, and cold chains to benefit over 11 million urban homes and over 29 million rural homes. Private investments in district cooling technologies are also recommended, which could lead to a 20-30% reduction in energy bills. By adopting these climate-responsive cooling methods, India can prevent those in low-income brackets from being disproportionately impacted by rising temperatures. The report indicates that implementing these measures could create 3.7 million jobs and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 300 million tons annually by 2040.Failing to take these measures could have dire consequences, not just exposing millions of people to face lethal heat waves annually by 2030, but also approximately 34 million losing their jobs due to a decline in productivity caused by heat stress. Heat-related food losses currently cost $13 billion annually, and the demand for cooling is expected to increase eightfold by 2037, leading to a 435% increase in annual greenhouse gas emissions.
To address these challenges, India has developed a comprehensive Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) with a 20-year time horizon. ICAP aims to reduce cooling demand, refrigerant demand, and cooling energy requirements by 20-25%, 25-30%, and 25-40% respectively by 2037-38. It also recognizes "cooling and related areas" as a research thrust area under the national S&T program and aims to train and certify 100,000 servicing sector technicians by 2022-23 in synergy with the Skill India Mission.
Hydrofluorocarbons are highly potent greenhouse gases that contribute significantly to global warming. However, there are low-cost and energy-efficient natural alternatives to HFCs that have low global warming potential and are not patented. These alternatives, such as propane (R290), isobutane (R600a), ammonia (R717), and carbon dioxide (R744), can be used in different sectors to reduce costs and emissions.
Cities can exacerbate extreme temperatures through the urban heat island effect, caused by building design and dark surfaces like asphalt that absorb and radiate heat. However, passive cooling techniques can be used to keep buildings cool without relying on air conditioning. These include external window coverings, vegetation, and cool roofs. These methods not only benefit those without access to air conditioning but also ease the burden on the electrical grid.
The 2022 Environmental Performance Index ranks 180 countries on their sustainability performance using 40 indicators across 11 issue categories. India is one of the lowest performers, but AI technology is seen as a promising tool for scaling up sustainable development and modernization in the country. Deloitte reports that swift action on climate change could help India gain $11 trillion by 2070. AI can help accelerate the transition by distilling raw data into actionable information, improving predictions, optimizing complex systems, and accelerating scientific discovery.Wind catchers, traditional towers with open windows used in North Africa and the Middle East to catch the wind and direct cool air indoors, have been used for centuries to stave off the heat.
Commercial models using the same technology can be used in modern buildings. Startups such as ClimateAi, Cervest, One Concern, Climate Alpha, Climate X, and Climavision are using machine learning to analyse data and recognize weather patterns to make highly specific and localised climate forecasts, facilitating climate resilience.To reduce energy consumption and mitigate the impact of cooling systems on the environment, several measures can be implemented. One option is to enhance the energy efficiency of space cooling equipment, by adopting state-of-the-art technologies and ensuring proper installation, monitoring, and maintenance. This could result in significant electricity savings.Another strategy is to decrease the demand for cooling through various means, such as optimising building design and construction, adopting sustainable management practices, promoting changes in user behaviour, and using reflective surfaces and green materials.Refrigeration appliances' energy use can also be optimised by up to 60% by adopting cutting-edge technologies.
For example, supermarkets can improve their refrigeration systems' efficiency, resulting in cost savings and reduced emissions.Moreover, studies indicate that the energy efficiency of Mobile Air Conditioning (MAC) can be enhanced by over 50% using innovative technologies such as secondary loop MACs. These technologies enable the use of affordable low-GWP refrigerants and reduce charge size and leak rates, thus benefiting consumers in terms of fuel and service costs.To achieve comprehensive and effective cooling policies, governments at the national and local levels play a vital role in both demand and supply-side aspects. Initiatives such as the Kigali Cooling Efficiency Program (K-CEP) and the World Bank Sustainable Cooling Initiative aim to promote efficient, clean, and climate-friendly cooling practices. The World Bank Group is developing a "Global Roadmap towards Sustainable Cooling by 2050," while the International Finance Corporation (IFC) supports innovative sustainable cooling solutions through its Sustainable Cooling Innovation Program on its TechEmerge platform.
Several countries, including China, India, and Rwanda, have adopted National Cooling Action Plans, combining high-level policy ambitions with practical strategies to address cooling-related challenges.
Case Study: AhmedabadAhmedabad, the fifth largest city in India, has become the first Indian city to adopt comprehensive Heat Action Plans (HAPs) in 2013, which are aimed at reducing the health impacts of extreme heat. The plans include a range of mitigation and adaptation measures and were developed by expandinglocal traditions that communities have long practised to beat the heat. The HAPs incorporate best practices from plans around the world and focus on improving public awareness, facilitating coordination across sectors, supporting capacity building for healthcare professionals, promoting adaptation efforts, and reducing heat exposure, illness, and death.
The HAPs include four key strategies. The first strategy involves the development and implementation of an early warning system that uses a simple colour-coded "heat alert" system to alert residents, city officials, and the health system of forecasted high temperatures. The second strategy involves community outreach to build public awareness of the dangers of heat and tips for preventing heat-related illnesses and deaths. The third strategy involves training healthcare providers to improve their ability to accurately educate, diagnose, and manage patients during a heatwave. Finally, the fourth strategy involves promoting adaptive measures to reduce heat exposure and promote long-term adaptation efforts.The community outreach strategy of Ahmedabad's HAP focuses on simple and low-cost ways to avoid heat-related illnesses, with awareness workshops conducted for heat-exposed workers and the use of various media channels.
The training for healthcare providers strategy aims to improve the ability of healthcare professionals to recognize heat-related dangers, educate their communities, and identify cases of heat-related illnesses. The HAPs also promote adaptive measures, such as painting roofs with reflective material to reduce indoor temperatures without the need for air conditioners. Overall, HAPs aim to reduce the health impacts of extreme heat through a range of mitigation and adaptation measures. There are a few Heat Action Plans (HAPs) in India that have been recognised as exemplary models. Odisha's HAP stands out for utilizing vulnerability assessment and socioeconomic data to identify and safeguard the most vulnerable. Rajasthan's HAP was the first to focus on rural areas in India. Ahmedabad's HAP, on the other hand, has been applauded by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for being a "leading example of urban heat adaptation" and serving as a blueprint for many cities and states in India and beyond.
Currently, India's National Disaster Management Authority is collaborating with 23 out of the country's 28 states to establish and carry out heat action plans. The creators of Ahmedabad's HAP have developed a toolkit for other cities and states interested in adopting their own heat preparedness plans.
The World Bank report suggests adopting climate-responsive cooling techniques in private and government-funded constructions as a norm to ensure that the economically disadvantaged are not disproportionately affected by rising temperatures. The report also recommends private investments in district cooling technologies to reduce energy bills by 20-30 per cent and investing in pre-cooling and refrigerated transport to minimise food and pharmaceutical wastage during transport.India is increasingly adopting innovative cooling designs to tackle rising temperatures and reduce energy consumption. There are several innovative cooling design startups in India that are working towards providing sustainable cooling solutions. Some of these include:
Ant Studio, an Indian design and architecture firm, has developed an innovative cooling system called AntCool, a terracotta cooling system that can keep buildings cool without electricity. The system is inspired by the structure of beehives, which uses natural convection to circulate air and maintain a constant temperature. The system uses a series of terracotta cones placed on the roof of the building. As hot air rises, it is drawn into the cones, where it cools and is then released into the room below. The system is made from locally sourced materials
Inficold is an Indian startup that has developed an innovative cooling solution for the food and beverage industry. The company's patented technology uses a combination of solar power and thermal energy storage to provide sustainable and cost-effective cooling solutions for food and beverage storage and transportation. Inficold's system consists of a thermal battery that stores thermal energy from solar panels during the day and uses it to power a cooling unit at night. This allows the system to provide uninterrupted cooling even during power outages or when there is no sunlight. The company's cooling systems can be used for a variety of applications, including cold storage for fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and pharmaceuticals. Promethean Power System is another such example.
Prakratik Lifestyle is an Indian startup that has developed an innovative and sustainable cooling system that uses natural and eco-friendly materials. The company's technology uses natural materials like bamboo, jute, and clay to create a low-energy cooling system that is environmentally friendly and cost-effective. The system works by using a process called evaporative cooling, where water is circulated through a porous material like bamboo, which then cools the air as it passes through. The system can be used to cool homes, offices, and other spaces, and requires only a fraction of the energy of traditional air conditioning systems.
SkyCool is a startup that has developed an innovative passive cooling technology for buildings. The technology uses a combination of radiative cooling and thermodynamics to cool buildings without the need for electricity or refrigerants. The system works by using a specially designed roof that is coated with a proprietary material that reflects most of the sunlight while allowing the building to radiate excess heat into the atmosphere. The technology can cool buildings by up to 5 degrees Celsius during the day and up to 12 degrees Celsius at night, making it an effective solution for hot and humid climates.
These innovative cooling designs and technologies have the potential to make a significant contribution to India's heat action plan by reducing energy consumption, carbon emissions costs associated with cooling systems. With the support of the government, these startups can scale up their operations and help to create a more sustainable and resilient cooling sector in India.