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Energy inefficiency can short circuit cooling India


More frequent and intense heat waves are expected with a rise in global temperatures due to climate change.

The India Cooling Action Plan projects the number of room air conditioners to become about four times in the next 10 years, and about 10 times in the next 20 years, making India the world’s largest energy user for cooling.


GS-III: Environment and Ecology, GS-I: Geography (Important Geophysical Phenomena), GS-II: Governance (Government Initiatives and Policies)

Mains Questions:

Heat waves are a rising concern in India with the increasing demand for cooling methods. Discuss in the context of India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) as a solution to the problem. (10 marks)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Heat Wave
  2. Criteria for Heat Waves
  3. Heat waves rise in India
  4. India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP)
  5. Scant Data regarding cooling needs and Mitigation efforts
  6. Conclusion

Heat Wave

  • A heat wave is a period of abnormally high temperatures, more than the normal maximum temperature that occurs during the summer season in the North-Western and South-Central parts of India.
  • Heat waves typically occur between March and June, and in some rare cases even extend till July.
  • Higher daily peak temperatures and longer, more intense heat waves are becoming increasingly frequent globally due to climate change.
  • The health impacts of Heat Waves typically involve dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and/or heat stroke.
  • It also causes heat cramps, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps and sweating.
  • The extreme temperatures and resultant atmospheric conditions adversely affect people living in these regions as they cause physiological stress, sometimes resulting in death.

Criteria for Heat Waves

  • The heat wave is considered when the maximum temperature of a station reaches at least 40°C for Plains and at least 30°C for Hilly regions.
  • If the normal maximum temperature of a station is less than or equal to 40°C, then an increase of 5°C to 6°C from the normal temperature is considered to be heat wave condition. Further, an increase of 7°C or more from the normal temperature is considered as severe heat wave condition.
  • If the normal maximum temperature of a station is more than 40°C, then an increase of 4°C to 5°C from the normal temperature is considered to be heat wave condition. Further, an increase of 6°C or more is considered as severe heat wave condition.
  • Additionally, if the actual maximum temperature remains 45°C or more irrespective of normal maximum temperature, a heat wave is declared.

Heat waves rise in India

  • During 1978—2014 there were 660 heat waves—defined as temperatures above the normal average and lasting two days or more—that caused the deaths of 12,273 people, says a new study.
  • A study published earlier this year in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society says deadly Indian heatwaves are increasing in recent years and attributed it to the amplification of Arctic warming.
  • The study also observed noticeable variation in the count of male fatalities over women and children which they attributed to greater exposure outdoors.
  • The Indian government does not recognize heat waves as potential threat to human lives. The National Disaster Management Act and the National Policy on Disaster Management do not include heat wave fatalities in their list of natural calamities and so no budgetary allocation is made to address the problem.

India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP)

  • The India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) was launched by Ozone Cell of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in 2019, to provide sustainable cooling while keeping in mind, at the same time, the need to protect the ozone layer.
  • The India Cooling Action seeks to:
    1. Reduce cooling demand across sectors by 20% to 25% by 2037-38
    2. Reduce refrigerant demand by 25% to 30% by 2037-38
    3. Reduce cooling energy requirements by 25% to 40% by 2037-38
    4. Recognize “cooling and related areas” as a thrust area of research under national S&T Programme
    5. Training and certification of 100,000 servicing sector technicians by 2022-23, synergizing with Skill India Mission.
  • The following benefits would accrue to the society over and above the environmental benefits:
    • Thermal comfort for all – provision for cooling for EWS and LIG housing
    • Sustainable cooling – low GHG emissions related to cooling
    • Doubling Farmers Income – better cold chain infrastructure – better value of produce to farmers, less wastage of produce
    • Skilled workforce for better livelihoods and environmental protection
    • Make in India – domestic manufacturing of air-conditioning and related cooling equipment’s
    • Robust R&D on alternative cooling technologies – to provide push to innovation in cooling sector.
  • The Thematic Areas identified are as follows:
    • Space Cooling in Buildings
    • Cold-chain and Refrigeration
    • Transport Air-conditioning
    • Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Servicing Sector
    • Refrigerant Demand and Indigenous Production
    • R&D and Production sector – Alternative Refrigerants
  • Cooling requirement is cross sectoral and an essential part for economic growth and is required across different sectors of the economy such as residential and commercial buildings, cold-chain, refrigeration, transport and industries. Cooling is also linked to human health and productivity. Linkages of cooling with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are well acknowledged. The cross-sectoral nature of cooling and its use in development of the economy makes provision for cooling an important developmental necessity.
  • The India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) provides an integrated vision towards cooling across sectors encompassing inter alia reduction of cooling demand, refrigerant transition, enhancing energy efficiency and better technology options with a 20-year time horizon. The thrust of the ICAP is to look for synergies in actions for securing both environmental and socio-economic benefits.
  • The India Cooling Action Plan projects the number of room air conditioners to become about four times in the next 10 years, and about 10 times in the next 20 years, making India the world’s largest energy user for cooling.

Scant Data regarding cooling needs and Mitigation efforts

  • Cooling will likely be at the forefront of India’s adaptation to climate change, but if cooling needs are met with inefficient ACs, it could be the bane of India’s mitigation efforts.
  • In a recently published paper we find that the desired levels of cooling vary greatly even among relatively homogenous communities. While most households use an AC for three to four hours a day during peak summer months, about 15% use ACs for over eight hours a day. India Cooling Action Plan in its estimation of residential cooling demand, assumes that an average household uses an AC for eight hours a day, which seems to be an upper bound.
  • Only 7% of the households have an energy efficient (star-rated) fan, and 88% of the coolers are locally assembled.

An obstacle

  • Large-scale adoption of efficient cooling appliances will be essential to providing the required thermal comfort in a low carbon manner.
  • We find that low levels of energy efficiency awareness are a major bottleneck that hinders the purchase of more efficient appliances.
  • A third of the households did not know of the Star Labelling programme, which is a government programme mandatory for refrigerators and air conditioners. Of the households that had heard of the programme, only half of them understood what it meant.


  • The impending cooling demand transition in India offers a potential advantage. Because a majority of investments in cooling technologies, infrastructure, and behaviours are yet to be made, there is a unique opportunity to lock-in energy efficient consumption patterns.
  • Awareness campaigns on the benefits of energy efficiency along with subsidies and financial incentives that help with the higher upfront costs can help drive up the adoption of more efficient technologies.
  • Encouraging the use of passive cooling alternatives including energy efficient building designs can help provide the desired thermal comfort with reduced dependence on energy intensive cooling technologies.

-Source: The Hindu

December 2023