Tackling the cooling challenge with a chiller efficiency policy in India

by | Apr 8, 2020

Demand for chillers to cool spaces like airports and shopping malls is expected to grow dramatically over the next three decades.

Image credit: Ibrahim Rifath on Unsplash

The world faces an imminent surge in demand for space cooling that will improve lives but could have dire consequences for global efforts to address climate change. In hot and humid locations around the world, economic expansion, urbanization and population growth fuel increasing use of air conditioning. Cooling opens the door to productivity gains and quality of life improvements, but also drives demand for electricity, much of which is produced from climate-damaging fossil fuels.

In a report published last year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) described a coming “cold crunch” as global energy demand from air conditioning triples between now and 2050, requiring new electric capacity equivalent to the combined output of the US, EU and Japan today.

Transitioning to high-performing equipment is a cost-effective means to reduce cooling energy use. Chillers are the key piece of equipment in large central air condition systems used for office and commercial complexes, and to cool products and machinery for many industrial processes. IEA data show that the most efficient chillers use one quarter as much power per unit of cooling as the least efficient units, pointing to a significant opportunity for efficiency improvements. But there are challenges to setting performance requirements for them, particularly because chiller energy use varies with site-specific design factors and environmental conditions.

A new paper published in WIREs Energy and Environment studies how regulators in India developed a chiller energy efficiency policy to drive a transformation of the market toward high-performing products. Throughout the six-year policy development process, regulators maintained a flexible approach to addressing novel challenges that arose. The new standards took effect in January 2019 and are projected to reduce energy use by 4 TWh and carbon emissions by 3.5 megatons annually by 2030. The case study highlights how policymakers can overcome barriers to regulating complex equipment in pursuit of national energy and climate goals.

At the outset, India’s Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) faced a lack of chiller performance data.  Working closely with CLASP, an international non-governmental organization that focuses on appliance energy performance, BEE learned that purchasers lacked comparative data because chiller energy use depends heavily on local temperature and humidity conditions. To enable meaningful product comparisons, BEE expanded use of a customized seasonal energy efficiency metric, which at the time was under development for room air conditioners, to apply to chillers as well.

Regulators also faced a lack of established national or international test methods to evaluate chiller energy performance. The Bureau of Indian Standards developed a new test method based on proprietary work by the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) and other industry groups. The Indian test method built from those inputs to reflect domestic weather and cooling use data, and integrated new measures for quality, safety, noise output, and energy efficiency. BEE offers technical support to domestic laboratories interested in becoming accredited on the new test method.

“In developing the chiller efficiency policy, Indian regulators deviated from the traditional standards development process to address the challenges presented by this complex, highly variable equipment,” said P.K. Mukherjee, the study’s lead author. “Other governments seeking to mitigate the energy and climate impacts of growing cooling energy demand can also benefit from this responsive approach.”

Written by: Jenny Mandel

Reference: P. K. Mukherjee, et al. ‘Staying cool: The development of India’s pioneering energy efficiency policy for chillers,’ WIREs Energy and Environment (2020). DOI: 10.1002/wene.372

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