Chilling truth: Your fridge, AC are heating up the planet

  • Snehal Rebello, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Nov 23, 2014 01:10 IST

The rise in incomes in India has nearly doubled the number of domestic refrigerators and air-conditioners in the country since 2000. This, in turn, has meant India has become one of the top producers of greenhouses gases in the world, along with the US and China.

According to energy experts, this rise in emission of greenhouse gases is a result of the lack of awareness about the link between energy efficiency of appliances and pollution.

“While the understanding is better in urban areas, the market is far from maturity for some products,” said Bharath Jairaj, senior associate, World Resources Institute, Bangalore, and part of the Electricity Governance Initiative.

“Consumers need to be aware that purchasing energy efficient appliances leads to net gain in terms of savings on power bills in the long term.”

The quantity of greenhouse gases emitted from domestic refrigerators in India this year — measured in carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) as the global warming potential of carbon dioxide — is 48.5 million tonnes, as compared with 25.4 million tonnes in 2000, even as the number of refrigerators rose from 56.3 million to 112 million, according to German-based Green Cooling Initiative (GCI).

As for air-conditioning, India produces one-tenth of the global emission of 1,450 million tonnes — that is around 146 million tonnes. In 2000, India’s emissions were 81.5 million tonnes. The corresponding increase in air-conditioning units has been around 8 million— from 7.87 million to 16 million.

Although India has fewer refrigerators than the US, the amount of greenhouse gases emitted from them is a lot more. With 173 million units, the US emitted 26.7 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, while the 230 million refrigerators in China emitted 64.8 million tonnes. The global figure of such emissions is 255 million tonnes.

China remains the highest polluter for ACs at 582 million tonnes, followed by the US at 326 million tonnes.

The GCI, funded by the International Climate Initiative and implemented by GIZ Proklima, has estimated country-wise CO2 emissions between 2000 and 2014 based on both stock and sales of these appliances.

It’s been eight years since the Bureau of Energy Efficiency introduced appliances that are energy efficient, indicated by way of five star ratings — it includes frost-free refrigerators and air-conditioners. The latest inverter technology ACs and direct cooling refrigerators are yet to be included in the mandatory labelling programme.

Environmentalists said as income levels rise, the number of appliances in use will soar, leading to more greenhouse gases. They only way to curb this rise is if the government introduces more stringent norms for manufacturing energy-efficient appliances.

“The demand for residential ACs is projected to be 10 times as high in 20 years, and eight-10 times more for refrigerators for the same period. As a significant amount of carbon emissions come from the power sector, energy efficiency of appliances is one of the most important climate-change mitigation tools,” said Girish Sethi, director, industrial energy efficiency division, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), Delhi.

Energy-efficient appliances increase the level of cooling in a refrigerator or an AC for a single unit of energy, which then translates into savings on power bills. What keeps consumers from buying five-star rated appliances is the cost differential.

“Energy-efficient appliances require less energy, which means less coal is being used to generate electricity and consequently reduction in greenhouse emissions. Therefore labeling is linked at the level of polluting thermal power plants,” said a Delhi-based energy expert. “The consumer’s buying decision comes with market maturity to understand these linkages.”

A good way of disseminating information to consumers for energy efficiency, according to experts, is through the involvement of civil society organisations (CSOs).

In Malaysia, for instance, a survey conducted by CSOs brought to the fore that consumers preferred star rating labels, over letter grading or number-rating labels.

“At present, there is a gap between consumers and the regulator. CSOs can be important in key decision-making points, such as choosing appliances to be labelled, building awareness and monitoring the programme. An interpretation of average tariff with savings per month, alongside the label will also help,” said Jairaj, who co-authored a study on CSO engagement in strengthening appliance efficiency standards.

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