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Guest Column

Published on: Nov. 9, 2021, 11:51 a.m.
For a green, clean world

By Dr. Satish Kumar. The author is Executive Director and President, Alliance for an Energy-Efficient Economy

How do you start to solve the biggest challenge facing mankind? Of course, by working together and creating an inter-dependent system of innovative business model, aggressive policies and creating a low carbon culture in our society. As the infographic below shows, a problem as complex as climate change can only be solved through triple-sector collaboration where government, industry and non-profit organisation needs to work collaboratively, synergistically, and persistently to solve the problem.

A recent example worth emulating is the progress and solutions that have been made under Montreal Protocol where the global triple-sector community has come together to solve ozone depletion challenge initially and more recently global warming challenges as a result of the use of refrigerants – a lifeline for the modern world in a warming planet.

Energy at the heart of climate change challenge: In its 2021 World Energy Outlook report, International Energy Agency has voiced concerns that today’s pledges by all countries close less than 20 per cent of the gap to the Net Zero by 2050 scenario – an equilibrium state that many climate scientists and policy makers believe is needed to counter the threat of climate change in a meaningful manner. At the same time, IEA also unequivocally says that demand side interventions in the form of energy efficiency, which it calls the first fuel, is one of the most cost-effective technology measures available today to help bridge the ambition gap. Why is this so significant?

Energy efficiency remains the cheapest, fastest and cleanest form of interventions not only to move from pledge to action but also to create a thriving business ecosystem that will help create India an energy-efficient economy with millions of green jobs, new start-ups deploying latest digitalisation, artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques that can make our appliances more energy efficient, buildings more thermally comfortable and sustainable, industry more globally competitive and our cities and urban landscape cleaner, greener and more people friendly.

Embodied and operational energy

Energy is consumed twice by most appliances, buildings, vehicles, smartphones, etc. that are the staples of people living in the modern world. The first is the embodied energy that is used to manufacture or build these objects and the second is the energy consumed by these objects themselves. So, Tata Steel, ACC Cement, Hindalco, Maruti Auto, Vedanta etc. all play a very important role in producing either the raw materials or the widget themselves; their process efficiency and the energy intensity (Joules/tonne of steel or cement or Joules/Maruti Swift for example) will have a huge bearing on the embodied energy of cars or appliances or homes that we build today. 

While there is increasing pressure to quantify the energy or carbon intensity of the products, it is a non-trivial task to capture energy consumed during the entire lifecycle of manufacturing. Yet, companies are facing the pressure either from the environmentally conscious governments as they enact policies such as Extended Producer Responsibility which is holding the manufacturers responsible through cradle to grave or production through disposal/recycling of the products or by shareholders asking the companies to report quantitative data showing how well they are doing on the Environment-Social-Governance (ESG) framework. 

Since ESG performance is starting to affect the share price of companies as institutional investors such as pension funds, etc. are asking for more transparency and standardised metrics to show how efficient their manufacturing processes are. Suddenly, circular economy and resource efficiency are no longer fancy buzzwords reserved for avant-garde companies but are being discussed in the board rooms of majority of the Fortune 500 companies.

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Operational energy, on the other hand, is a relatively easier concept to understand. It is no surprise then that most efforts, such as building energy code, standards and labelling of appliances and buildings, fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, etc., to promote energy efficiency have largely focused on regulating operational energy use. Performance metrics such as kWh/m2/year or KMs/litre or kW/tonnes of refrigeration are units of operational energy that are used to define the relative energy efficiency of buildings, cars or an air-conditioner respectively.

As decarbonisation of the power sector gains steam with prices of renewable technologies on a long and sustained downward trend, embodied energy, which has largely remained unregulated is coming under the scanner of policy makers and companies are already taking steps to stay ahead of the curve and taking proactive steps to reduce the embodied energy content. It is also hoped that technologies such as blockchain would help in clearly capturing the input and output of energy during the material production, transport and manufacturing cycle with clear attribution to overcome the challenge of accurately and comprehensively capturing energy use at each step.

Ensuring quality of life and energy security with cost-effective and environment-friendly technologies

India is also faced with a massive challenge of providing thermal comfort to a billion lives and better livelihoods to our farmers. With room air-conditioner penetration at less than 10 per cent in Indian homes and running cost of air-conditioners out of reach for most Indian households, we need to think about the next generation of cooling appliances; super-efficient fans, water- and energy-efficient evaporative coolers and next generation of air-conditioners that can seamlessly function as evaporative coolers or air-conditioners depending on outdoor conditions, use variable frequency drive, natural and low-GWP refrigerants that will help achieve the dreams of hundreds of millions to sleep comfortably in the sweltering heat of Indian summer. 

Similarly, India cannot afford a loss of approximately 15 per cent of the fruits and vegetables that it produces because of poor cold chain infrastructure. Not only do we need to create an uninterrupted and unbroken cold chain infrastructure of packhouses, reefer vans, ripening chambers that will help reduce the food losses significantly but will also enable the farm to fork movement of post-harvest horticultural products in a sustainable manner. 

Energy efficient technology companies today can make super-efficient appliances such as ceiling fans, refrigerators and room air-conditioners and LED lamps that are critical to ensuring a comfortable and safe quality of life for rich and poor alike living in rural or urban India. These appliances use energy-efficient motors, natural and green refrigerants, heat and electricity conducting metals and IoT technologies to deliver the same outputs at 1/3rd or even 1/4th of the energy use and environmental impact than conventional technologies. While mostly hidden from public view, electric motors are embedded in almost every built environment.

They power a vast range of applications fundamental to modern life and consume over 45 per cent of the world’s electricity. In industrial and manufacturing facilities, around 75 per cent of industrial motors are used to run pumps, fans, and compressors, a category of machinery that is highly susceptible to major efficiency improvements.

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On the one hand, companies such as ABB, Armstrong Fluid Technologies, Carrier, Danfoss, Greentech Knowledge Solutions Pvt. Ltd., Schneider Electric, Smart Joules, Tabreed and 75F have the knowledge, technologies and solutions to make our homes, offices, cities and industries achieve energy efficiency that will be 2-3x better than what is currently the case through the use of smart sensors and switchgears, motors and drives, pumps, solutions to power today’s energy hungry data centres & HVAC&R and cold chain industry making them more sustainable, energy efficient & climate friendly.

On the other hand, Infosys embraces energy efficiency as the foundational philosophy to design super-efficient new buildings and net-zero energy and water campuses, undertake deep retrofits in existing buildings and deploy accurate monitoring to ensure long term energy performance leading to one of the largest enterprise-level retrofit programmes in the world.

If India has to become a leader in these green and clean technologies, then government must substantially increase budget for energy efficiency staff, programmes and schemes at both the Centre and the state and city level, our policies and standards must start to encourage those businesses by providing incentives, tax breaks and production linked incentives that would allow them to innovate and manufacture the next generation of low-carbon technologies at an affordable cost while creating green jobs that are so essential to creating a thriving energy-efficient economy.

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