Residential Energy Efficiency in India

Effective and efficient use of energy often reduces the total energy requirement. Thus, use of energy efficient equipment at home is very essential. Also, there are a few ways, if adopted, they can bring a noticeable change in energy consumption in public places. Read on…

The detrimental impact of global warming on India’s climate is now clearly noticeable. Excessive rainfall along India’s coastal regions has now become more routine. In Assam, instead of regular rainfall through much of the year, there are periods of drought and when the rains do arrive, the quantity of rainfall is so immense that it leads to flooding in multiple parts of the state. North India has recently started experiencing summer heat waves that are both longer and more severe than the ones in the past. The life-threatening impact of climate change on our life is a reality and what’s worse is that in the coming years, severe weather events are likely to become even more frequent.

To deal with global warming, it is imperative for us to lower our greenhouse gas emissions collectively. Though lowering emissions through clean, renewable power has been talked about a lot, renewable energy alone won’t be enough. Given India’s high population density and limited land area, we would still be dependent on fossil fuels and be unable to lower our carbon emissions substantially. With this is mind, one needs to consider other avenues to reduce emissions. Perhaps this is where energy efficiency can play an important role.

In a renewable energy course I took during my master’s at Purdue University, the recommendation was to focus on energy efficiency first. The course, offered by the National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL), mentioned that before installing a Photovoltaic (PV) or renewable energy system, we should first consider improving the energy efficiency of all existing equipment. By doing so, electricity consumption automatically reduces and so do the associated carbon emissions. This in turn, reduces the size and cost of the renewable energy system that needs to be installed.

Due to the rapid urbanization that is occurring throughout India these days, there is an increase in the number of households purchasing energy consuming equipment such as Air Conditioners (AC), smart TVs, water heaters and refrigerators. Recent consumer trends seem to indicate that India’s home energy use will see a substantial increase in the coming years. In this scenario, one needs to consider alternative ways to lower the country’s electricity consumption because the carbon emissions generated by all these appliances running throughout the country will be immense.

Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Panels are currently only 15-20% efficient and covering the entire country with PV panels is impractical. India is already overpopulated and there isn’t enough land available to generate enough electricity through PV plants alone. Though India does have an extensive coastline where wind turbines can be used, it will be a massive undertaking that will require a tremendous amount of financial investment and effort.

Even with a combined increase in PV plants and wind farms, it is unlikely that India will be able to meet the growing energy demands of a nation of 1.4 billion people who are certain to buy appliances for their homes. Perhaps the focus should then be on reducing the electricity that we use to operate certain everyday equipment. If most homeowners buy appliances that are efficient with the electricity they consume, we can certainly mitigate the issue of having to generate enough electricity to power these appliances.

Where can we use more energy efficiency equipment? Well, we can always reduce the energy consumed to cool our homes and buildings, heat our water, and keep our lights on. I grew up in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai. One thing I regularly observed in both cities is that a lot of the residents in many of the residential complexes were using what appeared to be older Air-Conditioning systems. Swapping these out for modern energy efficient ACs would be a good place to start.

The electricity savings that high efficiency and power saving ACs provide, both from a financial and environmental standpoint, especially if a lot of people buy into the idea, are noticeable. As many of you already know, as the number of power saving stars increases, the power consumption of the air-conditioner decreases. Reduced power consumption leads to a corresponding reduction in your electricity bill, especially if you use your AC regularly and during peak demand times. Additionally, with more individuals now routinely working from home, energy efficient ACs and refrigerators are one way of lowering the rising cost of working from home. A substantial reduction in home power use on a  national scale shall also reduce the load on India’s already overburdened power plants. But, as promising as energy efficient equipment can be, one must deal with a practical hurdle that all buyers face, namely, affordability.

In the United States, the federal government provides tax credits for Energy Star Rated and Energy Efficient equipment. The Tax credits for Air-Conditioners are $300 each. For heat pumps, furnaces and non-solar operated water heaters, the homeowner can avail another $300 tax credit. However, unlike the US, the Indian government does not provide any such tax credit to purchasers of energy efficient or power saving equipment. Now, to a cost- conscious homeowner, the financial savings provided merely by a reduction in their home’s electricity bill is unlikely to convince them to spend a noticeably higher amount of money on an energy efficient AC or refrigerator.

This is where the government could step in and like the subsidy for Solar PV panels and Solar water heaters, provide a government subsidy or tax credit for power saving ACs and refrigerators. This could pave the way for a considerable chunk of the AC owning population swapping out their older, inefficient and energy consuming ACs for better performing and power saving ACs and also lead to first time buyers purchasing five star rated power saving ACs. The same goes for refrigerators.

The second area electricity consumption can be reduced is by using occupancy and daylight sensors in the many residential complexes being constructed in cities across India. Through occupancy sensors, the lights can be dimmed or turned off when not required and turned on only when the area is occupied. For instance, with occupancy sensors operating the lights in a parking garage, the lights would brighten to their highest illuminance when the sensor detects a car or a person. Once the car or person is no longer present, it would dim its associated light fixtures by 50-70% or turn off the lights altogether. This would lower the building’s energy use. Additionally, occupancy sensors can also be utilized in other common areas such as stairwells, corridors, clubhouses, walking parks etc. and help the residential complexes save on their electricity bills.

Implementing the use of occupancy sensors in as many residential complexes as possible is another simple way of considerably reducing the electricity used for lighting. Furthermore, the government can make use of occupancy sensors in public areas such gardens, parking garages, bus depots etc., and turn the lights on only when occupants are present. Implementing the use of occupancy sensors in public and private areas on a large scale across India can thus result in a considerable reduction in lighting electricity use. Though there is a moderate cost associated with purchasing and installing the sensors, one must consider the substantial reduction in electricity consumption that these sensors provide. Using occupancy sensors to reduce electricity use will also decrease the carbon emissions associated with the burning of coal used to run India’s thermal power plants. In a few years, the energy savings from the sensors should help recover the initial investment in the occupancy sensors. Additionally, in public and residential buildings that receive enough daylight, photocells can be used to dim the lights in areas where there is sufficient sunlight. This will further reduce electricity use in buildings.

Next, we can look at the commercial boilers that are used to generate electricity and the residential water heaters that provide hot water in homes. India relies heavily on coal powered thermal power plants to generate electricity for its population. Upgrading the decades old inefficient coal fired boilers used in these power plants with high performance natural gas boilers that operate at a higher efficiency is yet another avenue where the government can improve, in this case, the energy efficiency of the electricity producing equipment itself.

Simultaneously, the government should also encourage the use of power saving electric water heaters. No doubt solar heaters are great at utilizing sunlight to naturally heat up water, but on days when it is cold or when there isn’t enough sunlight available, one must resort to the electric option. Providing tax credits for energy efficient electric water heaters is another way to incentivize their sale. Additionally, I recently noticed electric heat pump water heaters that utilize the heat available in outdoor air to heat up the water in their tanks. Some of these heat pump water heaters utilize R-744 (CO2) refrigerant to accomplish their heating needs. CO2 is considered an environmentally friendly refrigerant as it has a Greenhouse Warming Potential (GWP) of 1. This is another improvement in water heating technology and hopefully such water heaters will be available in India soon.

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA

Finally, energy consumption in India’s northeastern states can be reduced by advancing the clock in the region by thirty minutes to an hour. In the northeast, the sun rises earlier than in the other parts of the country and in winter, it sets early (around 5 pm).

By advancing the time in the northeast by an hour, both offices and residences would get an extra hour of sunlight and use it instead of artificial lighting. The idea is similar to daylight savings time where the clocks are advanced an hour to avail of the natural daylight available and save energy. Moreover, Bangladesh standard time is currently 30 minutes ahead of Indian Standard time and with the northeastern states located after Bangladesh, it certainly makes sense to move the clocks in the northeastern states an hour ahead. This will enable the northeastern states to play their part in reducing both their electricity use and the associated carbon emissions.

Bhargav Rajkhowa has been working as a Commissioning Engineer at RSACx since May 2018 and is an AABC Commissioning Group (ACG) Certified Commissioning Authority (CxA). He has six years’ experience in building Commissioning and worked on multiple Commissioning projects in the western United States. He has a master’s degree in engineering technology and ecology from Purdue University and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Mumbai, India. Bhargav is always interested in finding ways to improve the quality of the built environment. In addition to commissioning, Bhargav has also worked on the research, development and commissioning of automated greenwalls that can improve indoor air quality (IAQ).

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