With the development of modern District Energy System (DES), which offers heating and cooling services through a blend of technologies, India can combat the ever-growing primary energy demand in cities.
According to experts, DES supplies “heating and cooling services by using technologies and approaches such as combined heat and power (CHP), thermal storage, heat pumps, and decentralised energy.” District energy basically creates synergies between the production and supply of heat, cooling, domestic hot water and electricity and can be integrated with municipal systems such as power, sanitation, sewage treatment, transport and waste.
Modern district energy can reduce primary energy consumption for heating and cooling of urban buildings by an impressive 50 per cent. This powerful technology cuts emissions to achieve global climate goals reduces pollution resulting to saving lives and health expenditure, especially considering the present scenario where the air quality is hitting a new low every passing day, enables energy storage and renewable connection such as untapped waste heat recovery, and much more.
In India, assessments carried out across five cities, namely, Bhopal, Rajkot, Thane, Pune, and Coimbatore, have already confirmed that cooling large buildings through district cooling networks is more cost-effective and significantly better environmentally.
According to experts, the primary energy demand in India escalated from about 450 million tonne oil equivalent (TOE) in 2000 to about 770 million TOE by 2012. The tonne of oil equivalent (TOE) is nothing but a unit of energy which is defined as the amount of energy released by burning one tonne of crude oil.
This demand is further expected to surge to a whopping 1250-1500 million toe by 2030, as estimated in the Integrated Energy Policy Report. Reason for this jump in demand may go up to a number of factors, with significant one’s being increasing incomes and economic growth which lead to greater demand for energy services such as lighting, cooking, space cooling, mobility, industrial production, office automation, and so on.
Though several initiatives have been adopted by the Government of India to cater to the rising demand of its citizens such as promoting the use of energy efficient appliances or shifting towards renewable and sustainable energy, however, India still holds significant potential to control this ever-growing energy demand.
Amid all this, various studies and research done in the world suggest that modern district energy can prove to be the most effective approach for many cities to transition to sustainable heating and cooling, by improving energy efficiency and enabling higher shares of renewable energy. Modern district energy has been accepted by countries such as Denmark which has made it the cornerstone of their energy policy to reach their goal of 100 per cent renewable energy, and, similarly, other countries, such as China, are exploring synergies between high levels of wind production and district heating.
At Habitat III in 2016, as a testament to the multiple benefits, 197 nations adopted a New Urban Agenda that recognises ‘modern district energy’ networks as a key solution to integrating renewable and efficiency in cities.
To facilitate the transition to such systems, UN Environment is leading an initiative on District Energy in Cities. The District Energy in Cities Initiative is a multi-stakeholder partnership coordinated by the UN Environment, with financial support from Danish International Development Agency (DanIDA), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and the Government of Italy.
As one of six accelerators of the Sustainable Energy for All (SeforAll) Energy Efficiency Accelerator Platform, launched at the Climate Summit in September 2014, the initiative aims at supporting the market transformation efforts to shift the heating and cooling sector to energy efficient and renewable energy solutions. The Initiative aims to double the rate of energy efficiency improvements for heating and cooling in buildings by 2030, helping countries meet their climate and sustainable development targets.
The Initiative supports local and national governments build local know-how and implement enabling policies that will accelerate investment in modern-low-carbon and climate resilient – district energy systems. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is currently providing technical support to cities in seven countries including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, China, Malaysia, Morocco, Serbia, and India.
In India, the Central government has already considered District Energy (cooling) system as a cross-cutting technology in the “National Cooling Action Plan,” a vision document to meet the country’s rapidly growing cooling needs in a climate-friendly manner prepared by Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF & CC). Also, district cooling may compliment the Smart Cities Initiative of India by improving efficiency and the quality of infrastructure, and thus delivering a more sustainable, livable urban environment.
In order to kick-start the District Cooling Initiative in India, UNEP has signed an agreement with Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL), a joint venture of PSUs under the Ministry of Power, to lead and coordinate the DES-related activities as the National Coordinating Agency till 2020.
With the use of this technology, the predictions point that Electricity and CO2 reductions of at least 35 per cent will be there as a result of significant water and refrigerant reductions. Commercially viable projects have been identified in all five Indian cities- Bhopal, Rajkot, Thane, Pune and Coimbatore and the Initiative will now work with these cities to design investable projects and supportive local policies to demonstrate and expand this technology. These cities were cautiously shortlisted post examining high-level project feasibility, policy frameworks, city potential and benefits of district cooling.
For a demonstration of this technology, out of the five assessed cities, Thane city of Maharashtra state has been chosen initially. Here apart from the demonstration, the initiative will also support the development of a long-term policy and investment plan for district cooling, training and study tours.
Further, the technology is not limited to one city as its long-term vision is to realize the benefits of district cooling to the state and national level governments and encourage them to launch it as a national and state policy. Energy Efficiency Services Limited’s (EESL) key role will be to identify suitable business models that can rapidly scale-up this technology in India. Technologies such as district energy (cooling) systems if realised and adopted at an early stage may provide a significant relief in catering the mounting cooling demand of the country over the years.