‘A matter of survival’: India’s unstoppable need for air conditioners

The vast amount of electricity that India’s growing number of ACs will require presents a significant challenge. Already during peak summertime hours, ACs have accounted for 40% to 60% of total power demand in the cities of Delhi and Mumbai. According to the IEA, by 2050, the amount of power India consumes solely for air conditioning is expected to exceed the total power consumption of all of Africa.

Most of this electricity is produced by burning coal, and while India’s capacity from renewables such as solar power is expanding, it is happening nowhere near as fast as the growth of the AC market, which will soon outpace all other household appliances.

India already struggles to meet its current power demand, with long power outages and load-shedding inflicted mostly on poorer districts during peak summer hours.

With peak demand likely to increase by another 60% in the next seven years – half of which would come from ACs, fans and coolers – the government has also looked to boost coal production to help fill in the gaps, which is likely to drive up India’s CO2 emissions even as it commits to net zero by 2070.

India’s cities may already be hot and overcrowded, but estimates say that the number of buildings in India is expected to double in the next 20 years.

As India undergoes this huge, largely unregulated development boom, vast numbers of new homes and buildings are being constructed in the cheapest and quickest way possible; mostly from brick, steel and concrete, which can quickly turn homes to ovens in the summer.

Little thought is given how to keep them cool or ventilated, except by assuming residents will install an AC. Meanwhile, the materials traditionally used in India to build heat-deflecting houses are largely being neglected.