Energy efficiency is often called the low hanging fruit of climate change. Each unit of electricity saved is considered a unit less generated, which means less greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. Under the 11th Five Year Plan, programmes promoting energy efficiency aim to save five per cent of energy consumption, or avoiding 10,000 MW addition in generation capacity.
The Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) in April claimed it is most likely to meet the Plan target since the avoided generation capacity recorded till December 2010 was 7,415 MW, equivalent to the generation capacity of two proposed ultra mega power plants in India (about 4,000 MW each). But experts say a closer look at the figure shows the actual saving is, in fact, much less.
According to Umashankar, energy researcher with Delhi nonprofit Centre for Science and Environment, who studied the energy saving reports released by BEE, more than two-thirds of the saving is due to the government scheme, Standards and Labeling (S&L). The scheme mandates star rating for some electrical appliances, the most efficient appliance gets five stars and the least efficient one star.
“The government assumes that without its labelling intervention the appliances would remain entirely inefficient in the market,” says Umashankar. The energy efficiency ratio of a one-star AC is 2.2. It was fixed in 2007 and was supposed to increase to 2.7 from 2010 onwards. But it has not yet been revised.
About half of the claimed 7,415 MW saving comes from air conditioners (ACs). But the Indian Association of Energy Management Professionals in Bengaluru believes the BEE claims are an “exaggerated estimation”. ACs sold today are compared to ACs that have zero-star, a market average before S&L started in 2007. “If BEE measures efficient appliances sold in a year against market study of average efficiency of the previous year, the real energy savings can be estimated,” says Sunil Sood, former president of the association. But BEE does not even make the market average consumption data available which is crucial to calculate the benchmark, he adds.
|| Energy efficiency ratio of a one-star AC is 2.2. This was supposed to increase to 2.7 from 2010. But it has not yet been revised
For example, Sood explains, in 2007-2008, the market average for refrigerators was three-star but the assumed baseline was one-star. The resultant avoided generation capacity would have been half of the claimed 245 MW. National Productivity Council, which audits BEE’s energy saving reports, recommended in the 2009- 10 report that to improve data accuracy the bureau should use specific studies on market research and transformation. Tanmay Tathagat, who led the development of S&L at BEE, says apart from the benchmark there are two crucial factors that decide how much generation capacity has been avoided.
First, the assumption of the number of hours for which the appliances are used. “Since the use of appliances is varied across the country, the number of hours is assumed,” he explains. The assumptions made by BEE, Tathagat says, appear to be too optimistic. For instance, it assumes that fans are used for 3,600 hours in a year. This is almost double of what Prayas energy group, a Pune based non-profit, assumed in its 2010 report—1,600 hours in a year.
Similarly, the energy contribution of ACs would reduce considerably on using Prayas’ assumption of 720 hours in a year against BEE’s assumption of 1,200 hours.
Ajay Mathur, director general of BEE, says the number of hours has been assumed using many “reports and surveys”. Tathagat says the assumption should be an educated guess because there is shortage of such data in the country, and a conservative estimate is mostly closer to reality. Secondly, Tathagat points out that faulty appliances can affect the energy savings substantially.
For example, in 2004-05 BEE conducted a random testing of ACs in the market. The written energy consumption in the brochure was lower by over 30 per cent than actual consumption by some appliances. “Such tests are supposed to be conducted every quarter by BEE but results are neither reported nor factored in the energy saving calculations,” says an energy consultant who does not want to be identified.