Can efficient cooling help manage fast rising electricity demand in India and achieve thermal comfort for all?

Increased cooling needs put strains on Indian power grids and people’s health

Temperatures have been steadily rising in India, bringing the onset of summer forward by at least one month, combined with more frequent and intense heat waves. With rising daily average temperatures, and growing ownership of air conditioners, peak electricity demand has been growing on average 4% annually over the last decade. As average daily temperatures cross 25°C, a sharp increase in cooling demand can be observed.

The El Niño-year 2023 saw multiple heat waves, starting with the hottest February on record in the country. Most of the impact from El Niño’s heat is expected in 2024. Average mean and maximum temperatures in August were the hottest ever recorded due to large rainfall deficiency and weak monsoon. During August, India’s peak electricity demand reached records of over 220 GW on at least 13 days, which marks an unprecedented 23% increase in peak electricity demand. Active cooling technologies, including fans and ACs, were driving forces behind these record peak loads. Only 3% of Indian households use energy efficient ceiling fans, which currently often entail a higher upfront cost but consume 50% less energy than conventional models.

Despite low access rates to air conditioning equipment, ownership rates are increasing. Before 2019, only 1 in 10 households had access to an air conditioner, while 24% of households owned either an evaporative air cooler or an air conditioner in 2021. Electricity consumption due to space cooling increased 21% between 2019 and 2022, and today nearly 10% of electricity demand comes from space cooling requirements. However, there remain many heat-exposed and vulnerable sections of the community who have fewer privileges to stay indoors and lower access to cooling. More than half of the labour force in the country is employed in heat-exposed sectors, including agriculture, mining, and construction.

India is rising to the challenge of electricity records while providing thermal comfort to the most vulnerable

Rising cooling needs and growing ownership of cooling equipment are among the main sources of the increase in India’s peak electricity demand. Data on daily electricity loads in the summer months of May and June show that every 1°C increase in the average daily temperature above 24°C drives a 2% rise in electricity demand.

Between 2019 and 2023, India’s hourly electricity demand on a high-temperature day in June (above 36°C maximum daily temperature) increased on average by about 28%, caused largely by increased ownership of air conditioners to meet higher cooling needs and other appliances. Morning and evening peaks also show a more distinct profile, reaching highs during evening hours. More frequent and prolonged heatwaves, like the one experienced in June 2023 in northern India, put immense pressure on electricity grids by pushing up peak demand for cooling. These can lead to power outages, leaving people without the ability to restore healthy levels of thermal comfort and to keep food and medicines at appropriate temperatures. While solar PV generation matches daytime cooling needs, India’s cooling demand also peaks during late evenings and at night.

Electricity demand profile on a high temperature day in India in June in 2019 and June 2023


Under current policy conditions, peak electricity demand rises around 60% from 2022 levels by 2030, with cooling accounting for almost half of this increase.

Meeting growing cooling needs sustainably and reducing peak demand through energy efficiency policies and demand-side management helps to alleviate grid impacts and can lower grid investment needs and system costs, including for storage and expensive standby generation capacity, while providing thermal comfort to all.

Under India’s G20 presidency in 2023, the role of efficient cooling and thermal comfort has been recognised in the G20 Voluntary Action Plan and Strategic Plan for Advancing Energy Efficiency across Demand Sectors by 2030. The “Cool COP28” in Dubai is expected to continue this momentum through a Global Cooling Pledge. 

India is employing a leading mix of policy instruments, business models and community approaches

Flagship programmes of India’s Bureau of Energy Efficiency under the Ministry of Power, including Standards and Labelling (S&L) of appliances, the Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC), and Eco-Niwas Samhita (ENS), are instrumental in managing rising energy demand in India.

A mandatory S&L programme for air conditioners has been in place since 2009, requiring a 24°C default temperature setting for all room air conditioners since 2020 as an important measure to induce behaviour change. MEPS and labels for air conditioners now cover 100% of residential space cooling consumption, up from only 37% in 2009.

Given the importance of fans, the mandatory “star-rating” programme was extended to ceiling fans in 2022. In FY 2021-22, these programmes together saved 69.78 TWh and avoided 57 Mt CO2 emissions.

Passive cooling measures, such as cool roofs, could be one of the simplest and most cost-effective interventions to mitigate the need for active cooling and provide thermal comfort. Community-led cool roof programmes have been initiated in Indian cities such as Jodhpur, Bhopal, Surat, and Ahmedabad.

Several demand response programmes are currently being piloted to reduce peak demand. Tata Power Delhi Distribution and Auto Grid launched a pioneering AI‑enabled smart energy management system focusing on the behavioural demand response for residential customers in Delhi in 2021, which was expanded to Mumbai in 2023. It aims to engage 55 000 residential consumers and 6 000 large commercial and industrial customers to achieve up to 200 MW of peak capacity reduction by 2025.

The contribution of cooling to peak electrical load in India in the Stated Policies Scenario in 2022 and 2030


The contribution of cooling to peak electrical load in India in the Announced Pledges Scenario in 2022 and 2030


India’s Super ESCO Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL) is working on a market transformation programme for deploying 10 million energy-efficient fans, which consume roughly 50% less energy than traditional fans. These market transformation programmes could provide triggers for the replacement of current ceiling fans with energy efficient fans, potentially resulting in 40 TWh/yr energy savings and peak power demand reduction of 14 GW. Furthermore, a first-of its-kind online marketplace for efficient appliances and equipment will be launched to aggregate demand for energy efficiency projects and open new channels for financing.

Gujarat International Finance Tech (GIFT) City is India’s first district cooling system. This system supplies air conditioning to the city’s commercial, residential and social buildings through a central plant, thereby eliminating the need for independent air conditioning units. The 14th Clean Energy Ministerial and 8th Mission Innovation meetings held in Goa in July 2023 also saw the launch of district cooling guidelines to support their more widespread implementation.

Energy efficiency companies in India are also beginning to provide innovative technical and financial solutions. The cooling-as-a-service model is being implemented by Smart Joules in several Indian hospitals, resulting in energy savings, reduction of CO2 emissions and monetary savings to the clientele. The Solar Decathlon India challenges college students to design net zero-energy-water, affordable and resilient buildings to combat climate change and work with real estate developers in implementing net zero solutions.