Heading for a burnout

  • 14/09/1994

Heading for a burnout THE new range of energy-efficient compressors for refrigerators being developed by Shriram Refrigeration Industries is a godsend, considering the appallingly inefficient consumption of energy in the Indian domestic sector. However, the impact of these devices may be much less than desired. Energy saving devices such as compact fluorescent lamps (cfls), which have been available for some time now, have not had many takers. Besides, instead of trying to promote energy-efficient gadgets, the government has been focusing on building more and more power plants.

In the past 3 decades, the proportion of women in the work-force increased, incomes rose sharply and innovative financing schemes flooded the money market. This led to the proliferation of electrical appliances, and the share of the domestic sector in total energy demand nearly doubled. Today, the satiation of the huge power demand necessitates disproportionate capital investment to increase power generating capacity -- simply because of the massive power consumption by energy-inefficient household appliances and the increasing number of refrigerators and air conditioners.

Ironically -- in the context of the energy-saving possibility -- the government has so far focused on satisfying just this demand. However, according to R K Pachauri, director of the Delhi-based Tata Energy Research Institute (teri), "Although the power generation capacity has grown at an impressive 10 per cent per year over the past 3 decades, demand has grown at a faster rate, resulting in shortages not only in energy but, more importantly, in peaking power."

This is not to say that the government has not been trying to create awareness through education campaigns and promote the generation of non-conventional energy; but its efforts so far have been negligible, considering the domestic sector"s potential for energy-conservation. This is mainly because energy prices do not reflect the resource costs. Besides, consumers are largely unaware of the energy-efficiency factor of the appliances they use. The price and the brand name overshadow almost every other consideration.
No more cheap electricity But the days of cheap electricity are coming to an end. Says Bhaskar Natarajan, director, Energy Management Centre (emc) of the ministry of power, "During the past year or two, several state electricity boards (sebs) have revised their tariffs for the domestic sector, and consumers are beginning to realise the need for switching over to energy-efficient devices." In many states, the electricity charges have been hiked to between Rs 2.00 and Rs 2.50 per unit for urban consumers, from a meagre 50 paise to Re 1 per unit. "There has been growing awareness about the need for energy conservation in the industrial sector, since this sector pays the highest power tariffs. Onlynow is such awareness spreading in the domestic sector," he adds.

Studies by emc indicate that savings of 15 to 20 per cent could be achieved merely by improving operations and maintenance procedures. Changing manufacturing processes would yield another 15 per cent and research and development could save yet another 15 per cent.

But a major obstacle to conservation is the attitude towards electricity. According to Prodipto Ghosh, senior fellow at teri, "Electricity has been looked upon as a merit good like education and public health, and has been supplied at low or zero cost to a large segment of the population. Political pressure has ensured that egalitarian prices are not being charged."

Energy prices in India are kept low through subsidies, especially for the domestic and agricultural sectors, to bail out low income users. Underpricing leads to nonchalance towards energy saving and encourages its frittering away. Consumers tend to select products on the basis of the lowest initial cost. Even if consumers are willing to invest in more energy-efficient products that have a lower overall life-cycle cost, they may not be able to afford the higher initial cost.
Energy Inefficiency There is also a paucity of energy-efficient products. Even today, manufacturers do not perceive a market for such products. Further, with consumers being more concerned about the facilities provided by the product than with energy efficiency, manufacturers give far more weightage to novel features that attract buyers. Yogesh Agarwal, Delhi branch manager of Godrej-ge Appliances, sees a good market among urban households for their frost-free refrigerators because of this added convenience. He does affirm that using polyurethane foam (puf) for insulation, instead of glass wool, enhances energy efficiency, but it is the fridge"s consequent "slimmer look" that is more marketable. Besides, gadgets designed to withstand the voltage fluctuations and frequent interruptions in power supply that are inescapable in India are generally less energy efficient.

High import duties on energy-efficient appliances common abroad also hinder their general use in India. There is an import duty of 250 per cent on cfls. As these costs are passed on to the consumers, it becomes uneconomical for most buyers. The consideration then, says Pradeep Kumar, proprietor of P K Electricals, which markets a wide variety of lesser known brands of desert coolers, water heaters, fans and other appliances, in a middle-class Delhi colony, "is a good choice of gadgets at affordable prices."

Officials involved in energy management are also ill-equipped to integrate end-use energy-efficiency in their plans and policies. Says National Productivity Council director R C Mahajan, "The successful implementation of energy conservation programmes invariably cut across ministries and departments. It is difficult, if not impossible, to bring these different agencies together to carry out one concerted programme."

A study initiated by emc showed that users" awareness of the definitions set by the Bureau of Indian Standards (bis) standards was poor and indicated that an enormous amount of energy would be saved if manufacturers adhered to the standards. (While bis standards relating to safety and performance are mandatory, those relating to energy efficiency are voluntary. Moreover, while norms are specified for various energy-conservation parameters, test conditions cannot be standardised as enough data is often not available). Inadequate standards
BIS standards cover all aspects of electricity use, right from the cables that convey the electricity to the power outlets to the switches and points and the appliance itself. Although many standards have been modified in recent years, equally many are lower than the efficiency levels of products available in the international market. Says T B Gupta, r&d consultant for small motors and former head of r&d at the fans division of Jay Engineering Works Ltd, "bis standards are very inadequate in achieving energy efficiency. You can design a fan complying with bis standards and yet not meet the requirements of the ultimate user in an energy-efficient manner."

Of the 200 BIS standards relating to energy efficiency, says H D Shourie, convener of the consumer activist group Common Cause, "there are some which could effect energy conservation. But unless consumers are vigilant and report errant manufacturers, little can be achieved."

Unfortunately, there are obstacles to the availability of energy-efficient appliances even at the manufacturing stage. The technology for making such appliances exists, but there are few incentives for the small scale sector -- which is teeming with common electrical appliance manufacturers -- to invest in it. Says S S Gopalkrishnan, director of engineering at the Delhi-based Carrier Aircon Ltd, "The large scale sector in India sells 40,000 air conditioners every year -- the small scale sector sells 110,000."

Some manufacturers feel that hardselling the energy-efficiency of their products would simply not be "worth the effort". According to Deepak Sharma of Vishnu Engineers, Delhi, a large proportion of their clients were more concerned with "price, outward appearance and packaging of the goods than with energy efficiency". Chandan Prasad, who owns a wide range of electrical appliances, says cynically, "The isi mark is often misleading and only means higher prices." Gopalkrishnan disagrees. "An energy-efficient air conditioner is not necessarily more expensive. And even if it is, the differential pay-back period is less than 1 year."

BIS officials admit that "there is an urgent need for a campaign to educate the consumers regarding our standards". Says T C Kapoor, director of the organisation"s electro-technical department, "Better awareness of these standards would result in increasing the demand for quality appliances with higher energy efficiency."

But quality upgradation limited to a small percentage of small industrial units that are registered with an official testing agency. Says bis enforcement director A R Gulati, "Methods have to be found to ensure that quality is maintained, even though it involves additional expense." Admits small scale industries commissioner R K Arora, "Although well known companies lend their names to and market devices like water heaters, much of the equipment is produced in the small scale sector. Product quality and standards vary widely."

Sectoral savings
The sector with the highest savings potential is lighting, which accounts for about 17 per cent of India"s total electricity consumption of 170,000 million kilowatts/hour (kwh). The commonly-used incandescent lamps and fluorescent lamps, or tubelights, account for 10 and 6 per cent respectively. Every year, an estimated 250 million incandescent lamps burn out. With an average wattage of 65 and a life of 1,000 hours, each of these lamps consumes 65 kwh in its lifetime.

Says Ashok Gadgil, of the energy and environment division of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in the us, "Energy use (in lighting) can be reduced by as much as 75 per cent without reducing lighting levels." If conventional light bulbs are replaced by highly-efficient cfls, which have a life of about 9,000 hours, the energy used would reduce by about 80 per cent compared to incandescent lamps.

Another electricity guzzler is the ubiquitous ceiling fan. Approximately 6 million fans are sold in India annually, each consuming about 100 watts of electricity every hour. It costs Rs 4 crore to set up 1 mw of generating capacity. Assuming that only 75 per cent of the fans are operated at a time, an investment of Rs 1,800 crore will be required to keep the blades moving, says T B Gupta.

Experts say that more efficient motors can improve energy efficiency by as much as 10 per cent. Thus it makes better sense to use fans fitted with these motors, despite the motor costs being 30 per cent higher.

The emc study also points out that bis power rating standards for water heaters are rarely adhered to. In most models, thermostat controls are not visible or almost inaccessible. And while many models flaunt the isi mark, it is usually only the heating element that has bis certification.

In air conditioners, the scope for energy conservation is tremendous, considering that their number is set to multiply rapidly. Manufacturers are already targeting components like compressors for energy efficiency to woo thrifty consumers, since individual units consume thousands of kilowatts of power. Shriram Industrial Enterprises Ltd chairperson Siddharth Shriram claims that the company"s new range of compressors for air conditioners and refrigerators will markedly improve their energy-efficiency.

Rapid technological changes have taken place in the case of refrigerators. "In this sector, we have been keeping up with the most energy-efficient technology in the world," says Agarwal. But refrigerator use varies widely from household to household and region to region. Thus a figure giving the average rate of energy consumption would be misleading."

Lower standards
And although Indian standards are generally lower than those of developed countries, in some cases they do exceed international levels. Indian televisions do not require more than 100 watts of input power -- a limit set by bis -- much lower than the average TV power consumption in the developed countries.

Besides, elementary maintenance by users could conserve significant amounts of energy in appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners. Heat transfer coils in refrigerators should be cleaned periodically to remove dust; the refrigerator should be placed in a relatively cool spot, away from direct sunlight, stoves and ovens; it should be regularly defrosted, the door sealed properly, the thermostat set optimally.

"An improvement in energy efficiency is definitely more cost-effective than supply augmentation," says Y S Rajan, adviser in the department of science and technology, and executive director, Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC), which has been supporting r&d efforts and promoting technology for energy conservation in different sectors. "However, in comparison to industrialised countries, India"s performance in this area has been poor.

Moreover, the adoption of energy-efficient technologies and improved equipment will not be possible without government policies designed to cover aspects like fair energy pricing, fiscal incentives for installing energy saving equipment and institutional mechanisms for funding such investments."

Incentives needed
This, however, requires a multipronged strategy backed by many government departments. Basic to energy-efficiency programmes are economic incentives to the users. Pricing, taxes and import policies that often reduce or eliminate the economic advantage in saving energy should be reviewed.

Many Indian energy experts concede that it is politically not feasible to eliminate subsidies to conventional energy supply; they propose instead that similar subsidies be given to investments in energy-efficiency. However, such measures could introduce fresh distortions and have undesirable side effects. Instead the policies should seek to promote fairness in energy markets by eliminating existing subsidies and to minimise life cycle costs. To eliminate direct energy subsidies, energy prices should equal the long-run cost of supplying an extra unit of energy.

SEBs have to evolve a system to implement time-of-day metering. Incentives should be given to the domestic sector for avoiding the use of high power appliances during the peak load hours between 6 and 10 pm and 5 and 9 am -- the charges for drawing power during peak hours could be enhanced, for instance. Taxing products that are inefficient and offering discounts to those that are not could encourage manufacturers to produce -- and users to buy -- better devices.

Licences for indigenously manufacturing new models should take into account their energy consumption and limits should be set on the energy consumption of models with fixed capacities. The SEBs could also work out a scheme with the manufacturers to launch programmes to refurbish the old wheezers. All this can be done only with many more testing and certification facilities and the dissemination of energy-efficiency test results.

Although "Save energy" messages have been around for some time now, few people know what to do. Users need to be informed of the potential and the benefits of saving energy -- specific information, targeted to tightly-defined user groups.

Spend more, pay less
Between the costs of generating electricity and the price various sectors pay for its use, there yawns a chasm  of mismanagement and confusion
End use Average price
(Rs /kwh)
Agriculture 0.16
Domestic Sector 0.54
Industry 0.98


Energy source Unit cost of power consumption (Rs/kwh)
Nuclear 2.30
Coal 1.79
Diesel 1.56
Hydroelectric 1.25
Natural gas 1.16
Biogas 1.23
Producer gas 1.33
Wind farm 1.96

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