India faces a unique cooling challenge, characterized by one of the lowest access rates to cooling globally, with per-capita energy consumption for space cooling at just 69 kWh, a significant contrast to the world average of 272 kWh. Paradoxically, despite this low access to cooling, the country has been grappling with intensified heatwaves due to climate change, posing a dual threat to human life and economic productivity. Over 90% of the nation falls into the “extremely cautious” or “danger zone,” making India one of the first places in the world to experience heat waves that surpass the human survivability limit. Adding to the complexity, around 380 million people, constituting 75% of India’s workforce, are engaged in heat-exposed labor, making them highly vulnerable to extreme heat. A McKinsey & Company report highlights that heat wave-related productivity and health effects could potentially threaten nearly 4.5% of India’s GDP by the end of the decade.
The cooling demand in India is projected to grow at a rate of 15-20% annually, reaching up to eight times its current level by 2037-38. This surge in demand has led to challenges such as endangering food security, public health issues, and power grid failures in certain regions. To address these challenges, the country has been compelled to build excess grid capacity and rely on fossil fuels due to the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources, putting India’s net zero targets and commitments at risk.