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As the world warms, the call for climate-friendly cooling heats up

The next phase of The Climate Group’s EP100 initiative stresses need for more energy-efficient air conditioners, especially in emerging economies.

The Climate Group’s EP100 smarter energy management initiative, which the nonprofit runs in partnership with the Alliance to Save Energy, crossed an important milestone over the summer — surpassing more than 50 members worldwide after gradually building momentum since the launch three years ago.

So far, EP100 companies collectively have reduced emissions by more than 522 million metric tons of CO2e since their respective baseline years — and that’s just for the 23 companies that reported results to the nonprofit for the past year. (The Climate Group’s latest progress report only used metrics from members with at least two years of energy data.) Put another way, that’s a reduction of 703 terawatt-hours of power, or about half the annual electricity consumption of India.

The concept of energy productivity is subtly different from energy efficiency: It looks beyond the reductions made possible through saving power to consider how these changes might be used to drive growth in economic output. 

Now, several of EP100’s active participants are rising to a more specific directive: drive far deeper energy efficiency for the equipment that keeps corporate campuses, warehouses and factories cool. Those contributing range from building technology company Johnson Controls to auto and farm equipment maker Mahindra Group to chemicals company Godrej to retailer Majid Al Futtaim.

Cooling is a big user of energy in Indian corporates, especially in office blocks.
Those measures could include anything from end-to-end retrofits of existing air conditioners and chillers to cleaning air filters or adjusting fan speeds. Here is how a company can participate in the challenge:
  • Schedule a treasure hunt, with internal teams and relevant external advisers, at a major facility to identify potential refrigerant leaks in systems or ways to switch equipment to run on low-global warming refrigerants, thermal cooling operation or renewable energy.
  • Look for potential ways to finetune energy management settings or controls or to invest in retrofits of chillers, temperature controls and other equipment.
  • Declare a chosen course of action.
  • Deploy the suggested energy management upgrade within one year of the commitment or complete an "investment-grade" retrofit by the target year for your company’s overall EP100 commitment.
  • Start reporting progress on an annual basis to the EP100 program. 

You can think of this as a preemptive strike: the reality is that as the global temperatures rise, the demand for air conditions and industrial cooling system will increase in sympathy and electricity demand from air-conditioning alone could triple by 2050. It’s hardly surprising that the first companies to rise to the challenge hail from India and the Middle East.

Cooling a warming world

Most of India-based Mahindra’s energy use, for example, comes from keeping offices at a bearable temperature for the occupants. The company’s chief sustainability officer, Anirban Ghosh, estimates that Mahindra & Mahindra’s planned cooling retrofit could cut related annual operational costs by 30 percent, seeing a payback within a few years.

"Cooling is a big user of energy in Indian corporates, especially in office blocks," Ghosh said in a statement. "Technology is now available so that cooling can be carried out more effectively than in the past and in a greener way."

As you might expect, however, the real estate sector has become one of the leading industries when it comes to taking action on energy productivity.
At Majid Al Futtaim, a big retailer based in Dubai, cooling accounts for 40 percent of the utility bills. The company is installing controls to better sequence its chillers, pumps and cooling tour at shopping malls in the Middle East and North Africa. It’s also recovering condensed water to feed back into cooling towers, and using digital technology to monitor the bigger picture.

Three of the four Godrej operating companies have signed up for the challenge. They’ve already introduced chiller improvements and monitoring systems in more than 90 manufacturing facilities. Now, these organizations will focus on improving cold-chain logistics with artificial intelligence and the internet of things.

Coming from a place of increased strength

Support behind the EP100 initiative has accelerated in the past 12 months and the campaign is aligned with the World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment. Three sorts of commitments are associated with EP100:

  1. Double energy productivity, or "economic output" per unit of energy consumed within 25 years. (The company chooses what output means, so the commitment can apply to both goods and services businesses.)
  2. Deploy an energy management system within 10 years and agree to an energy productivity target.
  3. Commit to owning, occupying and developing buildings that operate at net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

As of the report this summer, about 22 companies had agreed to double energy productivity, eight are installing energy management systems and 20 are focused on the net zero buildings goal.

When I spoke with Jenny Chu, head of energy productivity initiatives and head of corporate partnerships, China with the Climate Group, she said there was no single course of action that EP100 companies are taking to achieve their goals. As you might expect, however, the real estate sector has become one of the leading industries when it comes to taking action. 

One of the more significant success stories buried in the EP100 report comes from Woolworths, a big retailer and supermarket business based in Australia with locations in South Africa and 11 sub-Saharan African countries. The company already has doubled its energy productivity over a 2006 baseline year, saving about $400 million on electricity costs over the past 11 years.

One of the biggest changes Woolworths made was investing in closed-door refrigeration starting in more than 1,300 stores starting in 2012, according to the report. This isn’t an inexpensive gesture — the project should save up to $10 million over five to 10 years, according to the EP100 update.

Woolworths is also replacing all incandescent bulbs with LED ones, a relatively common practice now, and using an internal green building protocol to evaluate a new construction or refurbishment project.

As global temperatures begin to increase, pushing energy-related cooling and refrigeration costs higher, practices of this nature will become part of even more mainstream across virtually every business sector.

And you can also expect the big players in heating and cooling technology to speak up more loudly in the months to come. Ingersoll Rand, for example, included a number of unique and ambitious aspirations in its 2030 sustainability goals announced in the spring, including a commitment to reducing its customers’ carbon emissions by 1 gigaton by that timeframe. You can anticipate hearing more, starting next week during Climate Week in New York, where addressing cooling processes will be a central theme.

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