While providing in-depth understanding of refrigerants, Venkatesh B, SBU Head - Absorption Cooling and Heating Business, Thermax Ltd., assesses the HVAC&R sector in India, in comparison to the international market and technological advancement that can help improve energy-efficiency.

Provide a brief assessment of the Cooling sector in India? What is the market growth trajectory for the cooling and HVAC&R sector?

The cooling sector in India was growing rapidly before COVID-19 struck the world. India was among the fastest-growing HVAC markets globally. However, the scene is going to remain subdued owing to reduced demand and issues with supply. Capital availability for new projects is going to be a challenge, many projects are being put on hold owing to unfavourable market scenario. This year would be challenging, even if the investments pick up in the latter part of the year.

Assess the market for refrigerants in India, how do we fare when compared to the international market?

India is yet to mature as a market as far as refrigerants go. EU stands tall among all others in terms of adoption
of newer refrigerants. In India, there are no policies or incentives in place for usage of new generation refrigerants or green/natural refrigerants. Such incentives can speed up the adoption and prove win-win for both society and industry.

What are the updates within the industry concerning the refrigeration sector in India?

Awareness of green refrigerants and lower GWP refrigerants is improving. The industry is now moving towards the new generation refrigerants due to the regulations. Cleaner and greener solutions such as absorption chillers and heat pumps are gaining more visibility owing to the drive around waste heat recovery and lowering carbon footprint. Customers are willing to invest in low-grade heat recovery based cooling solutions than five years ago and newer forms of waste heat, which were earlier looked down upon are gaining interest.

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Elaborate on technological advancement and the call for energy-efficient solutions, how big is this demand?

The demand for an energy-efficient solution is high, a large portion of the market values this. However, the adoption of energy-efficient solutions is at times hindered by the delta one needs to pay over conventional solutions. Wherever the gap is marginal, customers are opting for energy-efficient solutions. The market is not matured enough to pay a premium for energy-efficient solutions. Many corporates and MNCs do adopt them as they have the policy to reduce carbon footprint and sustainability.

What are the updates concerning policy and regulation around refrigeration? What role can the government play for the future?

India has a golden chance, now that the natural gas price is at a very low level. It presents an opportunity to shift from polluting coal to cleaner natural gas-based power generation. The government should aim at getting into long term purchase agreements, which can help in offering clean energy at an affordable price. Industry stands to gain from this, it will also spur some demand for making this fuel shift. We have in the last decade widened the gas piping network, but the adoption of gas is not widespread owing to price. This can also increase demand for trigeneration, gas-based absorption heat pumps for industrial heating and gas-based cooling using absorption chillers.