Tamil Nadu explores innovative 'district cooling systems' to curb AC power consumption

Centralised district cooling systems: Chennai alone consumes almost 13,000 GW of electricity per hour, constituting 14% of the total power generated and purchased by Tangedco.

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Courtesy: Flickr/Omar Chatriwala

Centralised District Cooling Systems: The increasing power consumption and abrupt temperature spikes during the summer months have prompted Tamil Nadu to explore unconventional solutions. The state is now considering the adoption of district cooling systems, a centralised approach to provide cooling to entire buildings via interconnected pipelines.

The State Planning Commission is collaborating with the United Nations Environment Programme to assess the feasibility of this concept.

A Vision for District Cooling

Under this scheme, a roadmap for district cooling solutions is being formulated in conjunction with the Industries Department and the Department of Environment and Energy.

This development could lead to the introduction of cooling meters alongside existing electricity and water meters for residential and commercial properties in Chennai, Coimbatore, and Madurai. These cooling meters may entail a fixed demand charge in the tariff structure.

The central idea behind district cooling is to have a central chilling plant that generates chilled water. This chilled water is then conveyed to various buildings and facilities through an underground network of insulated pipes. A control system is employed to regulate the water's temperature produced by the chilling plant and monitor its flow rate through the distribution network.

Sudheer Perla, Country Head of Tabreed India, a partner with UNEP in India, highlighted the potential of district cooling systems. He explained that by adopting this approach, multiple buildings can collectively share the expenses associated with a centralised plant, leading to substantial energy savings.

Challenges and Opportunities

Perla also acknowledged that the initial investment for district cooling systems is substantial, involving the establishment of an underground pipeline network similar to city gas distribution. Presently, the technology is mainly directed towards industrial parks, particularly those set up by Sipcot.

While the current penetration of air conditioners in India is approximately 9%, it is projected to increase to 30% over the next decade. Currently, Chennai alone consumes almost 13,000 GW of electricity per hour, constituting 14% of the total power generated and purchased by Tangedco.

The adoption of district cooling systems holds the potential to revolutionise the way cooling is provided and consumed in urban settings, paving the way for enhanced energy efficiency and sustainability.

Please note that the initial investment for district cooling systems is high and primarily aimed at industrial parks. However, the technology may eventually find its way into residential and commercial properties, transforming how cooling services are provided.