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A heated lockdown

In the sweltering Indian summer, the AC is king, cooling us even as it burns a hole in our pockets and now, the lockdown has truly highlighted our inconvenient dependence on this modern convenience

A heated lockdown
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I do not own an AC. I had plans to rent one for the summer, like most young professionals living in rented apartments across Delhi. The temperature shot up to 40 degrees Celsius this week in Delhi, at a time when people holed up inside their homes. I was in denial because I wanted to delay the use of my AC, partly to gain environmental credentials and partly to save up on my electricity bill.

But here I am, writing this with my AC blowing cool air behind me, drying up the remnants of my sweat, accumulated during a heavy cooking session.

I do not own an AC. I had plans to rent one for the summer, like most young professionals living in rented apartments across Delhi. But buying, installing or servicing ACs are not explicitly permitted during the lockdown.

Most ACs need to be serviced at the beginning of the season, as internal wear and tear is significant in India. This includes refilling the AC's refrigerant and cleaning of filters, among others. Many cities, including Delhi, allow online startups like Urban Clap Technologies India Pvt Ltd, that provide AC repair services.

The informal side of these services, however — including AC rental and servicing — remains locked up. Official guidelines issued after the lockdown was extended, stipulate relaxation for services provided by self-employed electricians, repairmen, plumbers, motor-mechanics and carpenters in green zones after 20 April. All of Delhi's districts lie in the red zone, which means a relaxation cannot be expected.

After multiple failed attempts, I found someone who supplied ACs for rent within my locality and agreed to do the dirty work for me. This was possible for me as short commutes to local markets are permitted within non-containment zones.

The owner of the AC rental service lamented that his business was hit very badly. All the same, my AC was installed keeping lockdown rules and social-distancing in mind. Not everybody, however, is as lucky as me.

"I cannot find anybody to service my AC. Since I have a sewage drain flowing nearby, the emission of ammonia from it erodes up the copper piping in the AC and leads to the leakage of the refrigerant, which needs a regular refill," said a colleague of mine.

My AC usage was usually limited to nighttime, as my daytime cooling needs were met at the office during the weekdays and at malls and cafes on weekends. Given community cooling is out of bounds this summer, I have to beat the heat during the day with my newly rented AC.

My new lockdown buddy is a 1.5-tonne window AC machine manufactured by LG Electronics India Pvt Ltd and is around four years old. It is a three-star AC, according to the 2017 energy rating label. My AC should consume about 1.75 units of electricity per hour of operation if it was true to its star rating.

It is, however, more realistic to assume a 25 per cent consumption increase, due to performance decline from age and multiple relocations. This works out to be 2.2 units per hour. I use it for four hours in the night, which adds up to 264 units a month. One needs to pay an unsubsidised electricity tariff if one crosses the 200 unit mark in a month in Delhi. Now that I will be running my AC while working from home as well, an additional 528 units would be added in a month. A grand total of 792 units of electricity is utilised to run my AC for a month while working from home. This translates to a Rs 5,544 electricity bill. This is in addition to my regular electricity bill.

Cooling is a social and economic inequity issue that has a far-reaching impact on human health and climate change. India made a 'National Cooling Action Plan' in 2019 to address this very problem. But it never accounted for a pandemic shifting the cooling load from commercial buildings to homes. Most of the homes in Delhi and the rest of urban India are no longer designed to remain cool without an AC. These solar ovens masquerade as buildings.

I hope this heat trap helps us revisit building designs and makes us find ways to keep cool without being dependent on ACs.

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