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Solution Cluster 1.1.5

Power Community Cooling Hubs with Clean Energy

Food saved is as important, if not more, as food produced. Food loss is not only the material loss of the commodity but also the loss of scarce and depleting input resources. Lack of effective cold-chain is estimated to directly result in losses of 475 million tonnes or 13% of total food production, which is worth $350 billion and enough to feed approximately 950 million people.[1]‘The Role of Refrigeration in Worldwide nutrition (2020), 6th Informatory Note on Refrigeration and Food.’, text (IIF-IIR, 26 March 2020), https://doi.org/10.18462/iir.INfood06.03.2020. However, cooling and cold-chains are both still perceived as a complication and typically remain too expensive for small-scale and marginal farmers.[2]‘Tech Spotlight: Solar-Powered Cold Storage’, Power For All, accessed 21 May 2021, https://www.powerforall.org/resources/images-graphics/tech-spotlight-solar-powered-cold-storage. The technologies in use are also highly polluting due to the emissions from energy use (indirect emissions) and refrigerants with high climate impact.
Efficient and ozone- and climate-friendly cooling and cold-chain can only be achieved if the entire system is designed cohesively and an integrated systems approach is applied, which converges diverse cooling requirements across the farm-to-fork user-ecosystem. By combining a systems-level view of such community cooling needs, with new business models such as ‘servitisation’, Community Cooling Hubs (CCHs) are designed to affordably meet various rural community cooling needs, providing a pathway to efficient capacity utilisation of a financially viable, accessible, low-carbon cold chain and cooling development that serves not only to generate economic wealth but also better healthcare and nutrition in a sustainable manner.
Recognising the close linkages between access to cooling and cold-chain services and energy poverty, CCH is coupled with the Clean Energy Information and Coordination Platforms. These platforms identify and match synergies between the business case of energy companies interested in expanding clean energy grids and food chain actors that could pay for energy services by growing their business if given access to energy.
Considering all drivers and feedback loops within the energy system, the solution cluster’s systems approach will ensure that cooling and cold-chain services and grid expansion are supported by the broader energy landscape they are embedded in, interdependencies are understood and managed, and key components, including the financing and business models, work synergistically together.

About this Solution Cluster

Given the broad range of development benefits that cooling and integrated sustainable cold chain can bring to rural, peri-urban, and urban communities, the question is how to reap the economic and social benefits they unlock while avoiding the environmental degradation and risks associated with the business-as-usual expansion of cooling services, which are energy intensive and polluting. In other words, how do we create the local and global ‘field to fork’ connectivity to supply nutrition to 10 billion people sustainably from hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers whose livelihoods and well-being are often dependent on only 1-2 hectares of land, ensure they are climate change adaptation ready and resilient, and avoid further warming by ensuring scale up of efficient and ozone and climate friendly (low-global warming potential) cooling solutions?

For most nations, the focus on access to energy has been on how to deliver sustainable electricity, often ignoring the sustainable ways of using that energy. Whilst current cooling technologies can be very efficient, given the high share of thermal needs (cooling and heating) in the growing global energy demand, system-level design is required, not only to reduce demand through passive design and behavioural changes and harnessing free and waste thermal energy resources to offset the need for electricity, but also to enable shift to renewables and further improve system efficiencies through circularity and sharing of energy.

However, cold-chain and cooling typically continue to be addressed in a fragmented manner focusing on individual technologies or component interventions. Cold-chains are cross-sectoral multi-dimensional systems underpinning the complex food system from harvest, through pre-conditioning, postharvest management to intermediary production, distribution, and consumption. This complexity necessitates both static and mobile elements with very different energy demands and uneven capacities to be coordinated and work seamlessly together. A siloed approach to cooling and cold-chain has neglected the interdependencies that exist between economic decisions, available energy resources, technology choices, climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies, and social, cultural, and political systems, resulting in a sub-optimal outcome. Many issues are techno-economic and behavioural, requiring solutions that integrate technical (engineering and food quality/safety), as well as behavioural, financial, and business aspects to address the decarbonisation conundrum. These aspects need to be widely recognised, addressed, and advocated.

A multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral effort as an integrated approach is unlikely to emerge organically, posing risks to delivering our climate and development targets. Transforming the cold-chain sectors from farm to fork or ‘pharmaceutical manufacturer to arm’ and delivering access to cooling for all who need it sustainably requires a robust system-level model and multi-stakeholder coalition, collaborating at all levels to make it happen. 

Community Cooling Hubs (CCHs) involve a systems-level approach with the design of sustainable cooling (and heating) services within an integrated energy, needs, and economics framework, ensuring flexibility and replicability with a smart combination and interconnection of energy vectors. CCHs are designed to serve the broad portfolio of a rural or peri-urban community’s needs for cold-chain and cooling in a highly accessible, efficient, affordable, resilient, and sustainable manner, hence contributing simultaneously towards the Agenda 2030, Paris Agreement-related Nationally Determined Contributions, and important aspects of the Montreal Protocol, including the Kigali Amendment and the Rome Declaration on the Contribution of the Montreal Protocol to Food Loss Reduction through Sustainable Cold Chain Development.

Given the ongoing demand for cooling for vaccination programmes that must be extended across the globe, CCHs are also intended to appropriately serve as last-mile storage and delivery spokes at each location in which they are established. They would provide much needed capability to expand an assured reach of vaccines to normally underserved regions and come into use as cold-chain nodes for the vaccination supply chain into rural areas. 

Led by the Centre for Sustainable Cooling, the concept and underlying socio-techno-economic design of CCHs has been developed through rigorous market research and engagement between academic, development agency, end-user, and government partners. Deployment opportunities are being developed with the Cool Coalition Cold-Chain working group. Led by FAO, the Clean Energy Information and Coordination Platforms will connect energy companies and food chain actors that could pay for energy services, if given access to it, by growing their businesses.

The delivery, from demonstration to capacity building and skills training, is supported by new Centres of Excellence such as the Africa Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Cooling and Cold-chain (developed with the support of Rwanda, UK, and UNEP U4E); Cool Coalition’s partners’ expertise, pilot projects, National Cooling Action Plan (NCAP) Methodology, and existing FAO work in several countries on de-risking investments in renewable energy for food chains through mapping best locations for investments and comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of such investments.

The Cool Coalition will play a critical catalytic ‘systems integrator’ role, bringing together key partners across governments (such as UK, Denmark, Ghana, Costa Rica, Cambodia, and France), private sector, international organisations, and civil society. Under the Montreal Protocol, the Rome Declaration for Sustainable Cold Chain Development can serve as an important political framework for commitments and actions. It will also play a knowledge role in creating a compendium of best practices and providing assessment methodologies.

Building on our collaborative knowledge, market understanding, and research, we will create the fit-for-market step-change pathways to net zero cold-chain and cooling and implement CCHs as the anchor for innovative, communitarian, and integrated systems to affordably meet a portfolio of rural or peri-urban community cooling needs including food, health/vaccines (including pandemic response), and human comfort. First, we will use the NCAP methodology, Cooling Needs Assessment, and the cold chain database model to understand and quantify the cooling services at both a national and community level. Next, we will use a proprietary system optimisation virtual twin to guide “build-to-suit” projects for local implementation.[3]Centre for Sustainable Cooling has already built a virtual twin for cold-chain design in developing markets and is currently building a full cold-chain and CCH model for ACES. We will use the Cool Coalition status report and working group to understand the mechanisms required to deliver the key interventions to realise a sustainable cold-chain and CCH including (i) knowledge, capacity, research gaps (and innovation pipeline), (ii) investment ecosystem (iii) incentives and regulatory requirements. Finally, we will use, among others, the Centre for Sustainable Cooling’s Centres of Excellence and Cool Coalition’s pilot projects in India and Cambodia as the deployment and implementation vehicles to provide applied research, teaching, and industrial collaboration to put into action the defined integrated sustainable cooling solutions, smart integration of energy vectors, and the financial models for driving the adoption and uptake of energy-efficient and climate friendly solutions and build in-market capacity and skills to support the uptake and maintenance of best practices and technology deployment, and create incentives for industry to engage in markets.

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