Accelerating the dairy cold chain’s transition to renewable energy in India

Solar power solutions for milk chilling in the dairy value chain

India is the largest producer of milk in the world. But, it wasn’t always this way. On the eve of the White Revolution in 1968-69, India produced 21 million tonnes[1] of milk annually. Two decades after independence, it was still a dairy-deficit nation, dependent on imports. With the implementation of Operation Flood, the dairy co-operative structure was strengthened, technology adapted, and farmers supported with subsidies and fair pricing. Today, with an annual production of around 209 million tonnes, India produces almost a quarter of the world’s milk. This staggering quantity is nearly equal to the production of the next four major milk-producing countries combined.


Annual global milk production (in tonnes) by country in 2021

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations


Sources: Milk - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations | Edible oil - Department of Food and Public Distribution, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution

The production of this mammoth amount of milk makes up the livelihoods of millions and fulfils the dairy needs of billions. However, a side effect of this thriving system is the emission of large quantities of greenhouse gases.

In 2015, the global dairy industry was responsible for about 3.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions. This is more than the emissions released by the entire aviation industry that year, at roughly 2%[2]. While cattle rearing and the methane released as a part of their digestive process are the primary sources of emissions in dairy farming, substantial energy resources are needed for milk chilling, transport, processing, and distribution.

In the dairy industry, the second largest contributor to carbon emissions is the dairy cold chain.

Cold Chain is the second largest contributor of carbon emissions in the dairy sector

Source: Maria loanna Malliaroudaki, Trends in Food Science & Technology, Energy management for a net zero dairy supply chain under climate change

Most of India’s milk comes from a large rural population of small dairy farms. There are over 7.5 crore such dairy farms in India and 95% of India’s milk is produced by small and marginal farmers with a herd size of 1-5 cows or buffaloes[3][4]. However, it is still a fairly unorganised sector.

Within this informal set-up, there is still a clear flow of how the milk reaches its consumers.


steps in transporting milk transport background highlighting all stagestransport background highlighting stage 1transport background highlighting stage 2transport background highlighting stage 3transport background highlighting stage 4transport background highlighting stage 5
man transporting a milk tank on a cycleman transporting a milk tank on a scooterman transporting a milk tank on a scootertanker truck transporting milktanker truck transporting milk


Most rural dairy farmers milk their cows or buffaloes twice a day by hand.


If milk isn’t chilled immediately, its quality starts deteriorating, limiting the time farmers have to deliver it to the nearest chiller.


Raw milk from adjacent villages is collected at these centres for bulk milk cooling.


To prevent microbial activity, the temperature of the collected milk must be brought down from 35°C – 37°C to 4°C or lower.


The chilled raw milk is then transported to dairy units, where it is processed into milk products and is ready to be transported to consumers.

Small farmers do not have the infrastructure to rapidly chill the collected milk to ensure preservation. The chilling facilities at collection centres bridge this gap in the cold chain, ensuring the quality and safety of raw milk.

However, the electricity required to chill the milk at these facilities is not cheap and isn’t constant. Unreliable and erratic electricity supply results in at least 2% of India’s annual milk production being wasted[5]. This is equivalent to all the milk produced by Bangladesh and Nepal combined. Since electricity from the grid can be unreliable, diesel generators are used as backup sources of power. This raises costs and increases greenhouse gas emissions.

These challenges result in high wastage and inconsistent milk quality, which significantly impacts farmers’ incomes. A solution to these problems is the transition to renewable sources of energy to power the cold chain. Installing solar-powered instant chilling facilities will reduce supply-chain waste, cut farmers’ costs, and bring down the dairy sector’s carbon footprint.

WWF India’s project ‘Energy Transition in Dairy Cold Chain’ has put this concept to practise.

A Solar-powered Dairy Cold Chain

compressor for milk chillerinstant milk chillerwoman pouring milk into chillerhut which houses the chillerbattery connected to solar panelsolar panel on the roof of the hut


Solar photovoltaic panels convert solar energy into electrical energy.


Eliminates dependency on diesel generators or grid electricity.


A compressor converts the electrical energy into thermal energy and stores it in a thermal storage system.


The Instant Milk Chiller (IMC) houses an insulated tank where the stored thermal energy converts water into ice or ice water, which chills the milk.


The milk is cooled using different heat transfer methods such as cooling the milk carrying pipes with the chilled water or pouring it over milk containers.

WWF India has worked closely with dairy co-operatives and Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) to install such solar-powered milk chillers across Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. A chilling capacity of 26,000 litres of milk per day has been developed, which is supported by a solar capacity of 160 kW, with the aim of building up 1000 kW of decentralised solar-powered cold chain in the dairy sector.

In Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh, a 1500L milk chiller with 7 kW solar capacity has been installed at a site. While they could use up to 5 litres of diesel per day to run the chiller, it has now been dropped to zero.

Monthly electricity consumption for a site in Jaunpur (Uttar Pradesh)


Electricity Bill
Billing Period: December, 2023
Total Energy Consumption:
2,500 kWh
0 3,000 kWh
Total Bill Amount:
0 ₹20,000


Electricity Bill
Billing Period: February, 2024
Total Energy Consumption:
290 kWh
0 3,000 kWh
Total Bill Amount:
0 ₹20,000

In a year, this site in Jaunpur will save 1.9 lakh rupees, save 27,000 kWh of energy, and avoid 20.2 metric tons of CO2.

These results are consistently seen across installation sites, helping dairy farmers seamlessly transition to a solar-powered dairy cold chain.

Visualising a large-scale transition to solar-powered chillers

Number of solar-power chillers installed: 0
The annual energy savings of using 0 solar-powered instant milk chillers equals: 0 kWh
The equivalent carbon dioxide (CO2)
emissions this would help avoid:
0 metric tonnes
This is equivalent to CO2 emissions from:
0 LPG cylinders used
lpg cylinder
0 kilometres travelled in a petrol car
lpg cylinder
0 metric tonnes of coal burned
lpg cylinder
This would also be equivalent to carbon captured by:
0 mangrove trees
lpg cylinder
Source: Calculations derived using emission factors retrieved from SuneEarthTools, Financial Express and 360energy. Carbon capture data from

By adopting technological solutions powered by renewable and reliable energy supply, a solarized dairy cold chain will result in reduced operational costs, decreased emissions, and higher income for dairy farmers.

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