Energy efficiency in buildings: implementation challenges and way forward

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Construction of real estate space continues to grow at unprecedented rate, with urbanization of developing India. With the government’s reform agenda in full steam, there is no doubt that buildings and infrastructure shall continue to dominate urban and peri- urban space in the coming days.

Buildings have significant energy and environmental footprint. About 32% of total electricity consumed in India is by buildings. As per RICS report, total incremental demand for real estate space in 2011 was about 7566 million sq. ft. of which residential demand was about 43.3%, followed by 43.1% in industrial space while the rest is on account of retail, commercial, hospitality, healthcare and educational spaces.

Energy consumption by the built environment shall be on the rise if we continue to chart the current path. Government of India has developed the Energy Conservation Building Code of India in 2007 under the EC ACT 2001,which till remains a voluntary code with no mandates. Interestingly, the Energy Conservation Act 2001 defines buildings as entities used for commercial purposes, which means that ECBC primarily applies to commercial buildings, while residential buildings account for nearly 24% out of 32% of building sector electricity consumption in India.  

Taking a step back, it is important to introspect on why we seem to be oblivious of the imminent rising demand for energy (read electricity) by the building sector and why we need to take urgent corrective step to address this challenge. Buildings have predominantly remained in domain of state and municipal bodies with no single agency that holistically looks at resource footprint of buildings.

Building byelaws traditionally cover issues such as floor area ratio, ground coverage, set backs, projections and functional allocation of spaces. Natural ventilation and day lighting is marginally considered as a part of building bye law. Currently there is no check or provision(during building approval process) on energy efficiency options that a building should adopt. It is well proven that design level interventions such as proper orientation, access to daylight, shading, controlled glazed area, use of insulation and high performance glass, energy efficient lights, efficient space-conditioning and controls as well as integration of renewable energy systems can save upto 50% of energy consumption in a building.

The Energy Conservation Building Code continues to remain elusive, and urban local bodies are clueless on how to implement it. Unless there is integration of functions of urban local bodies (Municipality, utility companies, etc) and capacity enhancement of people responsible for implementation and monitoring, it shall continue to remain a challenge for ULBs. In 2006, Ministry of Environment and Forests introduced mandatory environment clearance for projects above 20,000 sqm. In the initial years, such projects were cleared by committee set up at the central government level by MoEF.

With devolution of power to state level, now the State Committees look into these projects and have mandate for evaluating holistic environmental performance of these projects (water management including Rain Water Harvesting, traffic management, site planning, storm water management, energy and material efficiency and renewable energy integration). Constitution of these committees reflects that expertise to cover all these aspects remain a challenge. Implementation and monitoring is questionable, and it would be worthwhile to examine how far the mandates of the government have been put to practice. 

With all good intent in place, India needs a robust implementation framework to holistically address the building sector and its growing resource needs. Integration has to happen at policy level (e.g JNNURM and NMSH objectives can be merged) as well as on ground. Immediate attention is required to take re-look at building byelaws and expanding its boundary to include energy efficiency, water efficiency, indoor environmental aspects, use of materials and construction techniques and renewable energy integration. TERI has prepared model building bylaws that address all these issues.Capacity enhancement of implementing agencies such as project management consultants, contractors, monitoring agencies, auditors and urban local bodies are essential. Protecting consumer interest is crucial. We find misleading information from several manufacturers that claim to provide green solutions. Many a times, you may find that these claims are not based on scientific evidences or any proven norms. Absence of regulators or certification bodies to substantiate these claims is causing a lot of green “washing”. Examples and case studies with proven benefits should be published , which I intend to do in the coming days.

source- The Economic Times