‘Building’ an energy efficient India

On 12 July 2018, the Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs, Hardeep Singh Puri, while speaking at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development,  said that India will have to build 700-900 million square metres of urban space every year till 2030 to meet its urban demands. This demand, he stated, was equivalent to building a new Chicago annually. He highlighted that the success of UN’s 2030 Development Agenda is closely linked to India urbanising in an inclusive, green and resilient fashion since many of the SDGs are directly impacted by this development.

A study says that India will have a total floor space of 40 billion square metres by 2050. All of this brick and mortar will entail increased use of energy in the built space. Thus, one of the key focus areas of urbanisation boils down to energy use in buildings. It is time India takes serious cognisance of issues relating to building energy efficiency and develops robust policies and standards for constructing sustainable green buildings and infrastructure.

Building energy use in India today and predictions

As of 2016, the Government of India (GoI) statistics claim 32 percent of  the country’s total electricity consumption in residential and commercial spaces. As India urbanises, this figure is set to rise; the Niti Aayog, as part of its India Energy Security Scenarios, estimates that in a ‘Determined Effort Scenario’, there will be approximately 860 percent increased electricity consumption in buildings (from 238 TWh/year to 2,287 TWh/year) by 2047 – a CAGR of 6.7 percent since 2012. This use includes residential and commercial lighting, appliances, heating and cooling. The overall building energy use consumes 37% (i.e. 213 mtoe) of India’s total annual primary energy consumption.

Managing the demand from building energy use while ensuring high quality of life has been a key challenge for policy makers. GoI has also highlighted the value of building energy efficiency in mitigating climate change as a part of its climate plan. However, with a lock-in period of 30 to 40 years, the expanding inefficient stock of buildings will only end up demanding more energy leading to higher power generation, which is capital and resource intensive. This rising energy demand is a potential opportunity for India to set itself on a course of planned growth in building energy use.

The Energy Conservation Building Code and its status

The Energy Conservation Act (ECA) in 2001 was enacted with the objective of reducing India’s energy intensity. This led to the establishment of the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) in 2002. The Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) was launched in 2007 to set the minimum energy efficiency requirement in new, large commercial spaces, which was revised in 2017. ECBC-compliant buildings demonstrate energy savings of 25 percent over the pre-ECBC-compliant buildings; whereas ‘ECBC +’ and ‘Super ECBE’ buildings save up to 35 percent and 50 percent energy respectively. With the adoption of ECBC 2017 for new commercial buildings, it is estimated to achieve a 50 percent reduction in energy use by 2030. This will translate into energy savings of about 300 billion units by 2030 and peak demand reduction of over 15 GW annually – resulting in savings of USD 5.2 billion and 250 million tonnes of CO2reduction.

The ECBC is developed as a model code at the national level. The Section 15 of the ECA empowers states for amending ECBC to suit regional and local climatic conditions. To avoid investments in carbon intensive infrastructure, the states need deep understanding of the impacts and benefits of the ECBC. Since 2007, when the ECBC was released, only 12 states/union territories have notified it till date. Following ECBC revision in 2017, all these states are revising their notifications to comply with the new norms.

ECBC – scope, challenges and pathways

The problem of involvement of multiple stakeholders viz. – Department of Energy (DoE), Urban Development Department (UDD), Public Works Department (PWD), State-Designated Agency (SDA) and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) in adoption, implementation and enforcement process of the code, issues of jurisdiction and interdepartmental and interagency coordination can get things complicated. However, they also have the power to amend codes to suit their needs.

While the UDD can amend Town and Country Planning (TCP) rules, PWD can change design guidelines for government buildings. Similarly, ULBs can change building bye-laws with innovative policy interventions. Let us look at some challenges and pathways for ECBC adoption.

  • There are only a few efforts made to get data that illustrates energy use in energy intensive sectors like commercial and residential buildings, industries and municipalities. Energy efficiency policy measures need to begin with quantifying energy consumption. Also, if the energy service company (ESCO) market needs to be tapped, steps need to be taken to understand energy performance in these sectors and respective segments.
  • The administrative and technical roles relating to ECBC need to be separated for better implementation and adoption. Energy auditors, engineers, architects, consultants could look at technical features, whereas central and state bureaucrats should look at the administrative aspects. Specific committees involving the chief secretary and principal secretaries of respective state departments need to be constituted to fast-track ECBC adoption.
  • Every state needs to create a systemic evaluation process to track the progress of ECBC adoption and implementation. All states should release an annual report providing data including quantified energy savings, success stories (technical and administrative) and best practices.
  • Developing technical capacities is key, and it is critical to develop capacity building programmes, master trainer programmes and awareness programmes amongst government stakeholders. This could be done through special courses, awards, recognition and fiscal incentives to officials.
  • Due to the lack of technical capacity in public institutions, third party technical assessments could be undertaken to check for design compliance of the ECBC. These third party assessors will need human resource which will work in this sector. Inclusion of ECBC in curriculums of architecture and engineering courses in IITs, SPAs, etc. is essential.

Green building voluntary programmes

In addition to ECBC, there are voluntary programmes which boost the development of efficient and sustainable buildings like the Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA) and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

GRIHA which is applicable to buildings with floor space of over 2,500 square metres, evaluates a building’s performance over its life cycle based on nationally accepted energy and environment principles and promote green building development. Currently, there are 1,175 projects being evaluated by GRIHA.

The green building rating certification system, LEED, applies to all types of buildings, ranging from homes to commercial office buildings, evaluating buildings based on aspects like sustainability, water efficiency, energy, resources, indoor environmental quality and innovation. India ranks third on the US Green Building Council’s (USGBC) annual ranking of the top ten countries for LEED certified buildings with more than 752 certified projects.

While ECBC and green building programmes work in different ways, all these efforts need to converge towards a single goal of reducing building energy use. ECBC sets minimum energy efficiency requirements for commercial buildings, removing inefficient buildings from the market, whereas voluntary programmes create high-efficiency buildings which are a small share of the entire building stock. There can be learnings from various assessment matrices of such programmes that can be shared for evolution of the best green building codes.

‘Building’ an energy efficient India

ECBC adoption is the first step towards effective implementation. ECBC has the potential to shape the energy landscape in the country along with immense economic savings and must be made mandatory. Although ECBC caters to only commercial buildings, its success can act as a blueprint to be replicated for residential buildings – the larger energy consumers. Green buildings can foster a market for energy efficient materials and products which can contribute to the local economy and jobs, and feed into the start-up schemes and the smart city framework. More robust policies should be created considering economic feasibility; technological interventions; tools for implementation and the ability for adoption, enforcement and compliance.

Besides issues of energy and economic savings, these programmes can improve air quality and health of a city. If India succeeds in ‘building’ energy efficient infrastructure, it can succeed in adding an inclusive, green, healthy, safe and resilient Chicago to India every year.

Ameya Pimpalkhare / Observer Research Foundation