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Conserving energy: Colleges take the lead

Starting on campus Institutions across the country are getting more eco-friendly. Can our cities take a leaf out of their book?

entertainment Updated: Jun 05, 2011 00:20 IST
Charu Sudan Kasturi

On any summer day at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, the rear exit to the main administrative block is packed with sitting on the pavement, chatting, studying, flirting and chilling —literally. The wind tunnel at the IIT channels the air, using the most basic principles of physics to bring down temperatures. But the relief is temporary — the tunnel is unique on campus, and rooms without air conditioning do get hot.

A few hundred kilometres to the west, students at the brand new IIT in Jodhpur may not need to crowd a single spot on campus for respite from the heat like counterparts at the 50-year old veteran IIT Delhi.

The difference — a dramatic improvement in energy efficient architectural technology, which IIT Delhi is now trying to retrofit, and an unprecedented focus on campuses that don’t just look green, but live green.

Across India, new universities are building in eco-conservation and energy-saving mechanisms based on the new technology and thinking into their campuses, while older institutes — including IIT Delhi — are trying to improvise to catch up.

Most of India’s apex higher educational institutions — such as the IITs, the Indian Institutes of Management and Jawaharlal Nehru University — were from their very inception focused on encouraging greenery and even forests on campus.

Rabindranath Tagore started an annual tree-planting festival at Visva Bharati back in 1927. But a green cover is no longer enough for many Indian universities. They are increasingly using technology — in architecture and science — to conserve energy and become as self-sustaining as they can. As hubs of research, what universities do for themselves may also become a model for other institutions to follow. India’s watching.

IIT Mumbai
Environment engineer Shyam Asolekar has a challenge on his hands — putting together resources to transform the 62-year old Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, into a green, energy-efficient and eco-friendly campus isn’t easy.

But he could barely hide his excitement when talking about his students and how they view a landmark initiative IIT Bombay has undertaken to prepare itself for coming decades that is fast becoming a role model across institutions. “They want faster progress,” Asolekar chuckled.

From rearing earthworms to decompose wet waste, to using the heat generated by air conditioners to warm water, the IIT Bombay Green Campus Initiative launched just last year promises to reduce energy consumption and pollution, increasing the ecological sustainability of the idyllic lakeside campus.

“I don’t look at the constraints — such as finances — as problems but as opportunities. It is not so important how green the campus is but how green people are willing to become,” said Asolekar, who headed a panel that drafted the Institute’s blueprint to transform the campus under the initiative.

Impressed by the IIT Bombay initiative, the Maharashtra government has asked all colleges and universities to adopt similar models. Asolekar and his colleagues have already been approached by Pune University, SNDT Women’s University and even several schools like the prestigious Bombay Scottish to help their campuses become more ecologically sustainable and energy efficient.

IIT Bombay is also ensuring that IIT Indore and IIT Gandhinagar — both of which it is handholding — adopt green practices from their inception. But Asolekar is clear that other institutions need not imitate IIT Bombay. “We have consciously decided to encourage diversity in how different institutions approach the problem of making their campuses green.”

Carbon neutral
The IIT Mumbai has two vermiculture pits. Earthworms are used to decompose wet waste into manure.

Designated areas where automobiles are not allowed — aimed at encouraging cycling within the campus.

Rain water harvesting.

In at least one girls’ hostel, heat generated by air conditioner compressors is used to heat water.

Great Lakes Institute of Management
Located in Chennai, this B-school has already acquired platinum rating under the LEED certification system from the Indian Green Building Council — the Confederation of Indian Industries’ organisation for promoting green architecture.No electrical lighting is used during the day.

The 100% day-lit campus instead has openings, windows and reflective surfaces placed strategically to maximise the use of natural lighting during the day time.

The Great Lakes Institute also recycles all its water and waste, using a combination of multiple technologies. Chennai city has traditionally suffered from severe water shortages, and the recycling helps the Institute ensure that even during the worst summer months, its campus has adequate water supply.

The Institute has green buildings that minimise the need for air-conditioning. The campus has a variety of gardens that surround academic blocks and the library.

Sun power
No electrical lighting used during the day — the campus is 100% day-lit.

All water and waste recycled.

Energy efficient buildings.

NIIT University
The Thar desert isn’t the most hospitable site for a quality university. Yet NIIT has made several efforts to make its Neemrana, Rajasthan campus eco-friendly, sustainable and rich with biodiversity.

Realising that it would not succeed without local support, NIIT worked with villagers to try and chase away illegal miners from the Aravali foothills, where the campus is located.

“It isn’t easy when you’re in the middle of the Thar desert and have to tackle large-scale illegal mining. But we are creating biodiversity here through students,” says university infrastructure advisor (Rtd) Air Commodore Kamal Singh.

For the university, being green isn’t only about their campus, says Singh. They have also started drip irrigation outside the campus. While they have not conducted an external energy audit, Singh says he is confident that the university has energy efficiency better than what is required for the highest, platinum rating under the globally recognised Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification system.

Creating biodiversity
The university has teamed up with the local population to take on the illegal mining mafia.

Drip irrigation — both inside and outside the campus.

Conscious effort to increase biodiversity.

TERI University
This university has a reputation to live up to. Its founding body — The Energy Research Institute (TERI) —shared the Nobel Peace Prize two years ago with former US Vice President Al Gore for their work to create awareness about climate change.

And the varsity is trying its best to make sure no one can point fingers at its efforts to create an academic environment where nature and technology combine to minimise the use of traditional, energy guzzling power systems.

“We realised that the university must live up to what TERI preaches. We gave a definite mandate to the architect, and also used nature extensively, ensuring plenty of sun water and air in out layout,” said Rajiv Seth, registrar of the university.

From stone clad walls that trap air like a quilt, retaining the heat or cooling inside the buildings to a 1.4 km long underground tunnel which acts like a a coolant or heater, the university has developed novel ways to cut its energy use.

TERI University also uses wind tunnelling, and each set up within the campus has a separate air conditioning connection instead of central air-conditioning that requires the compressor for the whole system to work to provide cooling even to one room.

Like IIT Bombay, TERI University too has been approached by other institutions —including IIT Rajasthan in Jodhpur — for advice on setting up similar green campuses.

Natural airconditioners
Two-inch gap between stone clad facade and actual building walls, to trap air which acts as an insulator, retaining the warmth or cool of rooms.

Hardly any glass glazing.

A 1.4 km underground tunnel is used to access air that can act as a coolant in summers and as a heating agent in winters.

Wind tunnels channel air, providing cooling.