Civic Sanskriti: Building climate action into every new construction design

Civic Sanskriti: It is possible to design and construct energy-efficient buildings and avoid the climate’s urban heat island effect
Technicians in blue suits mounting photovoltaic solar panels on roof of modern house. Building climate action into every new construction design is the need of the hour. (Shutterstock (FOR REPRESENTATIONAL PURPOSE))
Technicians in blue suits mounting photovoltaic solar panels on roof of modern house. Building climate action into every new construction design is the need of the hour. (Shutterstock (FOR REPRESENTATIONAL PURPOSE))
Published on Oct 12, 2021 07:39 PM IST
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By Sanskriti Menon

The number of warmer days and nights is going up. Due to climate change, heatwaves and other extreme weather events are longer, more frequent, and more intense in India. In highly built-up urban areas, heat and light also reflect off and radiate from buildings and roads, creating heat islands. In addition, buildings in India are the second-largest consumer of electricity. By 2030, buildings will likely become the largest consumer of electricity.

However, it is possible to design and construct energy-efficient buildings and avoid the urban heat island effect. In a business-as-usual scenario, without any additional building energy policies, the total final energy consumption in Indian buildings can double between 2010 and 2050, reaching 5000 TWh and emitting 3,543 million metric tonnes of CO2e emissions. However, there is a significant opportunity to avoid steep rises in energy consumption from the building sector – 50% of the buildings that will exist in 2030 are not yet constructed!

Is low-carbon comfort possible?

Can we have comfortable buildings without warming the planet (too much)? The genius of architects, developers, energy experts and the options available in designs, building materials and appliances is such that comfortable, well-lit, ventilated buildings that keep energy consumption and electricity bills down are already possible.

Building energy codes are effective tools for ensuring energy efficiency in building design, construction, and operation. Estimates suggest that energy performance standards that require new buildings to incorporate energy efficiency designs can yield a 30 to 40 per cent reduction in energy use and yet be more comfortable.

Building energy codes can catalyse change

Among the most urbanised states in the country, Maharashtra has a crucial role in ensuring that new buildings are energy efficient. In addition, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) is by far one of the biggest real estate markets in the country.

The architecture design and construction industries already have technologies for energy-efficient buildings. However, since Maharashtra does not have an institutional framework or system to integrate such measures in new buildings, these technologies have not been extensively deployed.

The Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC), applicable to commercial buildings, prepared by the central government’s Bureau of Energy Efficiency, was released in 2007 and amended later in 2017, is available for states to adopt and implement. These building energy codes, if implemented, can result in substantial energy savings. So far, 18 states and two union territories (UTs) have notified ECBC 2007 and ECBC 2017. Telangana and Andhra Pradesh were among the first states, and Madhya Pradesh is the latest to do so.

The Maharashtra Energy Development Authority (MEDA) is the state nodal agency to facilitate ECBC implementation. Notification of the ECBC by the Maharashtra government and its incorporation in building bye-laws for new commercial buildings can drive sector transformation.

“By 2030, India will have added nearly one billion square meters of new commercial floor space — more than the land area of New York City and Washington DC combined. Building smart from the start is a real opportunity to reduce emissions, save energy and enhance prosperity. Gujarat and Maharashtra are key states in India’s transition to energy-efficient buildings. Successful implementation of the code in these two states will give a huge boost to India’s efforts on building energy savings,” says Prima Madan, lead consultant with Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) India Programme.

Maharashtra has taken initial steps to draft a state amended code. It has identified the roles of different stakeholders and completed demonstration projects to showcase the actual energy savings of ECBC compliant buildings. In 2021, the state constituted a technical committee with officials of urban development and housing departments to fast-track notification. A simple process, backed by a pool of certified experts to support the real estate developers with compliance, will be important for a large state like Maharashtra to successfully implement ECBC.

Conversations with some top developers reveal a positive attitude towards formalising the ECBC in Maharashtra, provided the permissions process can be kept simple. Some shared that green buildings help create a brand image, especially with potential overseas and multinational clients for office and commercial space.

The state government has stated its commitment to climate action. The timely notification of the ECBC in Maharashtra will enable the building construction industry to play a significant role in avoiding future carbon emissions with more energy-efficient buildings.

Sanskriti Menon is senior programme director, Centre for Environment Education. She writes on urban sustainability and participatory governance. Views are personal. She can be reached at civic.sanskriti@gmail.com

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Sunday, October 24, 2021