The building sector accounts for significant electricity consumption and is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. In India, residential and commercial buildings accounted for 32 per cent of the total electricity consumption in 2016. To achieve the objective of promoting the efficient use of energy in buildings, the Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) 2017 has been launched. With the adoption of the code for new commercial building construction, a 50 per cent reduction in energy use is estimated by 2030, which will help India meet its climate goals.
In 2007, the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) introduced the ECBC for new commercial buildings. State governments and municipalities were responsible for adopting, mandating and enforcing the rules. However, it saw limited success in its implementation.
The ECBC 2017 was subsequently developed by the BEE. A participative exercise involving architects, energy experts and institutions was undertaken with technical support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to look into various aspects of building construction. The new code was released in July 2017, underlining a set of parameters for all parties – builders, designers and architects – to integrate renewable energy into building designs and thereby optimise energy savings. With almost 70 per cent of the buildings yet to be built, it is estimated that the adoption of ECBC 2017 could lead to 30-50 per cent energy savings in commercial buildings.
In order for a building to be considered ECBC-compliant, it has to demonstrate minimum energy savings of 25 per cent. Additional improvements will enable new buildings to achieve higher levels of efficiency like ECBC+ or SuperECBC, leading to further energy savings of 35 per cent and 50 per cent respectively. Requirements and recommendations for all three levels have been included in the code.
The National Mission on Sustainable Habitat was launched by the Ministry of Urban Development to promote energy efficiency as a core component of urban planning. As a part of the mission, model building by-laws based on energy efficiency parameters have been framed, mandating minimum energy standards for residential and commercial buildings. Another important initiative has been the Indo-Swiss Building Energy Efficiency Project (BEEP). It is a bilateral cooperation project between the Ministry of Power (MoP), Government of India, and the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) of the Swiss Confederation. BEEP has drafted the design guidelines for energy-efficient multi-storey residential buildings.
To broaden the ECBC coverage, the BEE has also introduced a scheme for implementing energy efficiency in existing central government buildings through the energy saving companies model. Further, to provide a market pull for energy efficient buildings, the BEE has introduced a voluntary star rating programme for buildings that rates buildings on a scale of 1 to 5, with buildings with a 5-star rating being the most energy efficient.
Several states have also been working towards promoting energy efficiency. Andhra Pradesh, for instance, is working with key urban local bodies to incorporate the ECBC requirements into all necessary stages of the building approval process. The state’s capital, Amaravati, is working to introduce an online ECBC compliance and building approval system that would make compliance convenient for developers. Also, Telangana is working on strengthening the compliance mechanism by empanelling a pool of third-party assessors to carry out independent assessments of buildings for ECBC norms. In addition, the state has been working on “cool roofs”, a requirement for commercial buildings under ECBC. Recent cool roof pilot projects in the state have displayed promising results, with a 3 °C reduction in indoor temperatures. Earlier, in May 2017, the Maharashtra Energy Department Agency submitted a proposal to the state government to make ECBC mandatory. Further, the Ludhiana Municipal Corporation recently gave its approval for the adoption of ECBC for the construction of new buildings exceeding a load of 100 kW.
Challenges and the way forward
Despite the evident benefits of energy efficient buildings, there are several challenges that need to be addressed before the country treads ahead on this path. To begin with, the market has not been very supportive of the idea primarily owing to the high initial investment cost. The relatively higher costs tend to overshadow the future benefits. On this front, it has been argued that innovative financing schemes must be introduced to promote energy efficiency in buildings. Further, the non-availability of energy efficient building materials and related technology in the country is another deterrent. Also, the workforce lacks the requisite knowledge and skill and thus there is an institutional inability in enforcing, implementing and regulating energy efficiency in the country. Lastly, India is yet to see a mandatory ECBC regime. Unless that happens, rapid progress in the area will remain a distant dream. Attaining the goal of zero net buildings will require a blend of focused public policy and innovative awareness programmes.