Sustainable Energy Use: Green and smart building practices for improved energy efficiency

Electricity consumption in commercial buildings has increased due to the growing economic activity. Buil­dings consume a lot of energy, resulting in concerns regarding energy supply, de­p­letion of energy resources and increased building service needs. Businesses and building owners can save both energy and costs by implementing energy conservation measures across their buildi­ngs. Measures taken so far at the policy level include the Energy Conservation Act, 2001, and the Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC), which was introduced by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) in 2017.

Commercial, institutional and corporate buildings were the first to adopt green and smart building practices in India. How­­ever, communities and all types of buildings (including residential) have started adopting sustainable practices, and this trend is expected to gain mo­mentum in the years to come. Adopting the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) Rating is one of the most widely recognised methods for incorporating environmental-friendly, low-im­pact and green measures into buildings. IGBC ratings offer a clear framework for the integration of green practices, serving as a tool for implementation as well as performance evaluation and gauging the benefits of its adoption.

Green buildings

The use of sustainable resources is one of the most crucial components of green buildings. This involves utilising recyclable materials, such as reclaimed wood and products manufactured from renewable resources like bamboo and cork. Additionally, to reduce indoor air pollution, many green buildings employ non-toxic and low-toxicity products such as natural paint and sealants.

Energy efficiency is an essential aspect of green buildings, which are frequently constructed from resources that require less energy to produce concrete walls and insulated glass. This includes de­si­gning buildings to use solar and other re­newable energy sources as well as en­ergy-efficient appliances, lighting, heating and cooling systems. In the long run, this can help save money on energy bills and reduce the building’s carbon footprint.

Smart buildings

A smart building is a structure that en­ables automated procedures to control all of the building’s functions, including security, lighting, air conditioning, heating and ventilation. In a smart building, everything is controlled by sensors, actuators and microchips. Utilising hardware facilities increases asset performance and reliability while lowering energy use.

In recent years, the digital twin has un­dergone significant development and is now a cutting-edge technology in various sectors such as smart buildings. In many built environments, digital twins can assist in resolving various problems. In a smart building, a digital twin combines IT and OT systems, IoT sensors, and third-party data, contextualises it with knowledge about people and pro­cesses, and creates a dynamic digital re­plica that may be used to address an array of problems.

Due to their potential to reduce building energy costs, greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption, and add value to the buildings with savings and the fa­vourable effects on occupant safety, comfort and satisfaction, smart buildings are garnering attention across the nation. Given that the majority of energy produced by power plants is derived from fossil fuels, actions performed to lower energy consumption in buildings will have long-lasting effects on the environment.

Predictive maintenance is now possible because of cutting-edge technologies, where sensors can monitor a building’s technical performance in a number of ways and immediately launch maintenance processes when a problem is de­tected. Sensor data can be carefully evaluated to make rapid adjustments to temperature and lighting settings, thereby sa­ving energy. With the help of smart buildings, all of the equipment can be effici­en­tly monitored and promptly updated, making maintenance incredibly aff­or­dable and efficient. In addition, by utilising advanced techniques such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, se­nsors enable easy identification of the overused and underused parts of the bu­il­ding and can recommend some adjustments to them.

Building management system

One of the crucial elements in the construction of a green and smart building is the building management system (BMS). It is essentially a solution that is im­plemented to create a secure, safe, com­fortable and energy-efficient. BMS can optimise energy use, provide warning systems that allow for corrective ac­tion, monitor, and control indoor com­fort conditions when correctly integrated into a facility. Investments in BMSs typically pay for themselves in two to four years. Safety and security solutions, intrusion alarm systems, water ma­nagement and control, HVAC systems and emergency lighting are a few of the applications of a BMS.

A BMS is a crucial tool for any sustainable design since it reduces energy consumption. Energy costs can be reduced by 15-20 per cent with a fully optimised BMS compared to a building without one. Night-time purging to cool the building, chiller management, AHU fan speed control based on head loads, chilled water pump speed control based on heat loads, lighting control, temperature and humidity control are a few examples of BMS in­tegration that result in energy savings.

A green building can include the best lighting, systems, glass, efficiency and other features. However, regular monitoring with a BMS is the only way to guarantee performance optimisation. Real-time monitoring and data archiving are both possible with BMS. This makes it possible to diagnose any performance issues. Redefining the baseline energy use th­rough continual monitoring also aids in continuous improvement. By automatically tracking the amount of fresh air that enters a space, a BMS can contribute to the comfort and health of a building’s oc­cupants. A building manager must make sure that there is quick fire detection, re­porting and evacuation. In order to ac­hieve this, a building automation system can be integrated with fire safety co­ntrol panels with backup power supplies, audible alarms and emergency voice evacuation systems.

Government initiatives

Building energy codes are a useful tool for making buildings more energy efficient during both construction and operation. The rating system for green buildings was started in the early 2000s with the Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA), which evaluates the environmental performance of a building holistically over its entire life cycle. It was started by TERI and the Ministry for New and Renewable Energy, followed by efforts of the IGBC.

Together with government agencies as well as local and international experts, BEE developed the ECBC for commercial buildings in 2007 and amended it in 2017. The code prescribes the energy performance standards for commercial buildings to reduce energy consumption. It has been observed that ECBC-compliant buildings are 17-42 per cent more efficient than conventional ones, which sho­ws a tremendous potential in terms of en­ergy savings. Therefore, the ECBC should be made mandatory and be incorporated in municipal building by-laws of all the states.

In one of the key developments, the recently notified Energy Conservation (Amendment) Bill 2022 has modified the ECBC to the Energy Conservation and Sustainable Building Code. The code provides norms and standards for energy efficiency and conservation, the use of renewable energy and other gr­een building requirements. The bill expands the scope of the act to include large residential, commercial and office buildings – with a minimum 100 kW connected load or a contract demand of 120 kVA. Earlier, the energy conservation codes were only applicable to commercial buildings with a minimum 100 kW connected load or a contract dema­nd of 120 kVA. Notably, the bill also em­powers the state governments to lower load thresholds.

Challenges and the way forward

Of all the challenges, cyberattacks are the most critical. There are many new attack vectors as the internet is being accessed by thousands of devices. At­ta­ckers can use these devices to access the IT system of a building, from which point it is simple to modify data and disable building features. Hence, the skill sets of operators need to be upgraded. This requires the integration of traditi­o­nal technical knowledge of processes and machines with several other new te­chnologies. Additionally, during the co­urse of the next 10 years, a sizeable sum of money needs to be invested in in­­frastructure for smart grids, smart ci­ties, etc. in order to enable and promote the growth of smart buildings.

To sum up, improving energy efficiency in buildings across cities is essential for energy savings, increasing access to electricity and reducing pollution. Green and smart buildings, which are intended to consume less water, increase energy efficiency, save natural resources, and provide healthier spaces, will therefore play a vital part in addressing environmental challenges in the future.