Sustainable Buildings: Moving towards smarter and greener construction

The building sector in India consumes over 30 per cent of the total electricity consumed in the country annually and is second only to the industrial sector. With nearly two-thirds of the built infrastructure yet to come up till 2050, advancement and innovation in the construction sector are becoming important. Of the total electricity consumed in the building sector, about 75 per cent is used in residential buildings. The current gro­w­th in residential and commercial electricity consumption indicates that electricity consumption by residential buildings will rise by five tim­es and that by commercial establishments it will inc­re­a­se by three times by 2032. There­fo­re, the country needs to actively pursue strategies and invest in the construction of gr­een and smart buildings to move towards sustainability and efficiency. Smart and green buildings can potentially help re­duce energy consumption by 20-40 per cent over their lifetime.

Smart buildings

Smart buildings use internet-connected devic­es so as to increase efficiency and re­duce ex­pen­diture on electric applian­ces related to hea­ting and lighting. These smart devices are em­bedded wi­th­in heating, ventilation and air-con­di­ti­o­­ning (HVAC) systems, lighting systems, elevators, EV charging points, etc. in order to en­hance energy efficiency comprehensively.

Smart home technology, also referred to as home automation, provides homeow­ners security, comfort, convenience and en­ergy efficiency by allowing them to co­n­trol smart devices, often by a sm­a­rt ho­me app on their smartphone or ot­her networked device. Smart devices re­duce idle running of energy consu­m­ing systems. At the household level, th­e­se devi­ces are integrated to enable the sharing of user data related to each application and automate actions based on owners’ preferences and the external environment.  Furthermore, these de­vi­ces are connected to a larger network, and they send ano­nymised consumption data of each individual unit to the distribution utility, aiding the utility to enhance grid effici­ency and reduce grid-related operations and maintenance. The exponential dec­line in processor si­zes and cost coupled wi­th the increase in ca­pacity and speed is driving their adoption by hou­se­holds. Additionally, ma­chine learning- and AI-related advancements and the development of smartphones are providing a further fillip to the adoption of smart devices in households.

Smart buildings also have rooftop solar installations, which generate electricity during the day. The surplus electricity is supplied to the grid. At night and during peak hours, these buildings draw electricity from the grid. It is necessary for smart buildings to integrate sma­rt home energy management systems (SHEMS) into their establishments so as to manage variable energy de­mand on one end and intermittent energy supply from variable renewable energy sources on the other end. These SHEMS also facilitate trading of exce­ss electricity and procurement of electricity when th­ere is a deficit while being economically profitable for homeowners. The operational scope of SHEMS will further widen wh­en battery energy sto­rage systems (BESSs) become affordable and can be de­ployed in buildings.

Deploying SHEMS requires investment in physical sensors and devices, comm­u­nication mesh/ network connecting the data from these IoT devices, an integrated management system for data proces­sing in accordance with prede­termi­ned energy efficient commands, user interface for monitoring and controlling the system, smart meters, etc.

Smart buildings are capable of reducing energy consumption by 20-40 per cent co­m­pared to current levels, which is substantial as en­ergy costs are equivalent to 30 per cent of a buil­ding’s operating co­st. Moreover, accor­ding to some resear­c­h­­­­ers, these upgrades pay back via effici­ency gains and cost savings in energy costs over five to seven years of their de­p­loyment. The payback period depends on the extent of upgrade, level of consu­mption, cost of upgrade, method of fin­an­cing, provision of subsidy, etc.

Discoms can reap enormous benefits by encouraging the development of smart buildings, as the­se establishments will, in turn, help utilities to re­duce their agg­regate technical and commercial losses while increasing the level of grid reliability. Smart buildings will also provide an additional unit of electricity supply, allowing discoms to procure electricity at more competitive rates. Furth­er­more, utilities will be able to charge tariffs using the time-of-day system af­ter taking into account the demand and supply dynamics.

It is expected that these developments will facilitate the evolution of cities into smart cities and help optimise energy consumption.

Green buildings

Green (sustainable) buildings prioritise resour­ce efficiency and sustainability, and are developed by employing proce­ss­es that are environmentally responsible and discharge minimal waste during construction. Such buildings are plann­ed and designed in order to optimise wa­ter as well as energy consumption. They have clear waste disposal mechanisms that maximise reuse and recycling of materials.

The India Green Business Council (IGBC) currently aggregates the views and ideas of developers, builders, architects and consultants to set guidelines and facilitate the construction of green buildings. Since 2001, the IGBC guidelines have en­abled the construction of 2.23 billion square feet of green buildings in the co­un­try. IGBC-certified buildings can redu­ce energy consumption by 20-30 per cent over their lifetime. The rating programme provides exhaustive guidelines regarding HVAC systems, pumps/mo­­tors, lighting, etc. in the building. These buildings also en­cou­r­age the installation of off-grid/ca­p­tive renewable energy technologies such as rooftop solar.

Green buildings take into account de­sign and architectural considerations with the objective of reducing HVAC co­nsumption. Ess­en­tially, these buildings are designed to minimise heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer by ad­op­ting various measures both within the building and around it.

Cisco Smart Campus in Bengaluru provi­des a good template of a green building in general. The Cisco campus generates 7 MWh of green energy every year in addition to recycling 100 per cent of disposal discharge. The exterior walls are install­ed with fully polished glass coating. The campus used recycled resour­c­es and renewable materials for constr­u­c­tion. An­other example is the Patni Kn­ow­­­ledge Centre in Noida which receives natural sunlight in 70 per cent of its working space. Ad­ditionally, it incorporates rainwater controlling me­th­ods to make it a zero discharge site.

Government initiatives

Building energy codes are effective tools for ac­hieving energy efficiency in the construction and operation of buildings. 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 (as it is called today) and the Minis­try for New and Renew­able Energy.

Together with government agencies as well as local and international experts, the Ministry of Power’s Bureau of Energy Effi­ci­en­cy develop­ed the Energy Conservation Buil­ding Code (ECBC) for commercial buildings in 2007 and am­­e­nded it in 2017. The code basically 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, fiscal in­ce­n­tives should be giv­en by the governme­nt so as to encourage more buildings to become ECBC compliant.

The government is spearheading various progra­mmes such as the National Mission on Enhanced Ene­rgy Efficiency (NMEEE), the Smart Cities Mi­ssion and the Na­tio­nal Cooling Action Plan that in­clude plans for improving energy efficiency fr­om residential and commercial households. Ex­tending the reach of the NMEEE to include households and co­mmercial establishments will help in en­hancing their energy efficiency.

Issues and challenges

  •  Financial outlay: India will have to invest a substantial sum of money over the next de­cade in smart grid infrastructure, smart city in­frastructure, etc. in order to enable and pu­sh the development of smart buildings. These buildings will accrue much of their benefits on being complemented by smart city and smart grid infrastructure. For example, smart buildings with solar PV panels will ac­c­rue higher returns on investment if there is a smart grid enabling two-way flow of electricity.
  • Product regulation and compliance laws: The ab­sence of product regulation or compliance law is a barrier to growth of smart home au­to­mation systems. At present, OEMs and de­ve­lopers do not have standard guidelines (including minimum energy efficiency), electrical and electronic safety standards for developing new applications and hardware for the Indian market. The certifications and standards available internationally re­garding hardware, software and communication (in terms of frequency) may not ma­tch local requirements.
  •  Lack of policy or mandate for builders for ho­me automation and green housing: The ma­jo­rity of homes are constructed by realty developers without factoring in sustainability and efficiency objectives. In the absence of a policy guideline or mandate, the housing se­gment does not target home automation as a pre-sales option. Later (post-oc­­c­upancy) ad­op­tion of home automation by a consu­m­er becomes a costly and difficult af­fair, as the enabling fitt­ings/provisions ne­ed to be created afre­sh and the cost of pro­du­cts/servic­es in­creases. Mandates in municipal by-laws re­qu­iring the construction of smart and green housing are needed to dri­ve this trend.
  • Absence of standards and interoperability protocols: Consumers buying smart appliances are locked into the product with limited scope of integration with other IoT-based components of their household. Additionally, the co­sts of switching from one manu­fa­cturer to an­oth­er are prohibitively high. There­fore, the absence of standar­ds and interoperability protocols is a major problem vis-à-vis smart devices.

The way forward

India is poised to urbanise rapidly in the coming decades. It will have an urban population of 600 million by 2030, up from 400 million in 2018. This will accelerate the construction of buildings over the next decade, and also spur the gro­w­th of smart and green buildings. Hence, it is vital for the government, building de­­ve­lopers, financial institutions and owners to devise a strategic road­map co­mmitting to achieving smart and green targets for the next decade.