Accelerating Energy Efficient Building Design in India: ECOnirman

India’s Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) recently launched what appears to be a promising new tool for improving building efficiency. The ECOnirman ECBC Conformance Check Tool is an online web interface that allows architects and engineers to assess how their designs measure up to India’s Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC). By utilizing an interactive web format that targets the front-end of construction design, ECOnirman offers a way to boost energy efficiency that should be cost-effective for both private builders as well as the public budget.  Tools like ECOnirman are critical to saving energy and accelerating energy efficiency measures in India’s rapidly expanding building sector.

I learned about the ECOnirman tool, which roughly translates to “ECO-construction” in Hindi, at a reception hosted by BEE and USAID’s ECO-III program that I attended in Delhi with my colleagues Radhika Khosla and Shravya Reddy.   The ECOnirman tool was developed in partnership by BEE and the ECO-III project, a collaborative program of the Government of India and USAID.  ECO-III is part of the Energy Conservation and Commercialization Bilateral Project Agreement between the U.S. and India.

What’s innovative about ECOnirman is that it helps building professionals build in efficiency up front: at the design stage. With rising GDP and population growth, India’s construction sector is one of its most prolific. According to ECO-III, it is estimated that 70% of the building stock that will exist in the year 2030 is yet to be built. Buildings account for approximately 33% of India’s electricity consumption and the sector is India’s fastest growing.

While this reality of course brings with it substantial challenges for India and the planet, it also provides India with the unique opportunity to implement changes now to shape its growth toward sustainable development, by proactively mitigating energy demand and decreasing the need for retrofits later on.

Since the enactment of the ECBC in 2007 as a voluntary code for commercial and high-rise residential building, BEE has been promoting ECBC implementation through various education and capacity-building programs. According to a report by ECO-III, studies have identified potential energy savings in India’s commercial building sector of 20-50%. This potential remains largely untapped, however, due to roadblocks, such as lack of awareness, limited access to energy audits, and lack of technical capacity.  NRDC and ASCI’s on the ground discussions in Hyderabad with building experts, construction industry representatives, and government officials, confirmed the prevalence of these roadblocks. 

ECOnirman responds to these identified roadblocks since it was developed in response to feedback from design professionals regarding the need to be able to predict efficiency performance. It allows commercial builders to be able to design to the Code, cross-checking their plans for materials and systems against the ECBC, and making the necessary adjustments to achieve maximum efficiency.

Here’s how it works:

1)      Any building professional can access the ECOnirman interface from the web.

2)      Through a series of modules, the user is prompted to input information on the type of building, location, power load, construction materials and design specifications, as well as details on the building’s electrical, lighting, heating, air, and water systems.

3)      ECOnirman then generates a Conformance Report which simulates the energy performance of the building based on the climate of the site location, and identifies which systems or design components conform or don’t conform to the Code.

4)      A Trade-off function allows the user to modify certain aspects of the design, swapping materials and specifications to improve efficiency and to balance varying cost and design demands. For instance, the user can see in real time whether adding a high-efficiency roofing material could off-set the use of a middle-efficiency window, or vice versa.

You can think of it sort of like a virtual reality video game for engineers. Only the goal isn’t to find a hidden treasure, but rather to find the most energy efficient design. 

Improving building design is one of the easiest ways for India to curb its growing energy needs and limit greenhouse gas emissions, and ECOnirman appears to be a promising tool for achieving that goal, offering benefits both for India’s builders as well as for the public purse. By providing builders with energy predictions at the start of the design phase, ECOnirman should allow builders the flexibility to evaluate different options and to find the most cost-effective ways to achieve efficiency. It also allows the government to provide design professionals throughout the country with a technical and individualized virtual energy audit – something that would demand a vast amount of resources to provide in person.

As the roll-out of ECOnirman proceeds, we’ll keep an eye out for how it impacts implementation of the Energy Conservation Building Code as well as India’s overall energy and climate goals.

Co-Authored by Gretchen Gordon, NRDC India Initiative Extern