Taking Energy Efficiency to New Heights in India

There’s nothing like standing amid the bustle of India’s booming tech centers, such as Hyderabad’s Hi-Tech City, to get a glimpse of the magnitude of India’s building boom, as I’ve had an opportunity to do with NRDC Executive Director Peter Lehner and Energy Program Director David Goldstein this past month. As experts and stakeholders expressed during our February workshops and meetings, building efficiency is a tremendous opportunity to save energy given that the building sector in India is expected to increase five-fold from 2005 to 2050.  Yet, galvanizing action at the local level now is the key to unlocking this opportunity.  

The building sector already accounts for more than 30 percent of India’s electricity consumption.  As it expands, meeting these energy needs will become increasingly more costly for the economy and the planet.  But this building boom also provides a unique opportunity to act now to lock in energy efficiency and savings for decades to come, as described in Peter Lehner’s recent post

As part of our stakeholder workshops, we released a new report co-authored by the Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI), “Taking Energy Efficiency to New Heights: An Analysis and Recommendations for the Buildings Sector from the Hyderabad Experience.”  The report presents our analysis and recommendations for implementing energy efficiency at the local level.  The report also provided a platform for our conversations during the Hyderabad and Delhi workshops over the past few weeks.

During the workshops, the central and state governments played an impressive role.  In Delhi, the Ministry of Urban Development (MOUD) and the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) came together to emphasize the value of energy efficiency.  MOUD and BEE underscored their commitment to work with state and local governments and diverse stakeholders toward adoption of efficiency measures and the Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC), as discussed in the National Mission on Sustainable Habitat.  The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy also presented renewable energy measures, such as solar panels and water heating systems, as part of efficient construction. 

Equally impressive, state officials from Haryana, Orissa, and Gujarat described efficiency programs at region levels.  Haryana, for example, has a mandatory code and is working for greater code adoption.  Officials from Orissa shared experiences in building efficient government buildings.  Gujarat experts described their successful street lighting projects and plans to expand efficiency programs to new buildings.   

Technology companies, such as Wipro and Cisco, highlighted the energy and cost savings of their new efficient campuses, and encouraged other companies to adopt efficiency measures in new building construction.  Technical experts from India, the United States, and China also shared experiences in implementing efficiency measures at the local level, including the need for developing regional specific codes.  Local builders supported energy efficiency measures overall, but expressed concerns about mandatory codes. 

The stakeholders all agreed that increasing awareness among local government and real estate groups is a necessary next step for widespread adoption for efficiency measures.  Based on the discussions, we determined two main areas for actions as described in our report.  First, civil society, universities, and energy experts should engage with state and local governments to build awareness on efficiency practices amongst municipal staff.  Second, to promote broader adoption, civil society, universities, and energy experts should partner with leading real estate groups and building associations to document the business benefits and cost savings of efficient buildings. 

In the short-term, we’re hoping that key stakeholders can move forward and become leaders in building efficiency, creating wider acceptance and adoption of the ECBC and other efficiency measures across Indian cities.  In the long-term, we’re hoping that by embracing building efficiency, India can become a leader on mitigating climate change while pursuing sustainable development.

 (The author thanks Gretchen Gordon, NRDC Intern, for contributing to this post.)