US-India Building Efficiency Momentum: Opportunities to Save Energy, Lower Emissions and Improve Livelihoods

Energy efficiency experts agree that “The Climate for Efficiency is Now,” which was echoed during the discussions at last week’s large gathering of global energy efficiency professionals in Asilomar, California.  Several presenters at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE)’s summer conference focused on how to reduce the carbon footprint of new commercial buildings in India.  Along with our partners and members of NRDC’s team, I’m continuing the discussions for the next few weeks in Delhi and Hyderabad. 

Commercial building floor space in India is projected to expand by four fold from one billion m2 to four billion m2 by 2030.  The emissions from these newer commercial buildings can increase dramatically under business as usual practices.  However, since these buildings in India have yet to built, the opportunity for energy efficiency is now – an opportunity to get cheaper, faster savings from the start.  The Indian Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) along with the US State Department’s USAID efficiency program, ECO-III, and U.S. Department of Energy as well as efficiency experts from Indian and U.S. groups are working to make efficient buildings a reality in India.

BEE’s Secretary Abha Shukla and BEE Deputy Director Dr. Sandeep Garg emphasized India’s commitment to efficient buildings through adoption of the Energy Conservation Building Code in new and retrofit building construction in India.  BEE Secretary Shukla explained that BEE will be modifying the ECBC so that it is applicable to more buildings by changing the threshold requirement from a 500 kW connected load to a 100 kW connected load or greater.

In partnership with BEE, USAID’s ECO-III program announced two new tools, which will be released later this year, to promote efficient buildings in India.  The first tool is an on-line “ECBC Compliance Tool” that allows building designers to enter specifications for a proposed new building to determine whether the new building would comply with the ECBC.  For example, the designer can enter different types of cooling and air-conditioning systems to determine ECBC compliance for the whole building.  The second tool is an online “Benchmarking Database” for commercial buildings that allows BEE to calculate the actual energy performance for commercial buildings in India.  The current database includes over 800 buildings, such as offices, hospitals, and hotels, across India’s climate zones. Tracking the actual energy use to establish benchmarks is central to determining whether efficiency measures are effective. 

The Weidt Group, U.S.-based sustainable building designers, discussed the need for market transformation for commercial buildings in India.  Referring to the groups working to encourage efficient buildings as the “Energy Efficiency Mafia,” the Weidt Group emphasized the importance of actively involving various stakeholders in efficient building construction, including city, state, and central government officials to real estate groups, developers, designers, builders, banks, universities, and civil society.    

The Department of Energy and the Brookhaven National Laboratory also described their newest efforts to work with select Indian cities to create net zero energy buildings and sustainable communities.  This project aims to work on both municipal buildings and lighting to reduce energy use in over five cities across India.      

The conference sessions highlighted both the opportunity and challenge with buildings in India.  It underscored the need to get ahead of the curve to build efficient buildings that coincide with India’s rapid development.  It also explained how the U.S. experience on code compliance to structuring green loans can help shape ECBC implementation in India.  Next week, I’ll be headed with members of NRDC’s India team to Hyderabad to work with our local partner, the Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI), to encourage building efficiency in the high-tech capital.  We’ll be discussing and strategizing with local experts and groups to create a roadmap to ramp up efficient building construction in Hyderabad.