Energy Efficiency Crucial to Achieving "Smart Cities" in India

Guest post by Nehmat Kaur, NRDC India Representative

“Smart cities” is the most popular phrase making the rounds at the "Cities For All" XI Metropolis World Congress currently being held in Hyderabad. At the international gathering, the new state government of Telangana announced its desire to make its capital city of Hyderabad a “global smart city.” While each of the more than 400 national and international delegates representing 50 countries have their own definition of what exactly defines a “smart city,” the participants all agree that sustainability and efficient resource management are central to developing a smart city agenda. Our latest report, Transforming Cities: Building Efficiency Lessons from Hyderabad, released today, drives home the point that prioritizing building efficiency in cities and saving energy through policies such as green building code adoption and implementation—as Hyderabad is undertaking—are crucial components to constructing sustainable and smart cities of the future.

Mona Yew, Deputy Director of NRDC’s China Program, released our new report along with our partner, the Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI), at the end of the XI Metropolis World Congress session focused on energy efficiency.

Even outside of the XI Metropolis World Congress, “smart cities” is certainly a trendy term garnering high-level attention in India lately. With Prime Minister Modi announcing plans to develop 100 new smart cities across India, it was no surprise that the most jam-packed sessions during the Hyderabad conference were the ones that focused on building smart cities.

Professor Srinivas Chary from ASCI, our partner in today’s report release, stressed the importance of adopting building energy efficiency codes on the path to achieving efficient, well-managed smart cities. Even once minimum efficiency building codes are adopted, ensuring compliance is challenging yet critical to success.

Our colleague Mona Yew, an expert in demand side management in China, presented insightful examples that have helped China attain a 95% compliance rate with building codes in the last few years—lessons that include not only national targets and local implementation, but also an extensive evaluation framework to ensure code effectiveness.

In India, our experience working with developers, real estate experts and urban administration stakeholders in the city of Hyderabad has also taught us valuable lessons. We have demonstrated through energy modeling and profiles of actual buildings that energy efficiency is the fastest, cleanest, and cheapest way to keep pace with Indian cities’ expanding energy needs. Given projections that 590 million people are expected to reside in Indian cities by 2030, both a tremendous need and opportunity for energy savings is presenting itself now: to lay efficient infrastructure that can support this expanding urban population. The lessons from Hyderabad presented in our new report—including city and state level efficiency policies and case studies profiling efficient Indian buildings that are saving money and energy – showcase steps other Indian cities can take in their transition to becoming energy-smart cities too.

Accelerating energy efficiency while India experiences skyrocketing growth in its buildings market provides a huge opportunity to generate energy savings that translate directly to financial savings. The reduced demand for energy also has public health benefits, combats climate change, and closes the widening gap between India’s energy production and demand. Armed with these tools, India can transform its cities to become leaders in efficient resource use and become true smart cities.