Talking about India's Enormous Potential for Energy Efficiency in Hyderabad

I was in Hyderabad for several days last week, participating in workshops on energy efficiency and green buildings hosted by NRDC and several government ministries. From there—a city with one section called Cyberabad and another called HITEC City because if its role in the IT revolution—it is easy to see that India is poised to move forward on clean energy solutions.

India has enormous clean energy potential—especially in energy efficiency. In the United States, the majority of our building stock has already been completed, and efficiency efforts often focus on retrofits.

In India, according to a recent study, two-thirds of the buildings that will exist in India in 2030 have not yet been built. The country has an opportunity to build smart from the start.

NRDC expert David Goldstein said at one of our workshops that you can design buildings that reduce energy use by 50 percent at no additional cost if you incorporate efficient features from the beginning.

India can encourage this kind of green building by weaving efficiency standards into building codes. This is something China has had success with, so we invited the former head of NRDC’s green building program in China to speak at another green building workshop in Delhi.

Kevin Mo explained that efficiency measures worked into building codes and extensive compliance systems are helping to reduce the energy use in China’s building stock. Now when you get permits for the every phase of construction, you have to prove that you are meeting the efficiency standards. And to further build capacity for efficient design, China also requires all architectural students to take a course on green building.

The participants in the Hyderabad and Delhi workshops welcomed these ideas, and also talked about traditional building techniques that also promote efficiency, such as thick walls that retain cool air far better than thin cement ones, deep eaves that extend the shade, and reed mats that when wet provide natural cooling.

The longer I stayed in India the more I saw that it is always merging the traditional and the modern, the new and the old. In Hyderabad, I stayed at a sleek, very hip international hotel, which is located across the street from a smoothly functioning railway station and a slum where people live in abject poverty.

The contradictions abound. A few days ago, I met with some of NRDC’s efficiency partners at the Administrative Staff College in India, which trains managers and government officials in a range of policy issues. The quality of the presentations was terrific. 

And that is the juxtaposition of India. You have world-class engineers like the ones I heard speak, and yet the nation is still struggling to manage its waste. I learned that new developments, such as HITEC City, go up without any underground water, sewer, or mass transit infrastructure, and so each building must fend for itself, as must the 400,000 people who now work there.

Hopefully, as India begins to expand its modern infrastructure in place, it can leapfrog over some of the mistakes America made in terms of water and air pollution, and instead head right into a cleaner future.