Energy inefficient buildings impose a heavy burden on power supply. They inflate and skew urban energy requirements and contribute to the electricity crisis. Two recent reports published by UN-Habitat send a clear message to complacent Indian policymakers: energy saving solutions are imperative to sustain urban growth and the best place to begin is the building sector since it offers maximum potential for reduction and accounts for 40 per cent of worldwide energy use. In India, of the 7,02,144 GWh electricity annually consumed (IEA 2009), residences use about 20 per cent. Much of this could be easily reduced. Unintelligent design, poor choice of building materials and inefficient appliances have increased power consumption and thus demand. Large swathes of glass and aluminium, which have respectively 3.5 and 30 times more embodied energy than bricks, increase solar gain and consequently the cooling load of the buildings. Excessive concrete pavement combined with poor landscaping of cities has contributed to the creation of heat islands. This not only causes more climatic discomfort, but also adds to cooling-related electrical consumption. Poor fenestration designs have failed to take advantage of daylight and most of the artificial lighting solutions remain energy intensive.
By adopting green practices, buildings can reduce 29 per cent of their total energy consumption in a decade. For instance, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) has shown that a shaded roof and sensitively designed windows have the potential of annually saving 10 to 15 per cent of energy in air-conditioned buildings. Every unit of electricity saved, when factored by transmission loss, would amount to substantial monetary gain, and would cumulatively reduce energy supply investment. What has the Indian government done to take advantage of green building practices? In 2007, the Energy Conservation Building Code, meant to reduce energy consumption by about 1.7 billion units of electricity a year, was launched. Even after five years, this code remains a recommendatory provision and does not bind many buildings. Neither is it integrated with the National Building Code. State governments fare no better. City level regulations have ignored the energy performance of buildings. They are more concerned about the economics of real estate. It is time to make energy audits for large buildings mandatory and dovetail energy codes into local regulations. This is not difficult to achieve. TERI has demonstrated how to integrate green codes with the building byelaws of Bangalore city. What is required is will and wisdom.