We have five years to prevent our planet from reaching a global heating tipping point, after which we may not be able to reverse the damage. Net zero is a possible solution for reversing the irreversible. With the climate crisis worsening by the day, businesses worldwide are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprints and do their part in saving the planet. Reducing emissions is crucial if we want to achieve net-zero global emissions and prevent catastrophic temperature rise. Every business has a responsibility to act now.
The shift from traditional, exhaustible fossil fuels to sustainable energy sources can be partially attributed to technology solutions being integrated within companies and enterprises. Achieving net zero emissions requires the utilisation of all available clean energy technologies, and the good news is most of them already exist. We just need to take and use them for the greater good to achieve Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious net-zero emissions target by 2070.
In India, energy-efficient building design is still in its early stages. To help students and engineers become better equipped to design and construct net-zero energy buildings (NZEBs), we need to incorporate more NZEB-related content into the curriculum of the 500,000+ students who graduate from building sector-related courses each year. As it stands, these students are not receiving the education they need to properly design and construct net-zero buildings.
It’s a known fact that of the over 450 architecture colleges in the country, hardly 20 of them offer courses on energy efficiency or sustainable design. The hindrances in developing high-performance buildings include a lack of stringent policies, the perception that sustainable buildings cost more, and a massive lack of technical expertise.
Even though there are regulatory policies in place — such as the Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) and Eco-Niwas Samhita — which provide guidelines for efficient energy usage in commercial and residential buildings, these are not mandatory. As of March 2020, only 14 States and two Union Territories have adopted these codes but none of the urban local bodies are enforcing them.
A healthy collaboration between academia and industry is key to ensuring that students are getting the best education possible to help them succeed in their future careers. Integrating lessons on NZEBs into the curriculum of architecture, civil/ mechanical/ electrical engineering, and design, students will help to create a more sustainable world by influencing the way these buildings are created and built over the next 30 years.
It is important that these students learn about topics such as building science, engineering of building systems, water sufficiency, and resilience so that they can be better prepared to design and construct NZEBs.
Online courses and gamified education will nurture innovation. By being exposed to live projects, students will come to understand the challenges that the industry faces and the impact an NZEB can have on communities. This will guarantee multidisciplinary collaboration instead of siloed approaches to building design. The faculty members need training and support as well to kindle innovative thinking among students.
Technology can be better leveraged to build smart net-zero buildings that adjust their electricity use to match the state of the electricity grid. This can be done by using innovative materials in buildings, incorporating smart controls and IoT, and changing residents’ behaviour.
India’s building sector is at a crucial point of change and its future structures must be significantly different from today’s buildings. A shift to greener, more energy efficient buildings that can withstand climate hazards is not only important, but also necessary. In addition to being eco-friendly, these buildings must also be affordable, durable, and designed with people in mind. These interventions can help reduce the construction sector’s contribution to climate change and lower India’s building energy demands by 50% by 2050.
Buildings in India account for nearly a fifth of the total CO2 emissions and nearly 33% of energy use, which is a cause for concern as urbanisation continues to rise. This would influence how energy is consumed and, in turn, how it depletes nature. According to reports, about 70% of India’s urban infrastructure by 2030 is yet to be developed, which means there’s an opportunity to make more conscious decisions about the materials used and energy conserved during the construction process.
Net zero energy buildings produce as much energy as they consume on an annual basis, thereby having a net neutral effect on the environment. Crucial to this sustainable development are students and engineers who can ensure India achieves the net-zero emissions target by 2070. For this to happen, we need young people who are passionate about environmental protection and who have the skills to make it a reality. So, if you’re studying engineering or another relevant field, know that you could be playing a key role in making India a leading force for sustainability.
The writer is Director, Eros Group.