Smart buildings for Net Zero before 2070?

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Updated On Oct 10, 2022 at 08:43 PM IST

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Now, more than ever, there is a need to transition from policies that focus on efficiency in building design to those that focus on efficiency in building operations.

New Delhi: At the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in October-November 2021, honourable Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, presented India’s five-fold strategy to tackle climate change. He called it Panchamrit, or the five ambrosias. The goals for India, as presented, are:

a) to increase non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030
b) to meet 50 per cent of India’s energy requirements using renewables by 2030
c) to reduce the projected carbon emissions by one billion tons by 2030
d) to reduce carbon intensity of the economy to 45 per cent by 2030, and
e) to achieve net zero emissions by 2070.

Just a year before this, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported that building operations contribute to 28 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions and commented that there is an urgent need for intensifying  the decarbonization of buildings by 2030.

Over the last 15 years, a considerable amount of work has been done in India’s building sector. Policies and standards such as Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC), Eco Niwas Samhita, and Green Building rating systems have been developedand implemented to encourage the design and construction of efficient buildings. The education programmes in the architecture and construction fields have been updated with increased emphasis on the energy performance of building designs, compliance with codes and use of energy simulation tools in the design process. The Bureau of Energy Efficiency also introduced and implemented star ratings for appliances based on their energy performance. These combined efforts and constant research have triggered a positive change and given birth to wonderful answers to the question of how to use energy efficiently.

The transition towards renewable energy, known for being intermittent in nature, has modified the question: How and when to use energy efficiently? Energy storage technologies such as batteries, hydrogen and thermal storage systems provide a solution to the ‘intermittence problem’ to a good extent but at high costs, and there are missing links. The primary missing link, is the idea of ‘smartness’ – there is a considerable buzz around ‘smart grids’, and ‘smart cities’, and now I would like to emphasize that there is a need for ‘smart buildings’. I believe, that when all the primary operations of a building are automated and digitalized, including heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, energy storage, control of dynamic facades and others, we get ‘smart energy buildings’ which maximize efficiency while ensuring comfort. This concept is not far-fetched. With technologies such as IoT, small and power-efficient edge computing devices, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, smart buildings are already here and are here to stay.

The above case addresses the question at the commercial building level. The complexity increases manifold when we move from large commercial buildings to individual homes. Commercial buildings are managed and operated centrally by trained managers and operators. However, the homes and the energy consumption of the homes are under the control of the occupants, who are generally sensitive to price, and who may or may not know about energy and energy consumption, and the impacts of their activities on the environment. A recommended method to influence the behaviour of individual homeowners was incentivization. But it was universally observed that incentivization alone had little to no effect because the incentives were considered too low and were ignored. The home owners do not ‘have enough time’ to manage their home energy consumption. This is where we must start thinking differently – smart technologies can solve this problem. The technology, called Smart Home Energy Management Systems (SHEMS), which automates the control of home appliances based on time of day, energy tariff and availability of energy from renewables, has been proven effective through various studies conducted worldwide. A significant advantage of SHEMS is that they are very user-friendly: they can be self-installed by consumers and provide extensive information about their energy consumption and behaviour pattern.

The acceptance and implementation rates for smart home technologies are currently very low. And this is where standards and policies to encourage the use of smart technologies are needed. Development and implementation of such standards and policies are easier said than done. These guidelines will require mandating constant and periodic re-evaluation of home energy consumption, in addition to the implementation of smart technologies, which is not an easy process. However, there must be a starting point somewhere, and revisions to the policies can be made along the way. But now, more than ever, there is a need to transition from policies that focus on efficiency in building design to those that focus on efficiency in building operations. And this transition, along with the advancement in the renewable energy sector, will help India achieve net zero in the buildings sector, possibly even before 2070.

[This piece was written exclusively for ETEnergyworld by Professor Vishal Garg, Academic Dean, Plaksha University on On Oct 10, 2022]

Dr. Vishal Garg

Dr. Vishal Garg