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Radhika Khosla’s Blog

Cracking the Building Energy Code in India

Radhika Khosla

Posted August 28, 2012

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Last week, at ACEEE’s Summer Study on Building Energy Efficiency, the hot topic of conversation amongst global experts was how to increase energy saving measures around the world, especially in places of rapid urbanization like India. Incorporating energy efficiency measures in buildings has the potential to save $696 billion worldwide by 2030. Adoption and implementation of building energy codes are central to unlocking these savings since codes ensure that buildings are designed with a minimum level of energy efficiency from the time of construction. 

Building energy efficiency codes have multiple benefits. First, energy codes reduce the long-term operating costs of a building.  Second, they reduce peak electricity demands and thereby increase grid reliability – a major benefit for India where people face regular blackout.  Third, building energy codes reduce the need for additional power plants and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thus helping fight climate change. Further, improved building codes spur innovation in the construction and building materials sector, and improve indoor air quality and occupant comfort. India is already showing leadership in shifting the base for its entire buildings market by promoting its national Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC). Ensuring implementation of the ECBC will allow India to save 1.7 billion kWh of electricity annually, equal to 0.2% of country’s electricity consumption.

The ECBC sets minimum requirements for energy efficient building design and construction. It applies to energy-intensive buildings with a connected load of 100 kW or 120 kVA, including commercial buildings, offices, hospitals, information technology parks, and high-rise residential buildings. The ECBC requirements address building exterior walls and windows, heating and cooling, air conditioning, water heating, lighting and electric power and motors. Currently, the ECBC is voluntary at the national level. Leading states, including Rajasthan, Orissa, Delhi, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and West Bengal have announced plans for making the ECBC mandatory.

For real energy savings to be realized from the ECBC, wide-scale code implementation is critical. Currently, majority of the buildings in India are not ECBC-compliant. The United Nations Development Program projects that code compliance in India will rise to 10% by 2013, 35% in 2015, and 65% by 2017. These projected rates are still lower than those of the U.S. and China, where compliance rates are on average higher than 40% and in some areas near 95%. Effective implementation mechanisms are needed if India is to reduce the risk of future blackouts and improve its grid reliability through energy efficiency. Some international best practices discussed at ACEEE are:

1)      In rolling out the code, designers, builders, and code officials need to be given time to build capacity for implementing energy efficiency measures. During this period, the code requirements can be broken down into tiers of different energy efficiency measures and implemented in phases to allow for training time for designers, builders and code officials.

2)      Local building authorities need to review building design documents and make site visits to ensure buildings are designed and constructed according to the energy code. This process can be time and skill intensive. If internal resources are scarce, local building authorities can train and certify private contractors (called third parties) to perform the review.

3)      Local building authorities should be able to adjust the requirements of the energy code based on local conditions. Local code modifications should be approved by the national code implementing authority.

Some energy code implementation efforts are already under way in India. For example, the Rajasthan Renewable Energy Corporation has established a set of state-level initiatives to increase code implementation. Rajasthan holds awareness building workshops for designers, officers and builders and the state is designing a multi-stage process for code implementation. To support energy efficiency efforts, the Rajasthan Energy Conservation Award is given annually to 25 buildings with innovative energy conservation practices.

Building energy codes like the ECBC offer cost-effective energy efficiency measures that have significant benefits. These benefits reach far beyond cost savings, and include energy security, the reduced need for additional power plants, and improved reliability of the electric grid. India is in its early stages of ECBC implementation and holds the opportunity to transform the country’s building sector to make it energy-saving. We are looking forward to working towards cracking the energy code with our partners when we head to India next week!

Co-authored by Amir Kavousian, NRDC MAP Fellow

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