(Eco)Logically speaking: why Green Buildings makes great Economic sense

“Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another,” Albert Einstein had famously quipped a century or so back, thereby defining our perceptions about energy. The fact that most of us grow up learning that energy is almost limitless in the universe, makes us a wee bit immune to the consequences of our action from an energy perspective. If indeed e=mc2, then all we need to do is burn some matter at the speed of light, and to generate all the energy we ever need.green buildings 6

Yet, sadly, the world of Einstein’s Thermodynamics is quite unlike the world that we live in today. The notion that energy is limitless is as far-fetched as the notion that unicorns exist in some unseen corner of the planet. With mechanisation and modernisation, energy forms the wheels on which our society moves. And yet, as our hunger for energy grows, we are coming to terms with the fact that energy is not limitless. From the oil wells in the Middle East, to the coal fields in middle India, our resources of energy are steadily on the decline and unable to cope up with our speed of burn. The realisation is finally dawning upon us, energy conservation is as important (and probably a bit more) than energy creation. It is in the light of this changing reality, that buildings and especially green buildings have come to the fore.

Why Green Buildings?

Typically, buildings are static structures, and unlike cars or planes we do not see them bellowing out smoke into the atmosphere, thus a question arises, should we really bother about making them green? The answer is a simple and unequivocal, YES! Buildings, through, their green buildings 5usage account for a bulk of our CO2 emissions. In fact, according to IPCC, buildings alone are responsible for 38% of all human GHG (green house gas) emissions. The reason is not hard to guess, by the virtue of lighting and air-conditioning, buildings consume energy, which more often than not is sourced by burning coal or petrol. Herein lies the environmental co-relation. Thus a green building is a one that uses lesser power for doing all the same things, and does so in an environment friendly manner. But even putting the ecological-bit aside, green buildings make great economic sense. The amount of savings through reduced power usage is the primary reason why so very many buildings are going green all over the world. The scenario honestly is no different in India. Considering the ever-rising cost of electricity, corporates in India have taken to green buildings like fish to water. Little wonder, India has the largest amount of Green-rated LEED buildings outside of North America. According to a recent report released by USGBC, “LEED in Motion”, there were a total of 1928 LEED-rated green buildings in India, accounting for around 833 million square feet.

Making it Green

Practically speaking, there are two ways to make a building green, one is to plan it green even before it is built, or make turn an existing building green (called retro-fitting). There are a couple of standards that are available and recognised in the marketplace. The most popular one is LEED by USGBC, GRIHA by TERI (now aligned with LEED), IGBC Green Ratings by CII, and Energy Conservation Building Code by BEE. While each of these systems have their own set of specifications, they can all be summed up in the following manner:

  • Lighting it right

According to BEE, lighting singlehandedly accounts for around 60% of energy consumption in commercial buildings, and around 18% in residential buildings. Thus, lighting becomes a big factor in greening the building. Increased usage of natural lighting, thereby reduction in artificial lights within the building. Also, replacement of existing ones by more energy efficient ones like CFL and LED is another option.Green Buildings 1

  • Conditioning the air

 Air conditioning, also known as HVAC, is another big energy guzzler in a building. It accounts for almost 32% energy consumption in commercial buildings and around 10% in residential ones. Little wonder, usage of efficient and smart air conditioners results in significant reduction in energy consumption. Quite a few systems like those from Carrier come with embedded sensors that are able to adjust air conditioning load dynamically, thereby reducing the power consumption.

  • Watering down

Considering the severe paucity of water in the Indian subcontinent, there can’t be a discussion on green without talking of water. Reduction of water usage forms a critical part of the LEED guidelines. The same can be brought through a variety of measures, from usage of water-efficient fittings to reuse of waste-water post treatment. Water usage reduction also has positive impacts on the cost-side as well as, on the societal level.

  • Renewable energy

Over 50% of electricity generated in India is through coal-based thermal plants, which is also the reason why India is one of the biggest GHG emitter (3rd in country ranks) in the globe. Erratic power supply also results in companies having to extensively use diesel-based generators for powering systems and backup. Renewable could be a solution to many of these woes. With constant reduction in input prices, solar-based systems are now much sought after these days. Wind-energy systems are also available, but not easily implementable as they require special space and much investment. Nonetheless, with the enormous push by the current government on the renewable front, there was never a better time to go renewable.

In the end, turning a building green (or building it so) is a conscious and deliberate decision. And there is just no real end to it, right from using smart ACs, or using energy-efficient elevators, there is a number of things that can be done to make a green building. Considering the way prices of electricity are going, there is never really an option for green buildings.  In fact, if ever Einstein was to visit us today, he would emphatically vouch for energy conservation keeping in mind our tremendous dependency on it.  And relatively speaking, green building would definitely find much favour with him.

Shashwat DC

(This feature was originally published on moneycontrol)


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