Brick by Brick: Building Smart Cities

The first on site net zero building of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of India.

How can cities become smart? The Government of India’s Smart Cities initiative shines a light on urbanization that provides for the basic needs of its citizens — and accounts for their aspirations. To be smart, cities need to evolve in a way that addresses the technological and economic challenges of providing energy to a rapidly expanding urban population, sustainably.

Smart cities nurture innovation and sustainability and hence contribute to the achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The goals aim to end all forms of poverty and call to promote prosperity for all while protecting the planet. Smart cities can ensure there is education, health, housing, social protection and jobs for all without further distressing the environment.

With a fast-growing economy, India will likely see the highest surge in urbanisation in the next few decades. Nearly 2,700 new urban centres have risen with the decade (Census 2001, 2011).

Plus, with cities expanding all the time, energy use and supply in these urban centres will be crucial to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in India. And given how much energy buildings consume, constructing houses and offices that are “green” — that factor in sustainability and resource efficiency — is imperative.

In India, buildings consume a little over 30 percent of the total energy produced in the country, even though construction accounts for only 5 percent of GDP. Nine percent of all energy produced is consumed specifically by commercial buildings like offices, hospitals, hotels, retail outlets, educational buildings, etc. For these cities and towns to keep pace with their economic needs, 700–900 million square metres of buildings — that’s like building a new Mumbai every year. That means this is an area ripe for intervention, if India is to meet its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 33 to 35 percent by 2030 (from 2005 levels), while still meeting its growing appetite for energy.

With much of India yet to be built, there is tremendous potential for the country to develop the solutions and innovations that will power a green future for our cities and towns said Yuri Afanasiev, UN Resident Coordinator in India.

Recognizing this, India has announced several initiatives to incorporate green guidelines in commercial buildings. These adapt global norms and ideas to the Indian context, consistent with Union Minister of Power Piyush Goyal’s statement that “Policymakers and designers should work together to indigenise solutions relevant to the Indian economics of building construction” at a conference on energy efficient building design in November last year. Paryavaran Bhavan (images attached), the home of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, is India’s first on site net-zero building. Features include a passive solar building design.

1. The Energy Conservation Act, 2001: The act mandates an Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) for new commercial buildings. Energy audits are a must to identify opportunities for energy efficiency in existing buildings. The act is being implemented by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE), a statutory body under the Ministry of Power.

2. The Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC), introduced in 2007, sets minimum energy standards for new commercial buildings, while accounting for the climatic conditions of the building’s location. The BEE’s voluntary star rating programme for buildings (based on the how much energy a building uses over its area) is intended to encourage greener buildings. Other ratings systems to promote energy conservation have also been developed, such as GRIHA (Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment).

The ECBC encourages the use of more energy efficient lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, as well as electric power distribution. A UN project on energy efficiency improvements in commercial buildings showed that constructing an ECBC-compliant building adds only 2–3 percent to the cost, which can be recovered in as few as 3–4 years owing to savings from energy consumption.

3. The National Mission on Enhanced Energy Efficiency (NMEEE): As part of the National Action Plan on Climate Change, India announced the NMEEE in 2008 to enhance energy efficiency in energy-intensive industries through innovative policy and regulatory regimes, market-based financing mechanisms and business models.

4. The National Mission on Sustainable Habitat (NMSH): This mission, also part of the National Action Plan on Climate Change, aims to make habitats (or our living environment) sustainable. This can be done by making buildings more energy efficient, better solid waste management, and encouraging people to use public transport.

5. SMART Cities Mission: In 2014, the Union government launched a new mission to build new smart cities and redevelop existing urban regions with more than 100,000 people. Intended to cover 100 cities over five years, cities compete to be selected by submitting plans that embrace good urban design principles tapping a range of approaches — digital and information technologies, best practices in urban planning, public-private partnerships, and enabling policies.

6. Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs): These were made mandatory under the Environmental Protection Act (1986) for 29 categories of large-scale developmental activities. Builders and developers must receive environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change before beginning large construction projects. The requirements set out for energy performance for buildings in the EIA are a combination of terms already present in the National Building Code and the ECBC.

Canal Top Solar Power Plant, in Gujarat, India.

India has demonstrated a strong commitment towards preparing for and mitigating climate change, adopting an ambitious target for renewable energy generation (175 GW by 2022). Building energy efficient offices and malls, hospitals and schools, will be integral to building sustainable cities that will not just mitigate the impact of climate change, but save money and create a healthier environment for people to live and work in.

India has played an important role in shaping the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Therefore, it is no surprise that the country’s national development goals are mirrored in the SDGs and that the Government of India has launched several ambitious programmes to achieve them. Green buildings contribute to meeting the Goals through improvements in living standards, promoting sustainability in cities and resources and fostering innovation. At the High Level Political Forum to be held at the United Nations in New York in July 2017, India will present the progress it has made thus far in achieving the SDGs.

The UN supports the Government of India in its efforts through various projects. The Sustainable Development Goals, achieving which forms a core mandate of the UN’s work in India (and indeed the world), have a strong focus on the environment, particularly in supporting direct and indirect interventions towards sustainable growth and infrastructure development, reduction in emissions and improving the disaster resilience of cities. The establishment of a country team results group on natural resource management, community resilience and energy efficiency demonstrates the UN’s commitment to coordinating its programmatic tasks in these areas across several agencies for maximum impact.