Winter blooms in my garden vanished by March this year, while they usually last till April. Delhi, being in composite climate zone, usually has strong summers and winters with intermittent spells of pleasant moderate weather. It did not happen this year. Winter transitioned to hot summer in Delhi without a spring break. India recorded its warmest days in March in 122 years. It was also reflected in rising power demand across the country.
In Delhi the peak power demand of March 2022 was 25 percent higher than in March 2021. Changing climate is for real and hitting us hard, more so as it's throwing us surprises with less time to prepare for them.
It’s for sure that we must be resilient to face the future shocks. All notable governments and businesses have made commitments to reverse the impacts. Net zero pledge is the mainstay of all responsible businesses. It’s time for us to have integrated thinking to realise the collective benefits, and mind the gap that exists and restricts us from realizing the results.
The energy conservation building code (ECBC) of India that helps buildings to be designed to be energy-efficient has been in place since 2007. Since then, the government has tried several mechanisms and ways to mainstream the code. Fifteen years from the code being in place, we still talk about making it effective. Several states have mandated it within the building approval process. I did a reality check today and spoke to a few experts in one of the southern states where ECBC is a mandatory requirement.
I found that it mostly exists on paper and that implementation still remains a challenge. There is no report out on the compliance thus far. The bigger players are more concerned about the operational costs and take it seriously. They deploy services of competent consultants to apply ECBC. However, the numbers are far less.
There is a serious lack of awareness, and the smaller players see it as more of a paperwork and afterthought to get building approval. It's also interesting to note that the minimum compliance level required in these states is far too less stringent than required to meet the country’s goals of getting to net zero by 2070. So, here comes the gap. On one hand we are talking about achieving net zero goals and drastic emission cut from the building sector and on the other hand the compliance requirements are neither stringent nor effectively deployed.
Once the building gets constructed and is operational, we rely more on purchasing power from greener sources or other means to cut the emissions, as we have lost the opportunity to cut emissions at design stage. The International Energy Agency has stated that all new buildings have to be zero carbon ready by 2030 and all existing buildings have to be zero carbon ready (by retrofit) by 2040, in order to achieve the climate goals.
This calls for integrated approach at all levels to make the codes mandatory for highest level of compliance, ensure compliance and follow it through with performance monitoring and reporting. With the advent of technology, it is not too difficult to monitor projects and track performance. LEED certified buildings focus on performance and the online data tracking portal Arc allows buildings to feed, track, monitor data at asset and portfolio level. It allows buildings to set performance benchmarks and goals to achieve.
It also supports buildings to move towards net zero goals. If India has to maximise the growth and operation of energy-efficient buildings, it's necessary to mandate the highest level of energy efficiency standards in all new buildings - commercial and residential; reduce embodied carbon in building materials and green grid. Push to maximise online generation of power from renewable sources should also be maximized. Then again, this would need integration with grid operators for evacuation of power, stable and reliable grid, and availability of shadow free space (for solar power generation).
I reside in a cooperative housing society, and we had explored the feasibility of using our roof top for solar power generation in RESCO model or CAPEX model. The first option failed as the size was too small to get a financier to fund and get return on investment. The second model failed as there was no consensus among homeowners on investment as many felt that they do not have daytime use of power (being away to office) /or they live elsewhere, and hence the investment may not fetch any return. This is just an example to demonstrate that though many schemes and policies exist on paper, the implementation gaps are humungous and need to be filled to achieve the goals for a carbon free planet.
But it does not prevent us from doing our bit: Switch off lights and fans when not needed, use energy efficient appliances, use insulation for roofs and walls to keep heat away, use shaded windows to prevent solar gain and many more.
Transportation energy is another area that needs quick action. With fast depleting fossil fuels and commitments to achieve net zero emission goals, India is having a robust and aggressive target for scaling up adoption of electric vehicles and EV infrastructure.
Let's look at two news pieces from the recent times. First one, one of the oil majors committed to invest around Rs 200 crore this fiscal to set up 100 fast electric vehicles charging corridors having 2,000 stations along the busiest 100 national highways. It's certainly a welcome step to increase use of electric vehicles for long distance travel. The second one, EV vehicle batteries catching fire at many instances due to short circuits, heat buildup, charging malfunction. Reliability of electric vehicles for commercial use is a big issue and unless the industry is addressing safety standards, cost optimization and charging benchmarks, there shall be a huge consumer backlash.
Lack of implementation and rigor in regulatory frameworks is a particular challenge for us. Hence the gap needs to be mended for scaling EV. Also, the EV infrastructure being powered by fossil fuels merely shifts the responsibility of burning fossil fuels from scope 1 to scope for a consumer and does not address the emissions factor. Unless the EV charging stations are powered by green energy, it fails to meet the objectives.
This would certainly need greener grids and decentralized RE. Our residential complexes and commercial complexes also need to offer suitable charging infrastructure and currently our building bye laws do not ask for it. Thus, if we try to untangle the pieces, we see clear gaps. Mending gaps is easier said than done, as the whole ecosystem shall need integrated approach and coordination between multiple stakeholders like government bodies, companies, citizens and users.
The recent report from International Energy Agency critics that global use of electric vehicles shall be 60 percent of the vehicle mix by 2030 from current level of 5 percent, if we have to attain the net zero goals to meet the target as committed by multiple nations. Enabling infrastructure and technologies are vital for transforming the energy system. Globally, the number of public charging points for EVs needs to rise from around 1 million today to 40 million in 2030, requiring annual investment of almost $90 billion in 2030. Annual battery production for EVs has to leap from 160 gigawatt-hours (GWh) today to 6 600 GWh in 2030 – and India has to be part of this growth trajectory.
There is much work to be done if we need fast scaling of EV in eight years. As a normal user, I will shift to EV once I am confident of first costs and operational costs, reliability and safety, after sales costs and service infrastructure, life cycle costs of battery replacements and spare parts, availability of charging infrastructure at home, office and in/outside city limits, metering and payment uniformity, source of electricity and resale valuations.
But I pledge to do my bit: I prefer carpooling, working from home a few days a week, avoiding unnecessary travel, virtual meetings/webinars and events, availing public transport, walking to my neighborhood store and walking up stairs to reach my home (it also keeps me fit)
The Earth Day 2022 calls for Investing in our future. I have invested in, saving electricity at home by switching to efficient appliances and better windows, in saving water by switching to efficient taps and fixtures, in health by increasing my step count.What’s your investment for saving our present and the future?