Voltas Ltd, a Tata Group company, has been addressing ecological and energy concerns through a long list of systems and equipment such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning, building management systems, and indoor air quality. M. Gopi Krishna, in an email interaction with Renu Rajaram, talks about the green movement and his company’s contribution to green construction in India.
What is your outlook on green buildings in India?
To answer that question, we need to understand what is meant by the term. A ‘green’ building is one that optimises energy efficiency, conserves natural resources, generates less waste and provides healthier spaces for occupants, as compared to a conventional building.
These days, there is increasing pressure to build and utilise all living and working spaces in the greenest possible ways. Homes, offices, factories, institutions – they are expected to minimise their use of scarce resources like energy and water, and also to do the least possible damage to the environment.
In these times of climate change, environmental degradation, energy scarcity and a water crisis around the corner, the ‘green’ movement is an urgent necessity.
Voltas is equipped with the technologies and knowhow to contribute to ‘green’ construction in many ways: through energy-efficient HVAC (or Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning), through treatment and management of water, through efficient Building Management, through optimisation of power usage and so on. For us, this represents not just a sound business opportunity, but also a way to contribute meaningfully to society, in line with the Tata values that we share.
Given resource shortage, how can ‘sustainable building models’ be introduced in metros today?
In fact, it is precisely because of the resource shortages that we need sustainable building models. For example, when households were faced with rising energy bills, it put pressure on them to look for appliances that were energy efficient. Voltas’ communications also helped raise awareness about responsible energy usage; so that created a market for ‘Star’-rated ACs, which Voltas was the first to introduce.
In the same way, green buildings are going to be more and more in the news. They will be subjects of discussion, whether in public forums or in company boardrooms. The media will report on every building that wins a prestigious LEED certification. Builders and architects will increasingly promote their ‘green’ offerings.
In the corporate arena, especially, ‘green’ practices are already helping to generate popular goodwill. They are also a plus factor when it comes to a company’s global reputation, especially if it has dealings overseas.
The point is that sustainable building models do not really have to be forcibly enforced by any authority. They will evolve naturally as companies and individuals see the benefits, and understand the need.
I should mention that, historically, India has a long tradition of following many ‘green’ practices in construction. One classic example is Jaipur’s Hawa Mahal. As the name implies, it was built with a window design that provided cool breezes even in the desert heat. Similarly, in the ruins of Golkonda near Hyderabad, we see a very complex system of ventilation, again meant to maximise cooling breezes. The point is that ‘green’ principles are not something alien being introduced from outside, but an evolution of what we already practice.
Can you discuss measures for energy saving in buildings?
It so happens that the most important energy-saving measures have to do with the air conditioning, because that is a huge consumer of power. So a lot of decisions have to be made keeping the energy factor in mind. There are questions about the choice of HVAC technology, the distribution of the cooling effect, the regulation of its usage etc.
When making these decisions, the planners and designers must consider the layout of the space, the usage patterns and timings, the rise and fall of the heat load etc. Based on all this information, they must arrive at the most energy-efficient solutions which also perform the job as required. Even every item of equipment – chillers, air handling units, condensers, fan motors – must be energy efficient.
Going beyond HVAC, a lot of energy-saving measures can be built into the architecture and layout of the space. Basic decisions like choice of building materials, orientation, exposure to sunlight etc. can make a difference to energy consumption.
One example is the use of glass with high heat resistance along with high clarity. This way, one reduces the heat-load as well as the need for artificial lighting.
Another measure is the use of solar panels for meeting some or all of the building’s energy needs. These days, more and more builders are using solar energy for water-heating needs, or to generate steam in factories.
A very important factor is the use of automated controls for HVAC, lighting and other electricals, to regulate their usage according to some pre-determined timetable, or according to actual usage.
There is also the possibility of recycling exhaust heat into usable energy, as is done by certain HVAC systems that Voltas provides.
Besides, proper maintenance of the equipment can maximise its performance over the lifecycle, and minimise the effects of efficiency reductions.
How can existing buildings be made more energy efficient?
This is an area called ‘sustainable refurbishment’. Obviously, it is of great importance, because the majority of buildings was built when energy standards were much lower, or did not exist at all. Many of these buildings are also likely to remain standing for a good long time, so refurbishment is all the more necessary.
Several measures can be taken to optimise energy consumption. New insulation can be put in. Renewable energy sources can be put in, such as solar water heating, or photovoltaic cells to generate electricity. Measures can be taken to reduce overheating and improve ventilation. Steps can be taken to minimise the wastage of existing components. Energy use can also be monitored, regulated and minimised by replacing energy guzzling air conditioning systems with more energy efficient once, wherein the payback period is just three years.
Obviously, this will have to be done on a case-by-case basis, since one is dealing with an existing building with its own characteristics and challenges.
What are the major challenges faced by the Indian green building movement?
‘Green’ building development is sure to gain momentum in coming years. However, the process may not be as fast as we would like it to be for various reasons. First and foremost is the fact that the Ministry of Power’s Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC), which was launched in 2007, is at present voluntary. In the future, it may be necessary for state or central governments to make it mandatory for all new construction.
Many builders and developers, and their customers, are slow to adopt ‘green’ construction because they are aware of the risks involved, such as:
- Uncertainty over costs of developing green real estate
- Uncertainty about the economic benefits of green real estate
- Uncertainty about green building performance over time
Another roadblock in the way of ‘green’ is the lack of an experienced workforce, especially of expert consultants in this rapidly growing domain. This increases the risk of unqualified service providers entering the green building market in search of a premium on their services.
The best solution for the latter i.e. shortage of expertise is a rigorous process of qualification and certification, so that no one can claim green building credentials without having the requisite knowhow. The ones with true expertise could make themselves available as advisors on a consultancy basis, clarifying the doubts and concerns of would-be customers. They could also propose viable ‘green’ solutions for their needs, while also helping train a growing corps of ‘green’ practitioners to serve this expanding market.