Net Zero Buildings: The no compromise approach to sustainable development

Given the necessity and indeed the opportunity in sustainable construction, Net Zero buildings can be an indispensable part of India’s future real estate market.

Designing buildings right means integrating strategies for building resilience, climate mitigation and adaptation.

By the time the average person reaches the end of this sentence, the population of the world will have permanently grown by 20. It is estimated that the world’s population will be close to 8 billion by 2030. At this rate, we are in more urgent and excessive need of resources now, more than ever. For this growing population to live, the global building sector is estimated to grow at an unprecedented rate. Over the next 40 years there will be 230 billion square metres of new construction worldwide. As a result, the energy demand in buildings is expected to increase by 50% by 2050. The wins from energy efficiency improvements have not kept up with this rising demand.

The building and construction sectors combined are responsible for 36% of global energy consumption and nearly 40% of total direct and indirect CO2 emissions. Global use of energy in buildings has grown by 1% per year since 2015, as has the buildings-related CO2 emissions.

Excessive demand mandates drastic measure

Buildings in India contribute to 40% of energy use, 30% raw material use, 20% water use, 20% land use and generate 30% of solid waste and 20% water effluents. The real estate sector is responsible for 24% of India’s annual CO2 emissions, contributing to global warming and poor air quality. Is India prepared to address the environmental fallout of this sector? Urban India will need approximately another 2.4 million homes to be built by 2020, which creates a massive opportunity for change. 2/3rd of India’s built infrastructure lies in the future. Therein lies the opportunity of creating our built infrastructure in a manner such that we mitigate the impacts and transform the places where we live, work and play.

The first step towards sustainable living

Traditionally buildings are created/designed to draw as much power it requires from the grid. The shift is needed in this thought process to create a low carbon world. Using integrated design approach through incorporation of active and passive strategies, the real estate industry as a whole, must move towards Net Zero energy buildings. In simple terms, Net Zero Energy buildings and communities produce as much energy as they consume during the year. For the energy needs of a Net Zero Energy building, power is either drawn from grids that generate energy from renewable sources or the energy is generated onsite with the help of solar panels and wind turbines. Through intrinsic design, and energy generating equipment installed on-site, the net energy used by the end of a year amounts to zero.

Apparent challenges to reducing energy use

Despite the higher upfront costs associated with understanding, implementing, and maintaining Net Zero buildings, rising awareness among stakeholders is accelerating the rate at which such measures are being adopted. Integrating this philosophy into the entire chain, right from conception and design of the project, can also significantly offset the upfront cost, as compared to simply retrofitting features into existing projects. Given the necessity, and indeed the opportunity in sustainable construction, Net Zero buildings can be an indispensable part of India’s future real estate market.

Designing buildings right means integrating strategies for building resilience, climate mitigation and adaptation. Net zero buildings can be realised by focussing on:

1) Passive strategies: Building energy demand reduction by through architectural design, and

2) Active strategies: Building the supply through onsite or offsite renewables and storage technology. As per the Global Status report 2017 by UN Environment: “The energy and emissions savings potential in buildings remains largely untapped due to continued use of less efficient technologies, alongside lack of effective policies and weak investments in sustainable buildings and construction in many countries. Consumer choices and behaviour also play a key role.”

Sustainable urbanization remains at the core of everything

We are seeing a rise of net zero buildings. The global net-zero energy buildings (NZEBs) market is projected to reach USD 78.79 billion by 2025. Out of the 60 major opportunities related to delivering the UN SDGs, 6 of them fall in this sector: affordable housing, energy efficient buildings, building resilient cities, durable and modular buildings, smart metering, water and sanitation infrastructure. Global goals open an economic prize of at least US $12 trillion and over 50% of this opportunity lies in the developing world.

Net zero is achievable globally with appropriate building codes, regulations, policy, technology and monitoring. India is one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world and we are home to the second highest number of city dwellers living in low lying coastal areas that are susceptible to rising sea levels. Climate change poses a huge risk for India. About 70% to 80% of the building stock projected in India by 2030 is yet to be built. This creates a great opportunity to incorporate this design philosophy into the core of construction activities. The need of the hour is to set things right. And with rapid construction technology development, desire for luxurious buildings and need for speedy developments, the energy demands during construction have gone high and are constantly raising the benchmark. However, consumer choices of renewable energy options like harnessing more than or equal to building demand, solar & wind energy can significantly help in achieving net zero emissions. Technology development in making renewable sources cost efficient is also gathering pace in India.

Our future strategies must necessarily encompass a wider gamut of measures that will improve efficiencies and enable the reduction of energy usage. Efforts must be made to reduce onsite and offsite power consumption, and carbon sequestration. Consumer awareness and progressive policies for the construction sector must be the way forward.

(By Sunita Purushottam, Head-Sustainability, Mahindra Lifespaces)

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