The inauguration of the India’s first Zero Energy building – the Indira Paryavaran Bhavan – in 2014, has been the subject of large Indian press and internet blog reporting, with many comments about the need of more ZEB buildings across India.
And we should ask ourselves why isn’t it happening already? Why there isn’t an ambitious Indian policy on Zero Energy Buildings, akin to the kind of policy that India is implemented for solar electricity?
India’s solar policy
India targets to install 100 GW solar power capacity by 2022 – something that can turn India into the largest solar photovoltaic market in the world, rivaling with China.
That’s a lot more than the 22 GW initial target, and it is difficult to achieve, but it shows India’s commitment towards renewable sources of energy.
Besides these targets, we should also mention India’s rapid progress on distributed solar (mostly rooftop solar systems).
The India’s National Solar Mission plans to install 2 GW of distributed solar power by 2022, but there is also plans to raise this figure to 100 GW. The current government intends to provide electricity to all residential buildings until 2020, and many state governments are also promoting policies to cover rooftops – especially those of public buildings – with solar electric systems.
At the same time, these same state governments are promoting metering and feed-in tariff schemes to incentive residential solar electricity, and the possibility that these residential systems produce more energy than what they consume (selling it to the grid) is high.
Solar photovoltaic Vs. Zero Energy Buildings
These trends and policies raise some questions about the role and the nature of Zero Energy Buildings in India.
One of them is about the possibility of building ZEB by simply installing large solar photovoltaic systems. That’s, after all, the idea that many people have of what Zero Energy houses, schools or offices are.
But that’s difficult to achieve, even in sunny climates such as that of India. There is a rule that remains valid even in sunny climates: it’s cheaper to save energy than to produce it. It’s cheaper to implement energy savings – by using very efficient windows, by locating and sizing them properly, by using shade and cross ventilation, or by using overhangs and proper sized rooms, or high levels of thermal insulation in air-conditioned rooms… - than installing solar panels (see, on these issues, this PDF from the USAID Eco-III initiative)
The existing policy, highly focused on solar photovoltaic systems, should be tied to a Zero Energy Building program, more focused on energy-saving features.
Residential and commercial Indian buildings consume about 33% of the total electricity used in India, and this percentage will increase without a Zero Energy Building approach.
Only Zero Energy Buildings allow a different allocation of the renewable energy produced in India, that is, only ZEB will allow the energy consumed by buildings to be used by the industry and electric vehicles, solving the problem of oil, coal or natural gas dependency.
ZEB Initiatives in India
The USAID ECO-III initiative have projected a Zero Energy Buildings program for India, with obvious merits. The ECO-III concluded its activities in September 2011, but the USAID/India agency is still offering useful resources for the Indian building sector. See: USAID/India Eco-III site.
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