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The Most Sustainable Building is the Building not Built

A recent bid by the Modi government to create 100 Smart Cities has re-ignited the urban planning and green design discussion for building infrastructure in emerging cities. However, in cities like Delhi, Surat and Kolkata; there is still existing infrastructure pre-dating the sustainable building  boom.

New buildings account for relatively a small percentage of the energy used in the building sector. Green retrofitting of buildings is one of the most significant development activities going on today and Indian corporates are realizing significant savings to their existing infrastructure. 

Corporate engagement on ‘greening’ infrastructure consists of two major interventions:

  • Retrofitting physical infrastructure with well-known technologies, controls, and fittings (e.g. efficient HVAC, water saving bathroom fittings, dehumidification)
  • Using operational controls to make sure that the usage of infrastructure, even with the retrofits, is optimal and enables savings to be realised

After engaging with a range of corporate and manufacturing facilities, from highest number of applications to the lowest, following are the retrofits implemented  in the corporate space  to more efficiently consume resources:

  1. HVAC optimization and air quality control
  2. Water recycling (incl. recycling condensing water in HVAC systems)
  3. Installation of monitoring infrastructure (water-flow meters, energy-metering) 
  4. Natural & energy efficient lighting 
  5. Building insulation upgrades (e.g. reflective paint for the roof/other surfaces)
  6. “Communicative” building technologies to reduce cost and enhance comfort & safety
  7. Eco-friendly and efficient deployment of coolants and refrigerants

The “low hanging fruit” 

Shree Ramkrishna Exports (SRK), a diamond exporter, explained some of the reasoning behind green practices they embarked on. Of these, optimising the HVAC systems yielded considerable benefits. 

“Cooling down a multi-story building takes up a large percentage of energy/water usage. Adopting systematic approach with respect to ISO 50001:2011 and LEED rating system for Existing Building – Operation & Maintenance, establishes the continual improvement on Energy Performance of the building, This also enhance the innovations in ability to promote,” says Nirav Mandir, Chief HR Officer, SRK Exports.  SRK Exports’ ideology concerning resource conservation relies on primarily acting through effective operational controls to enhancing savings (both financial and non-financial) rather than implementing a variety of retrofits. They have found the results in energy and water savings have attractive pay-back periods. 

In light of their ideology, SRK Exports implemented various operational control practices and retrofits in lighting, water consumption, HVAC optimization and the building envelope. Even after implementation, SRK Export’s Consultant of Green Building & EnMS, Mr. Govind Patel said “monitoring on a daily basis for energy consumption for each category of energy use and taking appropriate actions for any significant yielded great results”. In total the company was able to yield savings of 453,985 kWh per year which is a 9.16% reduction in energy consumption with respect to the previous year. 

If usage can match actual consumption need instead of perceived consumption need, then resource usage will drop dramatically. Optimization must meet proper consumption at an intended point in order to provide the largest possible savings. One without the other will be a waste of both time and capital.  Corporations in India like SRK Exports are grasping this point and using tools like operational controls to meet their sustainability goals. 

Likewise, for a company who wants to reduce their environmental footprint and resource cost but doesn’t wish to pay a large upfront investment, SRK Exports says that relatively inexpensive effective operational controls can provide more savings on energy and water.

Optimizing every Single Part of Operation

Almost all corporate building retrofit projects entail some certain component of HVAC Chiller optimization because the cooling/heating of a building accounts for the majority of energy usage. By targeting the HVAC and implementing proper controls a corporation can achieve major resource savings.  

Since HVAC Chiller systems experience such constant and heavy use, it may be necessary to ensure delivery of acceptable air to indoor environment. Cleaning may be required for older/existing systems that have not been properly maintained. A scaled and dirt HVAC system can decrease the operating capacity of chillers and increase the energy required to produce the cooling.  One efficiency innovation coming from Eco Green Systems is the ECOMAX-HE, an auto condenser tube cleaner that uses sponge balls to keep heat exchange tubes in a HVAC system clean and thereby improving cooling capacity.  

Mohan Chavan, CEO of Eco Green Systems states “our product can help clients save up to 20% of energy. Our largest customer is the IT sector. Cooling of IT buildings are critical to operations. Hence, any savings we can help the IT sector leverage from their HVAC system results in large monetary savings”. For the IT sector, energy cooling needs particularly related to cooling down IT infrastructure and servers are forecasted to grow.  Beyond IT sectors, most pharmaceutical, large commercial buildings, hotels, hospitals, mall spaces are centrally air conditioned building spaces with a large cooling requirement. ECOMAX- HE allows corporates to reduce their energy consumption without having to implement expensive and time consuming retrofits to the HVAC chillers. 

Innovations like ECOMAX-HE coupled with effective operational controls can really propel a corporation closer to their sustainability goals. ECOMAX-HE and SRK Exports are just two of many examples in the Indian industry but the business case can be made for implementing effective operational controls and optimization retrofits were needed.

Targeting the “low hanging fruit” first is necessary to further implement optimization. In the end, the most sustainable building is the building not built. 


Eco Green Systems Shree Ramkrishna Exports and are Parivaratan Awards nominees for 2014


Image Credits: Flickr/ Neng_


Author: Sustainability Outlook