Indian Green Building Ratings ~ the art of illusion

Magic Tricks & Green Ratings

Green Ratings and the Art of Illusion

I’ve been critical of Indian green building ratings, their basic limitations and the fact that they can and will be manipulated. Of course this is not restricted to India alone… the problem is worldwide.

Now, a study by the New Delhi-based research organisation, Centre for Science and Environment, CSE, shows that a number of buildings that had been awarded platinum status–the highest achievable rating of the Indian Green Building Council or IGBC–were in fact barely worthy of any rating at all based on the amount of energy and water they consumed. Interestingly, the study was based on building performance data on IGBC’s website itself. A defensive IGBC is now nit-picking about CSE’s method of analysis but whichever way you look at it, the fact remains that the ratings methodology looks severely flawed.

How is it possible for the difference between the theoretical consumption–on the basis of which the rating is given–and the actual consumption, to be so vast? To my mind, it strikes at the very root of the problem when the system rewards you for your stated intent (genuine or otherwise) instead of rewarding you for your actions. It is all very well to brag that your building has a fantastic green rating but this has to be borne out by actual performance.

The worrying aspect is, the gulf between ratings and reality has ramifications far beyond mere bragging rights.

Many state governments give tax-breaks and extra floor-space for green buildings so the incentive to obtain a certification can be huge.  It is, unfortunately, all too easy to claim one thing at the time of rating and then shift the goal-posts at a later date.

Now that this latest can of worms has been opened, let us hope for a positive change in the way ratings are given and retained. With so many big names and businesses involved, however, there is always a chance that they will collectively try to sweep it under the carpet; and use the old system of discrediting the whistle-blower.

Acknowledgement: image from Pixbay

TERI and USGBC to join forces ~ sleeping with the enemy?

TERI & USGBC to join forcesNow that was unexpected!

New Delhi, June 7: The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) today announced a strategic collaboration to accelerate the development of high performance buildings in India and Southeast Asia.

Essentially, apart from lavishing praise on each other in their press-releases, they’re talking about making it easier for projects to have dual certification by “offering seamless pathways” to do so. However, what we still don’t know–and what they haven’t spelt out–is how they plan to reconcile their fundamentally different approaches to sustainable construction.

One wonders what compulsions made these two reach out to each other. Let’s not fool ourselves that it was an altruistic move for the betterment of all mankind. This was a hard business decision and there must be some powerful financial reasons behind it.

What will it mean for the future of GRIHA? Are they running scared because LEED certification has greater aspirational status and because India is already the third largest market for them outside of the USA? On the other hand, GRIHA is officially backed by the Indian government so, is LEED trying to stick a foot in that door now?

Time will tell of course but I can’t help feeling that TERI has made a blunder.

Press releases from TERI & USGBC

Edit: On request from TERI, the image in this post (which originally contained their logo) has been changed. Was I cutting too close to the bone?

New BEE Ratings for Air Conditioning ~ steady improvement but a long way to go

From the beginning of 2104—and in line with past practice—the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) has updated their rating system for all appliances including lights, fans and air-conditioners. I’m only going to talk about air conditioners here because they are, by far, the biggest guzzlers of electricity.

Energy efficiency is calculated as a ratio of output Watts v/s input Watts. So, if a 3,500W (1 Tonne) air conditioner needs 1,200W to run, then the EER is 2.92.  Up to the end of 2011, that would have made it a 4-star machine. In 2012 and 2013, it would have been considered a 3-star machine. Today, that same machine will be considered a 2-starrer. So yes, as technology improves, the ratings are revised and made a little more stringent—which is how it should be. Have a look at the table below to get an idea of the changes.

BEE Rating History

BEE Ratings over the last few years

While this is good, it may not be good enough.  As this article shows, the entry level for a single star is on par with many other countries but the higher ratings are somewhat below world averages.  Also, manufacturers of inverter air conditioners have long been saying that their machines cannot be rated because they are “better than 5-star”.  Checking the specifications for the ones available in India shows that many of them have an average EER greater than 3.5 but none cross 4.0 even for minimum cooling–whereas the same companies manufacture models for other countries with a higher EER.

This could be because of two factors:

  1. There is not enough incentive to go beyond the maximum available rating since the average person (and even most architects) won’t easily be able to compare two models for energy efficiency.
  2. Models with a a higher EER are more expensive to manufacture and the Indian market is notoriously price-sensitive.

While there’s not much anyone can do about the second factor, the first can certainly be tackled by raising the bar for ratings. As more and more people resort to artificially cooling their indoor environment instead of availing passive cooling (thanks to current architectural trends) our energy situation is getting more and more precarious.

I must be an idiot ~ or eccentric at the very least

crackpot environmentalist architect

The Crackpot Environmentalist Architect

Just received a call from a gentleman who wanted to develop 9 acres of land at Nasrapur village in Karjat, very close to some of the bungalows I’ve done and am doing there. That sounded interesting, naturally.

Unfortunately he wanted to make houses entirely and exclusively out of prefab steel. Never mind that they would not be environmentally sustainable and, therefore, contrary of the kind of work I do; never mind, even, that they might look like factory sheds! Someone had obviously convinced him that this was the way to go.

I said that I could not take up a project if I felt it was ecologically damaging and urged him to at least consider other options. He was closed to such crackpot ideas but very understanding about my foolishness. His words were, “Yes, of course, everyone has their… their own…” and then his voice trailed off.

Sometimes, it’s better to lose a project before you even have it in hand.

Micro Houses ~ when will I get to design one

A photo feature on unconventional tiny houses got me thinking about why we never hear of architects designing them in India.  Is it because a very small house is much too readily associated with poverty that we, as a country, are trying to leave behind? Or do we insist on big weekend houses on the off-chance that extended family and friends will come visiting and need to be accommodated?

tiny footprint

Micro houses have a tiny footprint

Whatever the reason, the concept of micro-houses is rarely considered seriously here–although it should be–because because they costs a lot less to build or maintain and, more importantly, they reduce our carbon footprint in a very big way.

We have a long tradition of frugal construction and it’s about time we rediscovered it. Maybe one day, hopefully in the near future, someone will ask me to design one. Or a bunch of them.

The Bottle Light ~ an inexpensive solution for lighting

bottle light refractionSometimes, a simple idea can be immensely powerful. Maybe the bottle light is not something that makes a huge difference to your life or mine but, for those who live in shanties with little or no electricity, this is a godsend.

screencap from a BBC featureEssentially, one fills a used, transparent, plastic bottle with water and a little bleach (to prevent algae) and sticks it into a hole in the roof.  That’s it. Oh, and don’t forget to seal the edges of the hole.

The light that it produces is equivalent to a 50 or 60W bulb. Of course it won’t work at night but when you think of the dark homes that some of our less fortunate citizens live in, this can—at the very least—brighten up their day.

More:
BBC News Magazine
Instructables
A Liter of Light

The Gaming of LEED Ratings ~ Bank of America Tower makes a mockery of platinum award

We all know that the LEED system can be gamed but that it could be turned so completely on its head was news to me.

greenwashThe Bank of America building at One, Bryant Park, New York has a LEED Platinum rating and was the first skyscraper to ever be awarded this but now, it turns out, it uses more energy per square foot than other building of similar size in all of Manhattan. Wow.

It was hailed as a major achievement by none other than Al Gore who set up his offices there. The basic problem is that LEED is largely based on computerised energy models and “intent”. This makes it open to abuse because it’s easy to purportedly intend something at the design stage and then change the goalposts later on.

Coincidentally, just this morning, I was speaking to a couple of marketing guys who were trying to convince me to attend a “green summit” next month and one of their selling points was LEED. I declined, telling them exactly what I thought of LEED but I wish I’d seen this article just a few hours earlier:

Bank of America Tower and the LEED Ratings Racket via: ArchRecord

Visit to ecobuild India 2013 ~ some stuff good. some, not so much

ecobuild 2013Yesterday was my day to visit Bombay Exhibition Centre at Goregaon for this year’s ecobuild India 2013.

I was a bit surprised to see some of the participating vendors because there was nothing remotely connected to sustainable architecture in their products.  Others, however, showcased more appropriate stuff.

Was disgusted by a company–which shall remain unnamed–that was promoting artificial thatch imported all the way from Thailand. Can greenwashing get more brazen than this?

On a positive note, I was impressed by products from Corvi and K-lite — coincidentally both are manufacturers of LED lights.  The former have a limited catalogue but all their fittings are dimmable with standard dimmers which is a major plus point in my book.

The show wasn’t very large but I presume it will grow over the years. I just think they should vet the products or else the show, as a whole, will soon lose credibility.

Glaring mistakes ~ another reason to reject glass façades

conventional v/s curtain wall

In hot climates, the overall energy usage rises as you increase the glazed area. Curtain walls, therefore, are highly inappropriate.

I have ranted about glass façades for a long time and this editorial by Sunita Narain of DTE has inspired me to add a couple of paragraphs to the original one.  Among other things, she has written about a recent study by IIT-Delhi which found that, in our hot climate, the manufacturers’ claims of special coated glass or double/triple glazing being able to reduce heat gain are rather hollow.

One of the other specious arguments put forth in an attempt to portray glass curtain walls as green systems is to say that it reduces the electricity consumed for lighting. This is a half-truth. Leave aside the uncomfortable glare that people working inside such buildings have to put up with, let us make s simple comparison.

Consider a 10m² conventionally designed space. Assuming that we don’t take passive cooling techniques into account, the air-conditioning load will be in the region of 3,500W (1 ton).  Lighting the same space, on the other hand, will need just 50W with fluorescents or 40W if we’re using LED fittings.

Now, imagine a similar sized curtain-walled space. The maximum saving that can be achieved by reducing lighting is a puny 50W. However–and this is the big problem–air-conditioning requirements will probably have risen to a whopping 5,000W.  Even with all the specially coated and multi-layered of glass in the world, the total requirement is unlikely to be anything less than 4,500W.

So yes, we may not use as much electricity for lighting but, I’m afraid, the energy usage for cooling will go right through the roof and no amount of marketing spin can get around this simple fact.