Column: Not just green at the edges

Mar 10 2014, 03:30 IST
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SummaryLittle-known Metro Valley, part of the Indo-US energy dialogue, throws up interesting urbanisation concepts

Given that India will be adding 250-300 million more people to its urban areas over the next two decades, and that it plans to raise the share of manufacturing from the current 15% of GDP to 25% in a decade, it is obvious the country is hurtling towards an energy disaster. Indeed, a McKinsey study projects that, in a business-as-usual scenario, India’s energy dependence will rise to 50% by 2030 as compared to 30% today.

Fortunately for India, a large part of its urbanisation plans—this is where the bulk of energy gets used—lie ahead of it in the sense the cities that modern India will live in are yet to be built. McKinsey estimates, for instance, that India needs to build 700-900 million square feet of residential and commercial space over the next two decades; in other words, from now to 2030, we need to build two Mumbais every year. So any solution put in place today has the potential of dramatically reducing India, and the world’s energy footprint.

How we build those two Mumbais will be critical. Express columnist Isher Ahluwalia, whose book tour is currently under way—the book compiles her Postcards of Change columns in this newspaper over several years—has suggestions on how cities should deal with their sewage, water, transport.

Amitabh Kant who, as CEO and MD of the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation, is in charge of India’s most ambitious urbanisation programme, points to other important solutions. Since the largest share of energy demand, according to Kant, emanates from transportation needs, new cities need to be planned in such a way that, as far as possible, people should be able to walk/cycle to work. It is town planning and not ‘green buildings’, Kant avers, that help keep the planet green.

Rohan Parekh, who heads green initiatives at Infosys, has even more interesting suggestions regarding air-conditioning of buildings. According to Parekh, the most inefficient way to cool/heat buildings is to cool/heat air, given its poor conductivity, yet that is what is most commonly done. Parekh’s solution, implemented at Infosys’ Hyderabad campus, is to pass cold/hot water through thin copper tubes in the ceiling of a building—the difference in temperature causes our body heat to radiate to the cold tube (it is the reverse for heating) and, in the process, cools us down; Parekh’s solution, he says, costs 30% of what conventional cooling does. Around 40% of global energy, Parekh avers,

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