Business Times

Green building should be made mandatory in SL

By Jagdish Hathiramani

The example of India shows that green building measures will not be adopted in Sri Lanka voluntarily. Compliance must be made mandatory both on the demand side (consumers), with requirements such as aerators and flow restrictors for water and LED lighting, as well as on the supply side (manufacturers / importers), with a ratings based compliance system promoting green building materials. These comments were made by Dr. Chandrashekar Hariharan, an economist turned businessman who is the Chief Executive of Bangalore-based green building pioneer Biodiversity Conservation India, in a interview with the Business Times during a recent visit to Sri Lanka.

Dr. Hariharan, who was part of an unofficial Indian contingent exploring the challenges of providing housing locally in the North and East, also revealed that conservation such as with water will also have much wider repercussions. For example, when tea or paddy is exported, so too is the water used in growing these crops and, in the future, when water is monetised, the cost of these will also significantly increase.

With regards to electricity efficiencies, he is of the opinion that green building methods effectiveness in keeping down costs both in the short and long term needs to be aggressively “rationalised” across all segments. Saying; "At the current domestic energy tariffs of up to Rs. 40 per unit consumed in certain slabs, the payback on such energy savings as these green building systems bring can be enormous. Installation of solar water heater systems at homes, for example, can get a household’s investment paid back in less than 4-5 years on the investment."

However, Dr. Hariharan cautions against offering renewable energy subsidies. Instead, he recommends keeping tariffs at higher levels as "it will enhance effective amortisation of investments made by industry in solar and other alternate power supply systems. There is clearly a case for increasing energy tariffs across the board for commercial and industrial segments. This will be resisted in the shorter term, but will yield positive results over the decade: it is like bitter medicine… it is needed for curing!"

Further, for heavy users such as industries, rather than reduced tariffs, he suggests "structured technical (not financial) assistance that introduces both demand-side strategies for reducing energy use (without compromising business ends), and supply-side plans for generating locally that reduces dependence on the grid. If the right balance is struck and the right approaches adopted by industry, particularly the tourism sector, there can be a reduction of as much as 40 to 50 % in their energy use."

He also outlines a number of technically uncomplicated measures which could be made mandatory, such as: "Installing of aerators and flow restrictors in every faucet and shower of every building, old or new, in the city. A home of four people can save as much as a staggering 30,000 litres a year of fresh water by this simple expedient of installing such aerators at the faucets. These can be installed for existing fixtures of old buildings as well as, of course, for new buildings at a cost of no more than Sri Lanka Rs. 5000 for an entire house and family of four with two washrooms. They are easy to fit for old or new faucets, cost so little, and cause no discomfort or inconvenience for the user when s/he turns on a tap. Colombo will save as much 10 million litres a day on this one measure alone. The city’s demand has risen beyond 250 million litres a day. Again, as Sri Lankan experts have also pointed out in recent times, solution for water deficit is water efficiency."

Dr. Hariharan also suggests banning the use of halogens, metal halide bulbs and similar heavy usage lighting. "This will bring sharp saving in the demand for energy from particularly the commercial sector, of as much as 50 %. The installation of CFL bulbs in every home of an average size of 1000 square feet can mean a saving of as much as 70 % on the lighting part of the bill alone. This means that for every 2,000 houses of the average household size, one million units of energy will be saved every year by the city. With the current number of households in Colombo at about 100,000, you can see that this will mean a saving of as much as 50 million units per annum for the city!

Every unit saved is the equivalent of 10 times in terms of energy generation thanks to the losses in transmission and distribution in any electrical system," he added. He also favours doing away with electric water heaters or geysers and replacing them with solar powered ones, saying: "For a typical household, the cost is no more than Rs. 60,000 to 80,000. At the current energy tariff, the payback or amortization of the investment can be secured in less than five years. This will bring a saving of as much as 150,000-200,000 units every day for an estimated 100,000 households. At the individual household level the saving per month can be as much as 30 % of the energy bill because of the non-use of geysers and the installation of solar heating systems."\

Dr. Hariharan also stipulates that the government will "do well to ensure that every apartment block is mandated to install a tertiary sewage treatment plant in a manner that the treated water is ‘upcycled’ for use in the flush tanks of every home. This will ensure that the demand for fresh water from such apartment blocks will reduce by as much as 40 %. This will also enable residents with greater water security over a longer term with the treatment system ensuring that residents ‘grow their own water in a loop’ and supplement fresh water for only the residual requirement."

Further, he opines that "Colombo city will surely benefit from legislation that will mandate every household and office to have a rainwater harvesting system installed both retrospectively for existing homes and prospectively for new buildings that are to come up. For every 100 square metres of a building roof, the annual harvest that is possible of water is as much as 300,000 litres at annual rainfall that Colombo receives of over 2,000 millimetres.

Between the combination of rainwater harvesting, water-saving aerators for taps and showers, and the tertiary treatment plants for offices and apartment blocks, the fresh water demand will go down by a staggering 65 to 70 %." Dr. Hariharan also goes a step further and advocates food security through measures such as rooftop harvesting of fruits and vegetables in households and office blocks. To help alleviate drought conditions, he also suggested keeping an eye on "current crop patterns and of the rain-fed crops that are grown in such drought-ridden areas. Typically, millet and pulses grow better in such conditions."

Adding; "If Sri Lanka works out a strategic plan to increase pulses production, India will be a sure market. Chicken pea, black pea and such other pulses are constantly in demand. India has a shortage of as much as 2 million tonnes of such pulses as against the total annual consumption of about 20 million tonnes in India. India today imports pulses from countries like Burma. Sri Lanka can, with concerted steps, capture some part of that market."

Continuing, he recommends the development of "watersheds in each of these areas that are drought-prone. Carefully nourished set of watershed measures that addresses the need to increase or enhance the retention capacity of ground water in the natural catchment, field catchment, and the settlement catchment of such villages will certainly go a long way in ensuring that the water table in such areas improve. This will then help farmers to secure cultivation water for perhaps a second crop beyond the rain-fed crop that they are currently used to farming."

Also, for places where water is scarce, Dr. Hariharan indicates strict restrictions to synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, saying: "Such chemicals-based products increase the need for water per acre thanks to higher toxicity levels. Organic farm practices can nurse the health of the land over a couple of monsoons and increase its capacity to yield even in drought conditions."

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