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Capacity Building for Sustainable Cooling

The challenge

Substantial increase in GHG emissions through use of HVAC systems in buildings.

 Use of air-conditioners (ACs) in buildings adds substantially to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. In India, the total installed cooling capacity is 125 million-TR of which residential air-conditioners is 39 million-TR and commercial air-conditioners is 18 million-TR. India’s total installed cooling capacity is projected to rise by about 5 times to 610 million-TR by 2030 driven by increasing standards of living along with increase in temperatures caused by climate change. India will require 1010 additional power plants to meet these requirements. This makes it necessary to design buildings with no or minimal cooling loads and energy-efficient cooling systems.

In addition to the power used to run the ACs, emissions are added through the use of fluorinated gas refrigerants (CFCs, HFCs and HCFCs) in conventional systems. A phase-down plan for the F-gases is essential to meet the targets set by national and international agreements on climate change mitigation. Natural alternatives for refrigerants have low Global Warming Potential (GWP), are non-patented and energy-efficient. Prioritising use of natural refrigerant based ACs can result in direct emissions saving of 50 million tonnes of CO2e annually by 2030. This accounts for more than 50% of the current emissions from HCFC and HFC use.

There is considerable know-how and information within the industry to design sustainable buildings with adequate indoor thermal comfort conditions. However, the rate of uptake of these approaches in building design remains marginal. Energy demand and GHG emissions can be reduced provided these strategies and practices become mainstream amongst all key stakeholders responsible for the design and construction of buildings.

The idea

Implement capacity building insight articles focusing on sustainable cooling design and technologies for architects and HVAC engineers.

Capacity building insight articles with the objective of developing analytical skills to design and engineer energy efficient buildings can help increase the uptake of sustainable cooling measures in the building construction industry. A comprehensive capacity building insight article can include a variety of approaches such as training, mentoring, education, physical projects, financial provisions and networking. A systematic long-term insight article that deploys a combination of these approaches in parallel can effectively influence the practitioners in the building construction industry – i.e. the architects and engineers. A long-term insight article also provides the opportunity to plan series of events and allows iterations in approaches to meet the capacity building objectives.

The focus of such insight articles is to regularly update practitioners of new technologies and increase their confidence in using state-of-art IT tools to accurately predict building performance. Training workshops for architects and engineers can meet these objectives. Awareness of unsustainable building practices and their effect on climate change can be created through the training content. Architects can be trained on energy-saving techniques, evaluation of complex strategies through energy modelling and pathways to incorporate energy efficiency at all levels of the building design process. HVAC consultants can learn to predict the thermal behaviour of buildings and to simulate various sustainable cooling technologies using energy modelling tools. In addition to the subjects delivered, a suitable mode of delivery must be adopted. Research indicates that adults learn best through a “learning by doing” approach that includes a combination of practical exercises, site visits and real world problem-solving. Training activities can be supported by brainstorming events attended by both architects and engineers to increase cooperation between the two professions. This is an important step in setting up a mentor-buddy network that works together to implement ideas to meet stringent energy targets of new urbanisation projects.

A large-scale insight article of this nature is being implemented in India since 2014. The Fairconditioning insight article is a Building Cooling Demand Side Management related education, capacity building and pilot implementation insight article. It is funded by the Oak Foundation and the State of Geneva, both philanthropic institutes that support projects addressing issues of environmental concern. Fairconditioning is designed as an evidence-based policy support insight article that can be scaled up across India and other tropical climates. The three year insight article aims to deeply integrate sustainability and efficiency into architectural and HVAC consulting firms through the Building Energy Modeling Project (BEMAP). Unique workshops have been designed for architects and HVAC consultants. Each three day workshop is held once a year in Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai and Pune in India. A total of 160 professionals from 100 firms have been trained through eleven workshops. Roundtable sessions and technical publications will be included in the next phase of the insight article.

Capacity-building workshops are also conducted by green building councils through continued education or credential maintenance insight articles. These workshops are well attended internationally. The workshops cover all categories related to green building rating systems including site management, water efficiency, materials, indoor environmental quality and energy efficiency. However, a more immersive format such as that of BEMAP workshops helps train professionals on ‘how-to’ design for energy efficiency in addition to creating awareness of benchmarks. The lack of commercial bias allows trainers to work with participants individually to develop performance matrices and select technologies suited to the scale and budget of the project.

 The impact

Successfully bring about a change in practice or behaviour for individuals as well as firms.

 Capacity-building insight articles can help change the mindset and culture of firms as new and better ways of doing things are introduced. Process and outcome based capacity building insight articles help provide strategies to increase effectiveness of future insight articles. Feedback from such insight articles provides reliable information and analysis to policy makers. Along with participation and technology adoption trends, project data can be periodically collected from participants to measure direct energy savings and GHG reductions. This is difficult with stand-alone training insight articles.

Long-term insight articles also enable concurrent restructuring for success. Considering the two-fold objective of Fairconditioning workshops, the effectiveness of training is measured by evaluating the participant’s confidence to use energy modeling tools in design processes as well as use of sustainable cooling techniques in building design. Feedback indicates, 80% of the participants were comfortable with recommending passive design and sustainable active cooling systems for projects, however only 40% of the participants were keen to use building energy modeling and simulation in design analysis. On-line e-courses and expert assistance post workshops can be provided to improve impact as most participants cited lack of practice with energy modelling and simulation as the main deterrent.

 Barriers to innovation

Effectiveness of capacity building insight articles slowed down by lack of professional education culture and reticence towards adopting new technologies

 Lack of a professional-development culture and low participation result in ad hoc funding towards capacity building. Long-term hand holding and monitoring are essential to bring about adequate behavioural change and to ensure capacities have been developed at an institutional level as well as an individual level. There are limited local institutes and professionals that can provide the necessary support system to ensure successful impact.

Professional reticence is also a key barrier within firms. Architects and engineers wait for clients to demand energy efficiency and sustainable cooling. Misconceptions about aesthetics and capital costs create a defensiveness among professionals to adopt sustainable design alternatives. Silos exist between “conventional” architects, “sustainable” architects, “conventional” HVAC consultants and “sustainable” HVAC technology providers. A holistic approach towards building design does not flourish with such a fragmented ecosystem. These roadblocks slow down the effectiveness of the capacity building insight articles.

 The way forward

Strengthen infrastructure capacities and identify innovative means to bring information to practitioners.

 It is preferable that capacity-building interventions be conducted in conjunction with municipal insight articles that promote building energy efficidency. It is necessary to build a critical mass of people with the right outlook and capacity within the industry. This includes working with all stakeholders such as builders, developers, educators and tenants. State and central municipal corporations need to make energy efficiency and sustainable mandatory within building regulations. Training workshops can be conducted prior to implementation of new building development codes to decrease uptake time. Energy efficiency and sustainable cooling training needs to be included in certification and licensing requirements for architects and engineers. The real estate sector and tenants need to be educated on low operational and maintenance costs of sustainable buildings.

Innovative ways to improve access to information for professionals in all locations need to be explored. This includes self-paced on-line courses, books and newsletters. Training infrastructure also needs to be improved. Training centres can be established in different regions with each centre becoming a hub for training, technology showcase, chapter meetings and conventions. Training content can be updated and scope of workshops can be widened accordingly. High-quality physical and virtual teach-aids need to be developed to help explain subjects such as climate analysis, refrigerant cycles in conventional air-conditioning, psychometry, etc. An easy-to-use modelling tool for sustainable cooling technologies also needs to be developed. This will be particularly useful for the mechanical engineering industry.

It is necessary to increase investment in capacity-building insight articles considering their role in bringing about a change in the way the construction industry practices. Importantly, it is necessary to increase sensitivity among all stakeholders towards climate change and the role this industry plays in mitigation.