Infrastructure: the road ahead

Last Updated : 27 April 2017, 18:38 IST

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As homes become smart, there is an urgent need to innovate and create home grown technologies that will benefit the built economy of the country says Dr Mattheos Santamouris, a professor of High Performance Architecture in the University of New South Wales, Sydney.

There are many challenges in the built environment today. It is said that the population of the world is around 6.5 billion currently, and will reach 10-11 billion by 2050, and most of this will be in Asia, especially India and China. This means that we will approximately need one billion new houses or 1.5 billion new buildings and this is a big challenge that high
performance architecture is facing.

The second challenge is climate change — both general and local, stemming from a high concentration of greenhouse gases and climatic changes in cities. In fact, in many cities, temperatures have gone up by 8 to 10 degrees, and this causes many problems like high energy consumption and pollution, increases footprint of cities and also impacts the health of citizens negatively. High performance architecture actually addresses all of these issues.

Climatic changes

An important thing to note with new-age buildings is the continual increase in the levels of energy consumption. This is because, the standards of living in developed countries have increased — we are using more space per person; and, climatic change means there is a need to have cooling equipment. Also, we need to consider aspects like indoor and outdoor air quality, especially in a country like India, which is facing a lot of problems due to local climatic changes.

This means that most cities in India are seeing a rise in temperatures compared with their surrounding areas, as there is a thermal imbalance coming from industrial emissions and materials used in the built environment. This has an impact on the energy consumption. Again, outdoor comfort is impacted due to climatic changes. Also, it is well known that changes in climate have a direct impact on mortality and mobility.

Tech talk

However, these are technologies that can help us face these problems. Over the last year, these technologies have been implemented in over 200 cities across the world and have succeeded in reducing the temperature of the interiors of homes by three degrees. They have been implemented in the USA, the UK and Australia, and the aim is to continue implementing these and target to reduce temperatures by four degrees.

These technologies are quite cheap and can be easily implemented in India to reduce pollution and energy cost, as well as improve the quality of air, especially among low-income homes. These technologies can improve the quality and comfort of life to reduce temperatures in summer and increase temperature in winters. An example of technology of this nature is cool roofs that reflect radiation and do not absorb solar radiation and can actually reduce the temperature inside the home by 5-6 and even 10 degrees centigrade! Selection of materials in a built environment is based on the function that you need to achieve.

As far as using local materials goes, it may not always be possible to achieve the objective, and we may need to use industrial materials that can serve the purpose. In fact, depending on the situation, you can use a combination of local and industrial materials in built architecture.

Research & development

In India, there is a lot of scope to make a difference using these technologies as future interventions are required to face the challenges of these changed conditions. This means that there must be a big budget allocation either by the Government, private sector, or both. Most importantly, these technologies must be created and used locally. If you introduce imported technologies, it could help in energy savings, but will not add value, which is the key factor.

Appropriate technologies as a result of research in India will create new jobs, new knowledge and new industries apart from adding value. Most importantly, this knowledge and technology can be exported to surrounding countries. This will not just improve the built environment in the country, but also translate challenges to opportunities to offer added value. This means that you need to have proper research that is well-addressed and well-oriented to face the real problems here. The materials used can also be changed to make a difference.

For example, in a concrete pavement you can have such materials ingrained, that they decrease the temperature or absorb emissions or even offer smart information. And these can be retrofitted into existing structures so anyone can take advantage of the same.

Being smart

The Smart Cities Mission initiative by the Government of India can be done by the application of Information Technology with a holistic approach that considers the real needs of the city and the problems that its citizens face. It is a combination of different technologies that will work to make this project successful. Also, a key element that needs addressing in the Indian context is that of improving indoor air quality.

This is largely affected by the outdoor air quality that comes from the kind of materials used in built architecture. This is compounded in low-income homes that can be quite detrimental. It is very important to set standards for indoor air quality in homes and bold decisions need to be taken. This means that it is necessary to have specifications of materials used and have standards of air quality as well as a system that stops the transfer of outdoor pollutants inside a home. India has very specific needs and there could be other Asian, South American and African countries with similar issues. But India has a very high quality of knowledge and potential and industrial research and development can really go a long way in improving the quality of life for its denizens.

Published 27 April 2017, 16:50 IST

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