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Highlights from BIGathon Mumbai Workshop


On July 23, the U.S.-India Business Council and Mahindra partnered on the Mumbai BIGathon, a launch event for the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s Building Innovation Guide (BIG).  The Guide is the result of a unique bilateral effort between the United States and India, and focuses on the design, construction, and operations of smart, energy-efficient, high-performance buildings in the climate zones of India.  The event brought together over 65 speakers & delegates, including high level Indian officials, civil society leaders, and executives from across industry – including infrastructure, finance, architecture, sustainability, energy efficiency, real estate and asset management – to discuss how to “decarbonize, digitize and democratize” next generation buildings and the smart infrastructure ecosystem.  This blog post presents key takeaways and issues addressed during the day-long conference.

Indian leaders are focused on transforming the country into a $5 trillion economy by 2025.  Over that time, India is also projected to become the world’s third largest consumer market. Longer term, urbanization in the next two decades will bring over a hundred million Indians from rural areas into cities, straining already overcrowded infrastructure in the transportation, telecommunications, energy, water, waste, and building sectors.  Growth at this scale will require significant investment into next-generation infrastructure – buildings that are “smart” (configured to allow automatic control of building operations), sustainable, secure and safe.

The Government of India (GOI) cannot do this alone: Developing future-oriented infrastructure will require strong public private partnerships (PPPs), adoption of cutting-edge building techniques, and digitally-enabled collaboration between regulatory agencies and service providers. To mobilize private sector investment, the GOI will also need to identify innovative mechanisms for financing large-scale sustainable infrastructure projects.

In a global trade environment where a city’s quality of life increasingly determines its competitiveness, there is no time for India to wait.  Smart choices on infrastructure can help Indian cities cut air pollution, reduce traffic congestion, improve energy efficiency, increase energy production, strengthen disaster resilience – all markers of a city’s ‘liveability.’ Technology can also help balance the need to develop new infrastructure while maintaining and integrating older buildings into a smart infrastructure ecosystem.


Key Recommendations for India’s Existing and Future Infrastructure:

These recommendations are focused on improving livability for people in India’s cities and the sustainability of India’s existing and future infrastructure.  These are areas that should be a priority for the Government of India as it seeks to engage on the world stage to bring best practices and increased FDI into India’s infrastructure sector.

Develop and use distributed renewables, including the range of systems designed to generate renewable electricity for direct consumption or to feed into the grid. New technologies include rooftop photovoltaic power stations, battery energy storage systems, and building-integrated photovoltaic systems. Prioritize energy efficiency, and recognize energy efficiency as a component of infrastructure. For example, smart LED lighting provides a step change improvement in efficiency and performance from existing lighting technologies. The latest generation LED bulbs use 50-80% less energy, can last up to six times longer and provide better and more controllable lighting. Similarly, energy efficient HVAC retrofits for commercial and public buildings are relatively simple to implement and provide proven benefits. Energy efficient systems can typically be adopted in office buildings, retail offices and warehouses, shops, industrial units, hospitals, schools and universities.

Adopt a waste treatment process that converts organic material such as food or garden waste into biogas and biofertilizers. Biogas can be fed into the grid or burned on-site to produce electricity or other types of energy, while biofertilizers can be used in agricultural production. This minimizes waste and maximizes the efficient use of resources.

Convert India’s public transportation fleet and light commercial vehicles to low carbon alternatives. This helps reduce air pollution in cities and cuts operating costs for both government and the private sector. Current forms of transportation are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, so given deteriorating urban air quality this transition should be a priority for the Modi administration. The Government of India can also designate low emission zones (LEZs), where access by some polluting vehicles is restricted or deterred.

Increase the use of electric vehicles (EVs), which can help cities deliver air quality improvements by limiting or eliminating tailpipe emissions. In some cities establishing LEZs will encourage this transition.

Create a public Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE, “charging station”) system, with built-in battery storage technology rechargeable via the grid or solar. During peak times, this technology could reduce demand on the grid for electricity by serving as a distributed energy resource (DER), or even feed power back into the grid. It would also improve power quality, forecasting and scheduling. While the rising prevalence of EVs presents a new infrastructure challenge for cities, a network of charging points with standardized charging protocol and plugs would limit these issues and maximize the benefits of electric-based transportation.

Adopt and integrate digital infrastructure for new and retrofitted buildings. Weather, usage and performance data can be integrated with a building’s controls systems to optimise demand in real time, balance complementary needs and enhance energy efficiency. In the long term, changes to energy demand patterns can inform city planning and investment decisions around energy production, water, waste management and network infrastructure.

Highlight the convergence between the benefits of sustainable infrastructure and other social benefits, as well as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. (SDGs). Cities should also invest in building human capital and capabilities around smart infrastructure.

Shift from an incremental to a more structural approach to sustainable infrastructure. Current efforts tend to be fragmented and unstructured, and require coordination by too many GOI agencies and departments.  This inhibits planning, execution and compliance certification efforts.

Link sustainable infrastructure to reduced macroeconomic risk for industry and investors. Government can help develop incentives that will generate the market signals needed to prompt a shift towards next-generation infrastructure within institutions

Develop government incentives for developers to comply with sustainability, water, waste management and energy efficiency targets as buildings are designed and constructed. This will promote the adoption of effective energy efficient and sustainable infrastructure incorporating technology backed by proven data. The GOI can also help develop incentives that will generate the market signals needed to prompt a shift towards next-generation infrastructure within institutions.


For more information on the U.S.-India Business Council’s work on smart infrastructure, as well as energy and environmental issues more broadly, please contact Lauren Diekman or Hitesh Jain.