Geothermal and Green Buildings

“Green Building” seams to be back in the news with a media report recently show casing a green building, eco-friendly building, that reduces coal based electric power consumption. Lower energy consumption and cost savings upto  55 % . The design of the building is based on solar water heaters, solar PV for out door lighting, water conservation methods ( wastewater treatment and recycling of water) and recharge of aquifers, lead free tiles and lead free paint, using smoke-less chullahs etc. etc. These homes are designed by eight well thought materials that is supposed to give the consumer savings upto 55 % in utility bills. However, the response to such buildings, as per the media reports, from the builders and customers seam to be poor. The reason- cost and payback period.  On the lighter side…. One can not expect urban women to use smoke less chullahs in the kitchen!!! On paper these designs look good and give very attractive numbers. But the customer and the builders know the inner details of such buildings and the cost and the demand. These data and designs are good for a research paper or an article in a design magazine,
or can be experimented with in rural and remote inaccessible areas , where lighting two bulbs itself a matter of privilege. For a more holistic view the designers and builders have to learn a lot from Chinese and the European builders where cost and energy savings that in turn reduces CO2 emission. 

A four member, upper middle class family needs minimum of 500 kWh of electric power per month to have a comfortable living. This is without the luxury of having air-conditioning, microwave and limited use of Geyser system,. This will meet the bear minimum for the family. Extending this to a housing complex with 50 apartments, the minimum electric power requirement will be of the order of 40 kWe ( assuming the electric supply is from coal based power plants). Installing solar PV system over such housing complex is feasible but the cost of unit of power will be prohibitive (~ 37 US cents). Even with subsidies, the unit cost ( ~24 US cents) can not be brought down to  single digit!! The area required to generate such power based on solar PV will be about 3000 sq.ft ( assuming a PLF of 0.18 but this is not so always and the average PLF can be about 0.08).  Of course at least 10 invertors are required. Any surge of power will trip the system. The buildings will not have air conditioning system……..that was considered a luxury a decade ago but it has become necessity now with the amount of dust particles floating in any major urban city and radiation from the buildings ( green cover is fading away!!.

 Clean Development Mechanism is an excellent instrument for India to raise above all the non-OECD countries in reducing  carbon emissions, earning carbon credits, improving the environmental and GDP growth in the next two decade provided it uses energy source mix and exploits its geothermal potential to its maximum. In order to exploit the potential barriers that obstruct the development of this energy source should be overcome and create or improve policies on sustainable renewable energies like those adopted by other countries like China. 

 According to a paper presented at the World Geothermal Congress 2010, held in Bali, geothermal energy should be integrated in the development plans, and decisions should not be taken exclusively from a purely market point of view. The national authorities will have to take advantage of the benefits of CDM and focus should be on two domestic targets: 1) Preparation of a plan for an extensive coordination of the national electricity markets and to develop regional wholesale electricity markets. This limits the negative impacts of uncertainties, both, with respect to the markets and to technological performance; 2) Internalize the social costs of the so-called negative externalities of energy production. One way to do this is to impose fine for the activities that contribute to air pollution (this is being implemented in several countries as “carbon tax). Then social advantage of “clean energy” thus becomes visible. But this is easier said than done in countries like India where the polluters are often the large industries that play an important role in the economic growth of the country as well as holding control over major policy related to energy in the country. Political will and determination to induct modern technological innovation for the socio-economic growth of the country is very essential to make countries like India to be at the top of non-OECD countries.

 Green building can be built by utilizing earth’s internal heat through geothermal heat pumps for space heating and cooling. Instead of installing solar heaters for hot waters, solar PV for lighting, using chullahs for cooking, installing biogas plants in the buildings, avoiding lead tiles and paints in the buildings, straight away 33% of electric power from coal power can be offset through geothermal. Cost is comparable to coal based electric power and urban elite can enjoy their comfort and still save carbon dioxide emissions and help the country to earn CER amounting to several millions of euros (World Geothermal Congress, 2010). Carbon trade with OECD countries can be avoided.

 GHP Systems can be bought off the shelf and there is sufficient knowledge base available in the country. Perhaps the NGO who showcased the green building should have known the existence of such systems in the world. We should provide what is feasible and adoptable easily to the consumer rather than suggesting high end solutions to the builders. Leave the wastewater treatment systems to central agencies. Maintaining such systems will add to the cost of the utility bills. When an easy alternate system that can create a green building without compromising comforts and routine is available why go for systems that needs time and energy of the urban residents during the week ends!

 Space cooling and heating on an average consumes 33 % of coal based power. Similarly additional 13% can be save from food sector (refrigeration). By adopting geothermal based green building, straight away 33% of coal based power usage can be offset thereby reducing CO2 emission by about 234 billion kg (World Geothermal Congress, 2010).