Many of you would have heard of LEED ratings for energy efficient buildings or GRIHA rated eco-friendly homes. These ratings may sound too scientific and jargon heavy for those of you who are eager to make your offices more energy efficient, not just for the sake of the environment, but also to reduce your energy bills. Many of us wonder if these eco-friendly activities are really economically feasible and actually make a difference in our lives in the long run…
The simplest way to find out is to do an energy efficiency exercise at our offices. Is it as simple as switching off all lights and fans when not in use? No, energy consumption and wastage happen both when electrical equipment are in use as well as they are in a standby mode. In fact, energy efficiency is much more than just electrical power. It is to do with fuel, water, air and food as well.
I have devised a simple guide for enabling an energy efficient office by utilizing ‘Panchabhootas’, the five basic elements of Hindu mythology. We can find out the green quotient of your offices by checking on these basic elements –
Panchabhoota mantra for an energy efficient office
- Air – circulation of fresh air and the power usage to supply fresh air
- Water – the amount of water consumed for daily activities and the energy used to pump water
- Energy – energy used for power, lighting, cooking, heating and other purposes
- Light – usage of artificial lighting and the energy efficiency of lighting
- Earth – building material used for constructing the building
Circulation of fresh air is crucial and it is the most energy consuming need in any services industry office. Ideally, an office should have ventilation on all four directions and air should pass through at least two sides. Since we don’t live in an ideal world, we have to manage with large buildings which are completely covered from all sides with little fresh air flowing through. Examine these check points to make sure your office building has optimal air conditioning (AC):
- The first thing to inspect is the proper insulation of all air inlets and outlets in an AC building. For instance, the copper tubes that bring in the cool air inside should be packed tightly with plastic foam insulation. Similarly the heat ducts should be correctly ventilated.
- Close all holes where air could escape so that the cool air remains confined inside. All AC buildings must have insulated glass doors with automatic door shutting mechanism.
- A typical mistake is to place heated areas such as kitchen and pantry inside the central AC zone. Efforts should be made place these areas in open spaces with natural airflow.
- Some areas inside the building get heated up faster while some areas are cold. One reason for this is the building’s orientation towards the sun.
- Simple solution is to avoid glass covering on the western side to prevent heating or to have double glazing of the glasses to ensure thermal insulation.
- Finally, maintain the ambient room temperature at an optimum level of 22-240C.
- For non-AC buildings, air cooler is the best option since it moistens and cools the air it pumps in. Fans are not a good option since they tend to circulate the same stale air. We need to ensure to keep windows open to let in fresh air. Exhaust fans are the most efficient way to pump out stale and hot air.
Water consumption in offices is another aspect where energy can be conserved. However, wastage of water happens because of two main reasons: habits and negligence. Mainly water wastage happens in toilets and in pantries.
- Automated water dispensers should be installed in toilets to ensure adequate cleaning and optimal water usage.
- Proper dish washing process needs to be managed to ensure optimal water usage in pantries.
- Overhead tanks need to have automated water level indicator to prevent overflow or empty run.
Consumption of electricity and fuel is considered as energy usage. The simplest way to cut down energy usage is to plan your office activities so that peak energy usage can be reduced. This way you will not only save energy, but also help in fuel savings as well.
- Diesel fuel for backup generator is the largest energy component in any office. Proper maintenance and operations of the generator is crucial to reduce fuel wastage. Automated switching of power between mains and backup is essential.
- Most power outages are usually between 10-15 minutes so it is better to provide power through UPS with adequate battery back-up to power all the appliances at office. Intense power consumers such as AC and elevators can be kept out of the UPS coverage.
- Usage of energy efficient equipment is crucial. Check for Energy Star ratings for your PCs, AC, fans, lighting and other appliances.
- Large campuses can make efforts to generate biogas from the human waste and composting of food and other organic waste.
It is near impossible to utilize natural lighting in all corners of office buildings. However, efforts should be made to utilize as much sunlight as possible. In artificial lighting, the type of lighting matters.
- Ergonomically designing the lighting fixtures is crucial for any office. Blinds must be opened partially to allow natural light during daytime.
- Incandescent bulbs should be avoided at all costs since they consumer enormous power and also heat up the office interiors. They should be replaced with CFLs and LEDs.
- Since the LEDs available right now are too harsh and give feeble spread, they should be used for spotlighting such as table-lamps and showcases.
- Tubelights with electronic choke are much better than CFLs since they have better luminence.
Finally, the construction of the office building is another fundamental aspect of energy efficiency. Based on the surrounding environment, the construction should have an airy and spacious or compact and enclosed design.
- For a tropical country like India, buildings need to be airy and spacious with adequate entry for proper air ventilation.
- However, Indian builders are obsessed with covering the entire building with glass cladding which is a highly inefficient practice adopted from colder Western Europe countries. In India, buildings tend to get heated up the western side due the afternoon sun. Simple solution is to avoid glass covering on the western side to prevent heating.
- The exterior design should take care of minimizing sun’s heat and maximizing the air supply.
- The simplest idea is to have lot of trees to cover the building on the western side. However, this solution works only for buildings shorter than 4-5 floors.
- Large campuses with ample open space can bring in adequate tree cover so that the cool breeze reduces the ambient temperature. Organic waste can be converted to compost which can be used as manure for the plants.
Companies that are interested to save costs by increasing energy efficiency of their offices can seek assistance from professional agencies to conduct an energy audit. Organisations such as Indian Association of Energy Management Professionals (IAEMP), The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) can help in auditing your current energy consumption and suggest optimal solutions.