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India has seen a significant change in the last 20 years, as evidenced by its explosive economic expansion, which has led to the development of massive new infrastructure and transit systems.
However, this urban expansion also significantly damages the environment, especially concerning carbon emissions. In 2020 alone, these cities emitted a staggering 29 trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide, contributing to the global GHG emissions.
As the country aims to reduce its carbon footprint, it becomes essential to explore what it takes for an Indian city to become low-carbon. This article will explore the key factors and strategies necessary to pave the way for low-carbon Indian cities.
A low-carbon city is a sustainable urbanization strategy that focuses on reducing or eliminating the use of energy derived from fossil fuels. It incorporates the attributes of the low-carbon economy and society while promoting the relationship between the public, commercial, and civil sectors.
According to the United Nations, cities utilize 78% of the total energy and are responsible for 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon emissions from cities are generally divided into five sectors– buildings, transportation, municipal services, infrastructure construction, and residents’ use of goods and services.
As a result, achieving energy transition in urban cities requires a multi-faceted approach that integrates various strategies and stakeholders.
Here are some key steps to facilitate the energy transition in urban cities.
Sector coupling refers to the close coordination between the energy-producing sector and its primary users-buildings, transport, and industries.
In the past, the energy sectors—including transportation, manufacturing, heat, and power supply—have operated mostly independently of one another. However, to reduce the use of fossil fuels and increase the role of renewable energy, which is executed through the electrical sector, a conceptual model that calls for integrating multiple energy sectors has emerged.
This concept follows the strategy of “Power-to-X,” where the term “power” refers to the electrical sector, which acts as the primary support and delivers energy to other sectors- “X”-like heat and mobility. As a result, this creates an interdependency between the sectors.
Here are some critical aspects of the sector-coupling approach:
According to IEA, urban transportation accounts for 4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, which is more than 40% of all emissions from the transportation industry.
In order to reduce transportation emissions and support the implementation of low-carbon cities, it is crucial to shift to more fuel-efficient internal combustion engines and electric vehicles with zero emissions. The transition to electric mobility is more significant since it can contribute to a greater proportion of renewable energy sources in the energy supply mix. Additionally, adopting a “Modal shift” approach, or the promotion of cleaner transportation like walking and cycling, can aid in reducing emissions.
Improving the energy efficiency of buildings is crucial for creating low-carbon cities because a significant part of the energy is consumed by heating, cooling, and powering appliances in homes, offices, and public buildings. This involves the development of energy-efficient designs, embracing green building techniques, and advocating for eco-friendly materials.
For delivering energy near houses, decentralized renewable energy production can be employed. This includes solar thermal collectors, solar PV panels, and biomass boilers. Centralized options include supplying renewable energy for heating and cooling purposes in buildings through local electricity grids.
An increase in energy-efficient buildings has been observed in India, beginning with the construction of the Indira Paryavaran Bhawan in New Delhi, which houses the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change and is India’s first on-site net-zero energy building.
Switching to renewable energy might be more challenging than one might believe. In reality, moving away from fossil fuels might be highly detrimental to India’s economy as a developing country.
As a result, addressing a wide range of energy justice and social equity concerns is necessary for a successful transition. Planning and implementing low-carbon or net zero strategies can be significantly facilitated by understanding the unique features of various Indian cities, such as their spatial layout, land-use patterns, degree of development, and level of urbanization.
Here are a few common urban typologies in India and their unique considerations:
Metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai have high population densities and complex urban infrastructure. Transforming them into low-carbon cities requires a comprehensive approach that addresses traffic problems, air pollution, and power consumption in large-scale buildings and industries. Adding green spaces into urban landscapes can improve air quality and help in carbon sequestration.
According to the International Council of Clean Transportation (ICCT) and TERI, an Increased adoption of electric vehicles in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities can significantly contribute to India’s clean energy revolution.
Adopting EVs in smaller cities would help India reduce its dependency on fossil fuels and lower import costs while lowering its carbon footprint. The change will provide a self-sufficient, sustainable energy system that contributes considerably to economic expansion.
Given the rising need for energy, it is imperative to put equal emphasis on the supply and demand side.
The Avoid-Shift-Improve (A-S-I) strategy focuses on the consumer side. It aims to significantly reduce GHG emissions, energy utilization, and congestion to create more liveable cities.
What better way to ease the pressure on the energy supply than to minimize our demands? You’re probably thinking, “What a cliche thing to say?“. Well, yeah, but it is the most fundamental way to approach the energy crisis.
This includes encouraging waste reduction, energy-saving, and the adoption of green techniques.
This entails switching from carbon-intensive systems to more eco-friendly ones like electric vehicles and the deployment of renewable energy sources for space heating and cooling.
Improving energy efficiency is vital to achieving a low-carbon future. Carbon Capture Storage (CSS) and Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) technologies can be used to store and remove CO2 emissions from industries and power plants. Energy-efficient buildings, appliances, and industrial processes play a significant role in this aspect.
In order to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon metropolis, government support is essential. Cities in India require broader laws and policies that encourage green living and penalize carbon-intensive enterprises. Cooperation across various levels of government, public institutions, corporate sector organizations, and civil society groups is essential for coordinated efforts and resource mobilization.