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PhD Defense Mansi Jain

energy transition in the indian building sector - assessing net zero energy buildings' niche development 

Mansi Jain is a PhD student in the department of Governance and Technology for Sustainability (CSTM). Her supervisor is prof.dr. J.T.A. Bressers from the faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences. 

Among the developing nations, India’s economic growth is accelerating at fast pace, causing the demand for energy to increase manifolds. Economic growth also leads to an increased demand for buildings in cities which accounts up to 40% of the total energy consumption in the country. The current energy infrastructure is poor and incapable of coping with this exponential increase in demand for buildings and energy requirements. For these reasons, it is imperative for the Indian building sector that projected energy growth is managed in a feasible and a more sustainable manner. To cope with this, there seems to be an urgent need to design and implement policy instruments, and governance mechanisms that influence key systemic conditions to overcome barriers that are essential in the transition of the building sector towards low energy or low carbon energy systems, and towards near zero energy goals. Currently, green buildings account for less than 5% of the current building stock in the country. Green buildings with the highest energy efficiency level are now being projected as ‘near’ or ‘net zero energy buildings’ (NZEB) in the western world. They use renewable energy for energy production. NZEBs are buildings with an extremely low energy demand, and in which the remaining energy demand is met by on site renewable energy.

This doctoral study starts from exploring key theoretical frameworks which deem suitable to assess sustainability transitions, sustainable innovations and governance conditions needed for radical transformations and structural change towards large uptake of NZEBs in India’s building sector. These theoretical frameworks include Strategic niche management, Sectoral innovation systems and Governance assessment tool. The doctoral study answers the main research question “What are the supportive and restrictive conditions for Net Zero Energy Buildings (NZEBs) niche development in the building sector in India?  Consequently, this article-based research starts with analyses of the integration of these theoretical frameworks and develops a new integrated assessment framework called as “Sectoral System Innovation Assessment framework” (SSIAf). Three empirical case studies were selected to explore the applicability of the integrated framework to assess the niche development of NZEBs in India from innovation, transitions and governance perspective. Data collection involved 40 semi-structured in-depth interviews with key stakeholders in India and also collection of written documents, site visits, and participation in workshops and meetings. The main conclusions were that the NZEB innovation niche was yet to develop into a mature niche and is growing only slowly. This could be assessed from the results of the shaping of expectations component of the SSIAf framework which revealed that there were only marginal expectations of the building sector stakeholders regarding NZEB niche. The social network formation component revealed that new social networks were only strong within individual NZEB projects and there had been a failure to create a cohesive network with other NZEBs and with actors outside the NZEB projects resulting in a limited level of innovations. From governance perspective, the study revealed that the governance context in New Delhi region was found to be complete in terms of extent, but rather incoherent, only moderately flexible, while fairly intense in other areas. Hence from the ‘extent’ perspective the New Delhi region can be seen to be in a position to adopt NZEBs with a supportive context for actors and networks, problem perspectives, strategies and instruments. On the contrary, in the Ajmer case study, the governance context was considered to be highly incoherent, with a weak extent, moderate level of flexibility and weak intensity towards NZEB niche development. This situation resulted in poor governance conditions making the context less supportive towards NZEB adoption as primary elements that are badly required for implementation were missing. The existing governance qualities reflected limited governance capacity to initiate any innovation and transition of the building sector towards the uptake of more energy efficient buildings in the selected case.

                 In addition to the case studies conducted in India, innovations of green buildings in Singapore were analysed and compared to the situation in India. The case study integrated SSIAf and GAT to analyse and draw comparisons to the cases in India. The results reveal that the sectoral innovation system in Singapore was generally supportive towards green building uptake with supportive governance qualities. The active role of national government – in particular by the BCA – could be seen as instrumental towards innovation and transition process for green buildings in Singapore, which is unlike the case in India. From a governance perspective the overall quality of governance in Singapore on the SSIAf’s quality criteria of extent, coherence, flexibility and intensity, were found to be rather positive, and to improving even further. In contrast, in the Indian case study, the quality of governance was observed to be only moderately supportive towards innovation and adoption of green buildings and low energy buildings. The five research stages presented in this doctoral thesis allowed for further reflection, standardization and refinement of the assessment framework vis-a-vis different contextual settings; and thus, permitted a larger scope of analysis (niche demonstration projects, governance assessment of two regions and comparatives assessment between two countries).