In this the fourth article of the series on urban sustainability and energy efficiency, let's look at the new future before us. We call it a future that is zero energy driven.

Clearly over the last four decades, we have seen how the Government can do very little to actually 'solve' the power or the water crises. With every passing year, there is only more money sunk into infrastructure, more 'power corporations' and 'authorities' incorporated, while the yawning deficit on demand-supply widens.

Karnataka has seen, for the first time since Independence, power shortages of up to four hours in the thick of the monsoon, - in a state that used to be dependent on hydel power for many decades, and continues to rely on such water-based power for up to 30 per cent of its total supply. AP used to boast of being 'power-surplus' for well over 15 years. Today, AP's manufacturing sector is nearly ground to a halt in many districts of that state with many plants working two days in a week! The story is as grim in nearly every state and city across India.

So where lies the solution? Can we continue to berate the government for being incapable of offering solutions? Should we turn, overnight as it were, to spartan lives where we cut our use of energy and water, and every appliance that draws energy? What are the solutions for people to incorporate while constructing new homes, or any buildings that we inhabit?

Before we discuss what these Zero Energy Driven (ZED) ways are, and how 'going the ZED way' is possible and affordable in every home, office, hospital and hotel, anywhere, let's step back and take a look at what the last 200 years have offered as market behaviour, to see if there are any lessons in store for how we chalk out plans for our cities for the next quarter century, if not beyond.

Many of the ZED approaches can can be taken by you in new homes, as well as in existing homes with retrofit solutions that don't cost much.

 •  Building, and thinking, green
 •  Upstream on the Energy Road
 •  The bills we pay
 •  Waiting for the 'green' light
 •  Meters help consumers, suppliers

Two hundred years ago, we didn't have what we now know as 'markets'. Small communities produced what they needed, and consumed within their village or settlement. Though sea trade existed, those were for products that a minority of rich persons bought and sold. Up until World War II and after, a vast majority of Indians lived a life that rarely needed the interdependence that markets created, particularly by the 1960s. Recall life in times of your grandfather if you're over 50, and you will know what I mean.

That was a time when the producer and the consumer was one: they were more like 'prosumers'. From the turn of 1800, there was a steady breakdown of this model, with the last 50 years having shown a geometric rise in such reliance on market and distribution. This, of course, served the purpose of reaching things to consumers from mass producers.

It also spawned the need for more transport, and growing prosperity meant the need for more things beyond essentials, into luxuries. Consumerism took its toll on natural resources and their abuse. And the energy that we needed for things beyond life's sustenance grew exponentially. Remember the tomato in the vegetable market and the transport energy it has consumed before reaching your home? Well, it is worse in London where chillies come from Kenya, broccoli from north China and rice from Sri Lanka or Thailand. If you dropped 'food miles' and such embodied transport energy in every little thing that you make or buy, you will make a world of difference!

Many of these ZED approaches can can be taken by you in new homes, as well as in existing homes with retrofit solutions that don't cost much. You may not want to do all of the things that are potentially possible, but surely you can take a few specific steps that can save the City many millions of liters of water, and billions of units of energy.

Here is a simple set of affordable, and eminently 'do-able' things that you should implement, before getting to telling the government what it should! Read them for not just the benefit that they offer you, but the domino impact they make on the city's burdens on such infrastructure needs. Be assured, that if a city like Bangalore with nearly 500,000 homes gets to doing these, we will virtually turn the clock back to consumption levels of 1980 on both power and water!

  • Spend a mere Rs.2000 to change all the bulbs in your house from the old incandescent and fluorescent tubelights to a set of CFL and LED lamps. You will not only save as much as Rs.250 in your monthly lighting bill, but a city like Bangalore will save up to 300 million units of energy consumed. That is about 20 per cent of the total energy that the city consumes annually. You will recover your 'investment' in less than a year, and the city will have less of a burden to carry on feeding energy.

  • Spend a mere Rs.20,000 and acquire a solar collector heating system for your rooftop. You will save up to Rs.450 a month on the electricity bill at today's tariffs, which will go up sharply in the next 5 years. In less than 3 years you will recover your 'investment'. For years after that, you use no energy for heating water in your home! The city will save 1000 units for every home in Bangalore. The saving in energy use for the city is massive: at over 500 million units on just this one home applicance alone. Destroy the existing geyser - it is burning a big hole in your pocket every month.

  • Spend a mere Rs.2500 to fit a set of 'aerators' or 'flow restrictors' to every tap and shower point at your home. It will save you 35,000 liters of water every year. Remember, it will save 20 billion litres for the city every year. Or about 50 million litres every day for the city. That's a saving of about seven per cent of fresh water demand daily for the city.

  • Spend a mere Rs.2000 as a lifetime cost and get a simple, energy-free, odour-less composting system for your house. All your kitchen waste for a family of four will give you rich nutrient fertilizer every two months that can serve a full acre of plants and trees! If you don't dump your kitchen waste for the Corporation truck to take it away, the city will reduce 70 per cent of waste transporting, take 1500 dump trucks off the road every day, save 25 million litres of precious oil, save Rs.15,000 crores that the city corporation spends every year to transport waste and dump in stinking heaps in other places, save the city from contamination and pestilence because of improper dumping. You will grow plants in your garden, or gift the rich organic fertilizer to the local park or a friend who will see more plants smiling and growing.

  • Spend a mere Rs.15,000-20,000 for doing a rainwater harvesting system that can meet about 20 per cent of our water needs every year. The energy saving on pumps is staggering.

  • Spend a mere Rs.15,000 for setting up a waste water treatment plant, if you live in an apartment. It will save you 70 per cent fresh water if the installation is guided well. When you save fresh water, you save energy, for you reduce the use of pumps for driving water. It saves 500 million liters a day for the city. In Bangalore, we get about as much water from the Cauvery river every day ... we can do without it. Or we can save the millions of units of energy we spend on pumps.

There are many more such things that you can do that will take you and the city the zero energy-driven way. All these solutions are inexpensive. It won't cost you more than Rs.40,000-50,000 to implement them all as a one-time cost, and can save you many lakhs of rupees over your lifetime. And, well, you can stop badgering the Government for not doing a decent job. You can do these things yourself, vastly increasing your autonomy, and saving you money in the longer run. But to get these things right, I also recommend that you choose to work with a 'building doctor', someone who knows and understands these things; haven't you seen too many good ideas fail because they weren't implemented right?

During the last 100 years we produced things centrally and supplied it at multiple points to people. Production and consumption has continued to happen at two different places, miles away from each other. The ZED way will change all this. The change we will see in the coming years is that each of us will be a producer and a consumer in our own right and capacity - for a big chunk of our need for these resources. In the process, we will also realise that such prosumption, and going grid-free, is the key to the future of our cities.