Green buildings in Singapore: Adding the green touch with technology

Vertical gardens Singapore  Eco-Business
New technology and green features such as vertical gardens are helping Singapore reach ambitious energy efficiency targets for its buildings. Photo: Eco-Business

Technology and innovative design are key as the property industry here works to embrace green building, propelled in large part by the strong regulatory framework.

Singapore’s status as one of Asia’s green building leaders, and the adoption of green technologies and designs by both the private and public sectors, owe much to the government’s implementation of a strong regulatory framework and robust market incentives, industry players said.

‘The green movement is likely to grow stronger because of corporate social responsibility (CSR) as well as legislative pressure,’ said Tan Yew Chin, executive vice-president for real estate services at Ascendas.

‘Strong government initiatives and incentives provide developers a platform on which to pursue and develop green solutions for buildings,’ said Keppel Land chief executive Kevin Wong.

He added that the Singapore government takes an active role initiating academic research and development of green technologies, further facilitating and promoting responsible sustainable development.

The launch of the successful Green Mark rating system in 2005 was quickly followed by the first Green Building Masterplan in 2006, under which all new and major renovation projects for public buildings had to be at least Green Mark certified.

The legislature has also set a framework to mandate that green building opportunities are not missed by the private developments. As of 2008, all projects over 2,000 square metres (new buildings as well as major retrofits of existing buildings) must by law meet the minimum requirements of Green Mark.

‘Singapore impresses not just by the pace of green building adoption, or the sheer numbers of green buildings it now boasts, but also by the industry-leading technologies and practices being employed in the market,’ noted CB Richard Ellis in a recent report.

Best practices

In order to be at least Green Mark certified, many developers now incorporate more green features in new buildings.

Common practices include optimised orientation of a development to minimise solar heat gains, with minimal direct West-facing facades and architectural designs that maximise daylighting.

Many buildings also come with extensive overhangs and planters to block direct solar exposure. Facade and roof greening have also been introduced to mitigate urban heat effect and solar heat gain.

A few selected projects now come with extensive photovoltaic panels. Some even use more eco-friendly materials such as ‘green concrete’, which comprises copper slag, recycled concrete aggregates and ground granulated blast furnace slag.

In addition, as more money is poured into developing green technology, developments now incorporate fittings that are more energy- and water-efficient, such as motion detector lighting in toilets and stairwells and waterless urinals. Much of this is controlled by intelligent building management systems, which are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

There are already a multitude of technological products and solutions available today, said Frank Lee, Siemens’s head of building technologies for South-east Asia.

For example, Siemens has developed a green building monitor to communicate to a building’s tenants and visitors the energy consumption of the building. This constant flow of information allows building owners and tenants to have a better understanding of their energy usage, and thereafter learn to decrease their consumption, as the monitor also provides tips on energy conservation and other environmental initiatives.

Other inventions are smaller, but just as useful. To prevent buildings from absorbing and retaining too much heat, Nippon Paint has developed a breakthrough product which can reduce the surface temperatures of buildings by up to five degree Celsius, effectively saving energy use.

In Singapore, the SolaReflect exterior paint - which reflects sunlight away from the painted surface before it gets converted and trapped as heat within the building - is currently being used on commercial properties such as the Panasonic Building in Tuas, and up-market luxury residence Scotts Square in downtown Orchard.

The overall aim, said City Developments’ head of CSR Esther An, is to use technology and innovative design to conserve resources and enhance resource efficiency.

Ms An explained that efficiency involves reduced energy consumption to achieve acceptable levels of comfort, air quality and other occupancy requirements - including the embodied energy used in manufacturing building materials and in construction.

‘Improving energy efficiency can be accomplished through existing technologies to reduce the energy used by buildings, while at the same time improving levels of comfort,’ she said. ‘Efficiency gains in buildings are likely to provide the greatest energy reductions and in many cases will be the most economical option.’

Siemens’ Mr Lee said that the industry will definitely see further enhancements to building management systems. The focus will be on energy efficiency and improvements throughout the building life cycle, as well as seamless integrations between renewable energy, distributed power and the utility grid.

As energy management functions become even more intelligent, they can help building operators with problem identification and analytics as well as recommendation for improvements. Said Mr Lee: ‘When all these factors converge, buildings of the future will be smart, continuously efficient, utilise energy in the most efficient and effective ways possible, have little or no greenhouse gas emissions, be self-sufficient, and contribute positively to their environment.’

Market players expect legislative pressure to go green to become even stronger over the next few years. Partly because of this, they are keen to share knowledge and experiences to bring about technological innovation and development within the industry.

Ascendas’ Mr Tan said that he foresees that governments across many countries are likely to place emphasis on more stringent green standards as the results of the global warming and natural catastrophes are becoming more evident.

In Singapore, the legislators are not sitting still. The Singapore Sustainable Blueprint has set a target to improve energy efficiency by 35 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. To meet this target, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) aims for at least 80 per cent of the buildings in Singapore to be more resource-efficient, and achieve at least a Green Mark Certified rating by 2030.

R&D is expected to be one of the key enablers to help achieve greater resource efficiency in buildings. Together with BCA, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) and the Ministry for National Development (MND) recently launched a joint grant call for proposals in green building technologies. The agencies are asking for submissions in the areas of building materials and energy-efficient solutions/technologies.

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