By Dr. John Keung
Climate change has been a hot topic globally for the last two decades. Worldwide, the building sector is one which has a big bearing on climate change. This is especially so for Singapore, being a highly urbanized and densely built up city where buildings consume 30% of the total electricity generated there. Singapore has always been a strong proponent in this area, with initiatives targeting different aspects that impact the cause, such as water and energy conservation, clean technologies development, and sustainable waste solutions. As a small city-state with no natural resources, it is imperative to balance environmental sustainability with economic development.
Hence, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) there launched the Green Mark Scheme in 2005, a yardstick that rates environmental sustainability of buildings in the tropics, to drive Singapore’s built environment industry towards more environmentally friendly buildings. It is intended to promote sustainability in the built environment and raise environmental awareness among all stakeholders when they start project conceptualization and design as well as during construction. As a statutory board under the Ministry of National Development of the Singapore Government, the role of BCA is to develop and regulate the building and construction industry in Singapore.
In 2006, BCA rolled out the first Green Building Masterplan with a set of policy levers and incentives to push for more new buildings to be greened. Following its success, the second Green Building Masterplan was launched in 2009 to deal with the huge stock of existing buildings. The emphasis was placed on existing buildings, with an ambitious goal of greening 80% of Singapore’s building stock by 2030.
Today, 1,830 of Singapore’s buildings are rated under the Green Mark Scheme, translating to 52.1 million square meters (approx. 560 million square feet) of Gross Floor Area (GFA), which makes up about 22% of Singapore’s total GFA. The BCA Green Mark scheme has also proven popular in overseas markets, with 230 projects Green Mark certified in Southeast Asia such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, and India, and even as far as Saudi Arabia and Tanzania.
To give a greater push for energy efficiency in existing buildings and to improve Singapore’s energy security, productivity, and growth, landmark legislation for energy efficiency which took effect on January 2, 2014 was introduced to mandate minimum environmental sustainability standards for existing buildings. Buildings retrofitting their air conditioning systems must meet minimum energy efficiency standards. For water cooled chilled water plant, the minimum efficiency of 0.85 kilowatts (kW) per refrigeration tons (RT) and 0.75kW/RT must be achieved for building cooling load less than 500RT and more than/equal to 500RT respectively.
It is important to ensure that buildings continue to be energy efficient during their entire lifespan. Installing energy efficient equipment is a good start, but to achieve the intended energy savings the equipment must be properly operated and maintained; thus the mandatory periodic energy audit was introduced as part of existing building legislation. Building owners of certain building types are served a notice to carry out an energy audit every three years on the building cooling systems to ensure operation of the system is at an optimum performance level and efficiency of the system is maintained to minimum regulatory standards.
The BCA Green Mark scheme has a criteria which applies to both new and existing buildings calling for the provision of permanent measuring instruments for monitoring of chilled water plant systems efficiency throughout its life cycle. Not only does the installation of accurate permanent instrumentation in the chilled water plant room act as an accountability tool, it also reduces the cost of compliance to the mandatory periodic energy audit because it eliminates the need to mount temporary instrumentation.
Of a building’s total energy use, 30% to 50% is consumed by its cooling system typically. With the advance of technology and design, today’s cooling plant system, when properly implemented, can save as much as 40% compared to the typical cooling system installed in our existing buildings today.
The BCA Green Mark scheme has been able to provide a meaningful differentiation of buildings in the real estate market. It serves as a benchmarking scheme which incorporates internationally recognized best practices in environmental design and performance. Benefits of getting a building Green Mark certified include: reduction in water and energy bills, lowered environmental impact, improved indoor environmental quality for a healthy and productive workplace and clear direction for continual improvement in building performance. All of this can have a positive effect on corporate image, leasing, and resale value of the buildings in Singapore.
Dr. Keung is Chief Executive Officer, Building and Construction Authority (BCA), Singapore.