Homes and gardens

‘It’s economically viable to go green’

An agency under the Ministry of National Development, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA), is responsible for the development of Singapore’s built environment.

Launched in January 2005, the BCA Green Mark Scheme is an initiative to drive Singapore’s construction industry towards more environmentally-friendly buildings. It is intended to promote sustainability and raise environmental awareness among developers, designers, and builders.

Excerpts from an interview:

What goes into making a building ‘green’?

While a building’s interiors and indoor factors such as air quality, air-conditioning, lighting, and materials used are important, emphasis must be given to its exterior as well.

Bringing in nature in the form of sky gardens and sky parks goes a long way in the greening process, and it is an integral part of the Green Mark programme.

In Singapore, platinum-rated building owners make up for the ‘green’ they have done away with during construction by creating vertical, mid-level, or sky gardens.

A lot has been spoken about ‘positive energy’ for low-cost structures. Please elaborate.

When you talk about positive energy in low-rise buildings, the use of renewable forms is just one component. The most important criteria for low-energy buildings is the structure’s design and engineering.

Whatever energy system it uses should cut down its electricity margin.

In Singapore, we rely primarily on solar power. But what you need to understand is that even if you invest in solar panels, you won’t achieve 100 per cent energy efficiency unless the building is designed in a manner to utilise its benefits.

Singapore is home to South East Asia’s first Zero Energy Building (ZEB) and in terms of its energy-efficiency; it’s 50 per cent more energy efficient than any Green Mark platinum-rated building.

To construct a zero-energy building, you need to cut down its need for energy to power its systems such as air-conditioning, etc.

Is it economically viable to go green?

When we constructed the ZEB, it took us many years to recover costs. But today, the payback timeline is only seven years. Making a building ‘green’ is economically viable today.

Can any other country introduce the Green Mark scheme?

Presently we are working on a voluntary, commercial basis and welcome any country who is interested in introducing the programme. We have assisted countries such as China, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Presently, in India, there are four projects that are currently undergoing BCA Green Mark assessment. They are located in Amravati, Trivandrum, Bangalore, and Kolkata.

When we started off our green building journey, there were people who were doubtful if a small city like Singapore — no matter how green — would be able to cut down CO2 emissions for the whole world. It is impossible but we believe that if we work on this in the tropics and sub tropics, and share the knowledge with other countries, the impact will be huge. As a tropical country we need to go green by necessity, and we hope our neighbouring countries go green too.

As building rules vary in every country, does the BCA customise the Green Mark scheme?

The Green Mark programme assesses how ‘green’ the building is and does not interfere with the building code of any country. This process is not country-specific as we take note of fundamental parameters any building must comply with such as electricity consumption, power sources, etc.

If a country wishes to assess specific parameters such as indoor air quality, they can make use of the many rating systems such as LEED, etc.

What are the challenges being faced by the green building industry and how is the BCA addressing them?

While we have proved that it is easy to transform a low-rise building into an energy-efficient and zero-energy structure, the challenge is when you go higher. Achieving zero energy consumption for medium and high-rise structures is tough.

The BCA has introduced a number of initiatives to strengthen research and development (R&D). To provide researchers and designers with physical infrastructure, the BCA SkyLab was set up. It’s a rotatable test facility pivotal to developing innovative energy efficient building technologies.

We have received S$100 million from the Government to initiate similar R&D projects. Our aim is to bring together researchers, companies, and building owners – fund and provide them with a physical facility to test products and help kick-start the process of innovation.

What is BCA’s take on restoring historic structures?

Restoring and preserving historic buildings is part of the process and demolishing them to go green is not necessary. Retrofitting old buildings by conducting extensive renovation is important.

Take for instance the City Hall in Singapore that is now housed in the National Gallery. Architects improved its air distribution, upgraded cooling systems, etc. Similar restorations were done for the Capitol Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall as well.

When restoring such structures, the only constraint one might face is if you want the old façade of the building to remain in its original form, as it will be difficult to make changes to the structure. Apart from this, we don’t see any big hurdle in greening buildings with heritage or historic value.

With a good architect, engineer, and the use of technology in the right manner, we can make any building ‘green’.

What are the new types of green buildings?

Concepts of net zero, near zero green buildings are emerging and their contexts vary depending on the country’s location.

For tropical countries, a ‘near zero’ energy building makes more sense. In the tropics, it is difficult to achieve net-zero efficiency in medium and high-rise structures.

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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 11:57:57 AM |

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