Zero Energy Building in Singapore: A Retrofitting Marvel

Following the excitement of green building, zero energy building (ZEB) has become the next challenge for architects nowadays. According to its name, the building should consume zero energy that leads to reducing carbon emission and minimizing the use of fossil fuel. How? Of course the building itself should be able to produce as much or even more energy—by natural means—than it consumes. That is why it’s challenging, because very few designers have the experience to build it, especially in tropical climate. In 2009, Singapore made a breakthrough with the first Zero Energy Building in South East Asia; the BCA Academy.

BCA Academy was formerly a three-storey workshop building that’s retrofitted to be ZEB. Now, it also plays a role as test bed for green building in Singapore. This building consists of offices, classrooms and resource center. The retrofitting process included the installation of photovoltaic technology that enables the building to be fully powered by the sun. However, the building’s east-west orientation created another problem. To resolve it, architects designed its shading systems to filter the heat that is caused by the orientation. This system was also installed with a photovoltaic panel. Each of 1m2 panel can light up one 45W light bulb. In addition to photovoltaic technology, there are several natural lighting and ventilation systems that support the building.

All of the system in the building also depends on human behavior inside it. The officers, students and other building occupants should be aware to use the energy as efficient as possible. Switching off the electricity whenever it is not used and minimize the use of electronic devices could benefit in energy saving. Even the simplest measure like wearing breathable clothing will give comfort without the existence of air conditioner.

Along with equipment, technology, and occupants’ behavior, accessibility also plays a significant role to achieve zero energy building. Is there any public transportation to reach the building? Or is it within walking distance to the surrounding population? Some of the new buildings that are built in the outer ring of urban population or office districts will require a long distance drive. There should be public transportation modes to support building occupants in order to reduce the use of private vehicles. Otherwise, if the carbon emissions level caused by transportation to reach the ZEB is high, then there is no point in calling it “zero energy building”.

One of the benefits of retrofitting an existing building like the BCA Academy is the availability of public transportations to reach it. The success of this test bed will also be a good stepping-stone to transform the other existing buildings into ZEB. In addition, it will decrease the tendency to build a new individual ZEB in low-density area that will generate an unwanted side effect such as sprawl. One after another, the country will be filled with retrofitted zero energy building in the future. And it will not be just an individual zero energy building, it will become a zero energy neighborhood. ( – YTA)

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