Singapore: new systems help old buildings save energy

At a corner of Golden Mile Tower is a dim, but airy room, filled with whirring equipment, the shiny new pumps and chillers looking bright against the dusty walls.

Though the office-and-retail block on Beach Road is four decades old, it had all this installed last year, along with a cooling tower and a panel to monitor the performance of the system.
The hardware, fitted in to conserve energy, has done its job.

The block’s power bills have been cut by $30,000 a month, from $100,000.

The owners of older buildings such as this one and People’s Park Complex are sinking money into such systems ahead of energy-related laws that may be passed this year.

One is the Building Control Act, which could require all building owners to meet yet-to-be-decided minimum standards when they retrofit their premises with energy systems.

Existing minimum standards apply only to new and existing buildings above a certain size.

The other piece of legislation is the Energy Conservation Act, which if passed, will require companies using more than 15 gigawatt hours of energy a year to appoint energy managers, monitor energy use and submit improvement plans. That amount of power is what 3,000 four-room HDB flats would use.

Air-conditioning typically accounts for half a building’s energy costs. In Golden Mile Tower, it was 80 per cent.

Its centre manager, Mr Max Lim, said it was retrofitted because it was costing more to maintain the ageing building, with the spare parts for its air-conditioning system becoming harder to find and more expensive.

The retrofitting was done just in time too: Electricity tariffs rose 0.61 cent a kilowatt hour, or 2.3 per cent, this month.

Retrofitting a building is not always easy, due to space and structural constraints.

For instance, the JTC Summit building in Jurong, which is not oriented to encourage natural ventilation, cannot cut back on air-conditioning.

And in another building, plans to go for water-cooled air-conditioning instead of air-cooled air-conditioning were dropped when architects found that its rooftop would have to be reinforced to bear the extra weight of water.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) nevertheless has a menu of incentives and financing schemes designed to defray the costs of retrofitting.

For instance, the Building Retrofit Energy Efficiency Financing scheme gives building owners financing of up to $5 million for energy retrofits.

Standard Chartered Bank, United Overseas Bank, Orix Leasing and energy services companies Johnson Controls Singapore and G-Energy Global were on the scheme.

There is also the $100 million Green Mark Incentive Scheme for Existing Buildings, which covers half of energy audit costs and up to 35 per cent of retrofitting costs.

Under this scheme, $8.2 million has been given out; 27 applications for retrofits and 21 for energy audits have been made.

The National Environment Agency also oversees energy-efficiency grants and incentives.

Large energy users, for whom energy makes up a large proportion of their costs, do not need much persuasion to become more energy efficient, but some businesses will fall through the gaps – usually smaller users of energy, or those for whom energy makes up a small part of their costs.

Small and medium-sized enterprises, which make up 99 per cent of businesses and hire 62 per cent of the workforce, are often reluctant to improve their energy efficiency, or lack the manpower and resources to do so.

Experts say they could help themselves by perhaps banding together to ask for, and fund, energy efficiency.

Asia Carbon senior business development manager Irfan Pawennei suggested that they do so under a United Nations emissions cuts programme, which accredits the carbon emissions cuts of a group of small users.

Mr Terence Tan, the director for integrated building services at Johnson Controls, said all sectors can benefit from energy efficiency.

‘The challenge is informing building owners and tenants about the operational and productivity gains and cost savings that can be realised,’ he said.

Source: Straits Time

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