Singapore’s climate change: Moving towards net-zero through greener buildings and emerging technology

green buildings

Singapore recently experienced several flash floods after heavy downpours, with the national water agency, PUB, issuing more than 30 flood warnings for at least 10 locations at one point.

Such extreme weather events look set to become the norm for Singapore should planet-warming emissions continue. According to a report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Singapore is at risk of experiencing more punishing heatwaves, severe coastal flooding events and bouts of heavier rain if planet-warming emissions are not reduced to net-zero by 2050.

The real estate sector has one of the highest carbon footprints of any sector, contributing 39 per cent of global annual process-related carbon dioxide, according to the United Nations (UN) Environmental Program.

Within Singapore, the sector is responsible for 20 per cent of the country’s carbon emissions. It is therefore crucial that property developers work to reduce such emissions by tapping into design and technology when retrofitting or developing new buildings.

Effects of climate change

Since the pre-industrial period from 1850-1900, the world’s temperature has risen by one degree Celsius and, according to the latest climate change report by the UN, every region in the world will experience more extreme droughts, intense and frequent rainfall and flooding.

In Singapore, annual mean temperatures have risen from 26.9 degree Celsius to 28 degree Celsius and rainfall in the city has become intense in recent years as well, with the annual rainfall total for Singapore increasing from an average rate of 67 millimetres per decade from 1980 to 2019.

Higher annual temperatures would likely drive an increase in the use of air-conditioners, leading to increased energy demands and higher domestic carbon emissions in the country. As such, the building of air conditioners will need to be continually monitored to ensure that they run optimally.

Sensors, such as those enabled by wireless powered solution Transferfi, can be used to help monitor vibrations and the need to maintain equipment, enabling facilities managers to ensure that building air-conditioning systems are running optimally.

Also Read: Komunidad nets US$1M funding to help businesses adapt to the consequences of climate change

Incorporating emerging technologies for sustainability

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is a technology that has been used by construction professionals to gain advanced insights into building design and infrastructure. Since 2012, the Building and Construction Authority of Singapore (BCA) has made the submission of BIM for certain projects mandatory.

By digitally representing all aspects of a given structure, organisations are able to cut down on waste and delays by identifying potential challenges before the field execution. While the submission of BIM has been mandated for certain projects, industry specialists who are not adequately trained are unable to access its benefits.

As such, industry specialists turn to companies like VRcollab, which offers a game-like experience of BIM models where architects, developers and specialist contractors can easily collaborate with a common view of the project, thus maximising efficiency and the potential for sustainability gains.

The use of digital modelling systems has also enabled architects to design buildings such that they work with, rather than against the local climate, thus reducing the energy needed to cool buildings.

Other emerging technologies being incorporated into buildings include motion sensors and smart controls, which help to regulate electricity consumption within a building or adjust indoor temperatures in response to current outdoor temperatures

One smart sensing technology example is Xandar Kardian, which uses radar to detect human presence through their heart rate and breath, turning down lights and air conditioning automatically when people are no longer detected. 

The benefits of net-zero and green buildings

Green buildings are energy-efficient structures and the global green building industry has the potential to cut energy consumption by 50 per cent or more by 2050. Presently, however, the building sector is responsible for global emissions roughly equivalent to that of China.

The sector must operate at “net zero carbon” by 2050 if global warming is to remain under 2 degrees Celsius. As such, net-zero buildings have come to the forefront as these highly energy-efficient buildings generate or supply the energy they require from renewable sources to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.

The adoption of net-zero buildings, however, has been slow, with the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) recording only 500 net-zero commercial buildings and 2,000 net zero homes worldwide in 2017, well under one per cent of all buildings worldwide.

A monumental and coordinated effort is needed from businesses, governments and non-governmental organisations, to bring the building sector within striking distance of the Paris Agreement targets.

Increasing the adoption of green and net-zero buildings is beneficial for people as well. Green and net-zero buildings have been found to not only increase the health, functioning and well-being of inhabitants, they also foster higher productivity and improve cognitive functioning.

Recent studies have found that green buildings provide optimised environments that are beneficial for people’s health, through their features of natural lighting and better air quality. On the other hand, net-zero buildings help to improve the quality of outdoor air, given that they do not use fossil fuels and emit zero pollutants.

Net-zero buildings could, in fact, produce more energy than they use and would even be able to power electric vehicles with the energy produced, further reducing outdoor air pollution.

Also Read: Life after COVID-19: How and why smart cities need to focus on sustainability

Towards a sustainable future

While green buildings have been increasingly adopted worldwide and have been able to help us in reducing our carbon footprint, the building sector must work to operate at “net-zero carbon” significantly earlier than the deadline of 2050, if global warming is to remain under two degrees Celsius.

To achieve this, the building sector must shift its focus from green buildings to net-zero buildings in order to truly combat climate change.

While the incremental costs of net-zero buildings will be a concern for many, this premium will pay for itself in the long run as the savings from running the operation will offset the upfront incremental costs.

In our fight against climate change, the adoption of net-zero buildings will be an absolute key for us as we move towards a sustainable future.

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Image credit: melis

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