Build­ings that save

Shop­ping malls, hos­pi­tals, li­braries, town­ships, even cafes, are in an all-out race to be green.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By AL­LAN KOAY star2­green@thes­

CLI­MATE change is a threat that must be tack­led glob­ally, es­pe­cially when con­sid­er­ing that it is of­ten those who are least re­spon­si­ble for the green­house gas emis­sions that cause this phe­nom­e­non who are most likely to suf­fer the worst con­se­quences. Fur­ther to this, it is the way we use en­ergy in our homes and build­ings – by def­i­ni­tion lo­cally – that of­fers the best and most cost-ef­fec­tive chance to mit­i­gate the worst ef­fects of cli­mate change.”

Tony Ar­nel, chair­man of the World Green Build­ing Coun­cil (WorldGBC), wrote those timely words in his fore­word to the body’s re­cently re­leased 2010 re­port. As we do our best to re­duce our car­bon foot­print by driv­ing less, re­cy­cling, watch­ing the food we eat, and other daily work­able rou­tines, we of­ten for­get that the walls that con­tain us, whether in our homes or of­fices, also have the po­ten­tial to make ours a greener world. It is not just a mat­ter of sav­ing en­ergy in our build­ings, but also the very ma­te­ri­als used to con­struct these build­ings that could pos­si­bly be con­tribut­ing to cli­mate change.

At the Build Eco Expo (BEX) Asia 2010 last month in Singapore, or­gan­ised by Reed Ex­hi­bi­tions and the Singapore In­sti­tute Of Ar­chi­tects, en­gi­neers, ar­chi­tects, builders, prop­erty de­vel­op­ers, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and govern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives gath­ered to ex­change ideas, build net­works, dis­cuss strate­gies and ba­si­cally look at how sus­tain­able con­struc­tion can be taken to the next level. The mood was gen­er­ally pos­i­tive that more can and will be done to build green.

In­ter­est in sus­tain­able con­struc­tion is grow­ing as more and more in the in­dus­try see the long-term ben­e­fits of build­ing green. The ini­tial costs of con­struc­tion may be a lit­tle higher than nor­mal but with pay­back pe­ri­ods that can be any­thing from three to five years, cou­pled with the fact that a health­ier work­ing en­vi­ron­ment would in­crease em­ploy­ees’ work ef­fi­ciency, the long-term ben­e­fits of build­ing green are cer­tainly at­trac­tive.

In Malaysia, there is a valid rea­son to shrink the car­bon foot­print of the con­struc­tion sec­tor – build­ings rank the high­est in car­bon emis­sions at 41%, com­pared to in­dus­tries (31%) and trans­porta­tion (28%). In a timely move, the Malaysian con­struc­tion in­dus­try last year launched the Green Build­ing In­dex to cer­tify struc­tures that are kinder to the en­vi­ron­ment. And re­cently, Works Min­is­ter Datuk Shaz­i­man Abu Man­sor an­nounced that a joint coun­cil will be set up by mid-2011 to co­or­di­nate green build­ing ef­forts. The move is to have both the pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tors adopt a sin­gle rat­ing sys­tem.

In Putrajaya, we al­ready have a cou­ple of “show­case” low-en­ergy and zero-en­ergy build­ings that are tes­ta­ment to the work­a­bil­ity of sus­tain­able con­struc­tion. Mean­while, the Univer­siti Ke­bangsaan Malaysia Med­i­cal Cen­tre is close to be­com­ing the coun­try’s first green hos­pi­tal, with the in­stal­la­tion of 1,750 evac­u­ated tube so­lar col­lec­tors for its so­lar wa­ter-heat­ing sys­tem.

In Malaysia, one no­table green build­ing is that which houses the En­ergy, Green Technology And Wa­ter Min­istry in Putrajaya. En­ergy en­gi­neer Gregers Reimann of IEN Con­sul­tants de­scribed it as a show­piece for en­ergy ef­fi­ciency. The en­ergy con­sump­tion of the build­ing is half that of sur­round­ing build­ings that were built at the same time.

“The con­struc­tion cost of the build­ing was only 5% more but there is en­ergy sav­ings of 50%. And the pay­back time is five years,” said Reimann.

Mean­while, the Pusat Te­naga Malaysia build­ing in Ban­dar Baru Bangi, Se­lan­gor, was de­signed to be a zero-en­ergy build­ing. For this, Reimann and his team had to push the en­ve­lope in ev­ery as­pect. Vend­ing ma­chines were not al­lowed as each one can con­sume as much en­ergy as an en­tire house­hold.

“We also tried out things that had never been tried be­fore,” said Reimann. “One of those things was what we called a river roof.”

Quite sim­ply, it meant us­ing the roof of the build­ing as a cool­ing tower. The chiller runs only at night and the cool­ing is stored in the con­crete floor slabs by run­ning cold wa­ter pipes embed­ded in the slabs. At night, the wa­ter nor­mally sent to the cool­ing tower is trick­led over two so­lar pho­to­voltaic roofs and col­lected again for an­other cy­cle. These mea­sures keep the wa­ter bill to only RM50 a month.

Al­though var­i­ous prob­lems cropped up that af­fected the chiller ef­fi­ciency, the sys­tem meant that no cool­ing tower was needed, the so­lar pan­els re­placed the nor­mal roof, the run­ning wa­ter cleans the so­lar pan­els while the roof also traps rain­wa­ter. Reimann said they are still work­ing on im­prov­ing the sys­tem so that the build­ing will achieve zero-en­ergy us­age, as ini­tially in­tended.

Dur­ing his pre­sen­ta­tion at the BEX con­fer­ence, Reimann pointed out the con­flict be­tween en­er­gysav­ing and en­ergy sub­si­dies. “A lot of coun­tries in South-East Asia have poli­cies en­cour­ag­ing en­ergy wastage, be­cause en­ergy is heav­ily sub­sidised. We all know if you make some­thing cheap, peo­ple won’t care to save be­cause they don’t see it on their bills,” he ex­plained later.

He cited the case of Juneau, Alaska, where an avalanche crip­pled power lines to the city in 2008. Diesel gen­er­a­tors were used for months un­til the na­tional grid was re-es­tab­lished. Be­cause elec­tric­ity from the diesel gen­er­a­tors was three to four times more ex­pen­sive, en­ergy con­sump­tion in An­chor­age dropped by 35% dur­ing that pe­riod.

He said coun­tries have taken var­i­ous in­no­va­tive steps to re­duce en­ergy con­sump­tion.

“Den­mark, for ex­am­ple, in­tro­duced a small tax on elec­tric­ity us­age, amount­ing to RM10 per year per capita, which is hardly no­tice­able to con­sumers. The money goes to an in­de­pen­dent task force whose only mis­sion is (to look for ways) to save elec­tric­ity in the coun­try. When the task force’s work was eval­u­ated five years later, it was found that for ev­ery RM10 col­lected from a con­sumer, the con­sumer re­ceived RM100 back in sav­ings.”

The Eafit Uni­ver­sity is the first ‘green build­ing’ in Colom­bia, with plants be­ing part of its fa­cade and a sys­tem that col­lects and reuses rain wa­ter, among other en­vi­ron­men­to­ri­ented ap­pli­ca­tions.

Soar­ing car­bon: Build­ings are the largest car­bon emit­ters, re­leas­ing more heat-trap­ping gases than even the trans­porta­tion sec­tor.

Dou­ble duty: At the Pusat Te­naga Malaysia build­ing in Ban­dar Baru Bangi, Se­lan­gor, so­lar cells pro­vide shade for parked cars and gen­er­ate en­ergy at the same time.

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