by Tom Hartman
Governments, industry and institutions around the world have adopted ambitious goals for improving building energy efficiency and reducing building energy consumption, but we have seen very little progress to date. New buildings touted as “high efficiency” often fail to meet performance projections, and existing buildings have generally been unable to achieve meaningful reductions. Fortunately, there is hope: Singapore is taking a new approach that is already achieving rapid improvement.
Over the last few years, Singapore has been shaping a policy that builds in accountability for meeting carefully crafted performance targets. That policy is showing significant success even as it continues to evolve and become more comprehensive.
Typically, building operators claim (fairly) that they cannot be held accountable for building performance because they did not design the building and its systems, while designers also reject accountability because they don’t operate the buildings. Singapore has successfully addressed this conundrum.
In the Singapore model, the ultimate accountability lies with the building owner, since the owner is responsible for both building design and operation. But by tracking system performance metrics as well as overall building energy use, the Singapore standard allows and encourages owners to ascribe responsibility correctly and to more easily isolate and correct performance problems.
The Singapore approach starts with using metrics for efficiency rather than gross energy use. The standard started with cooling systems, which in this equatorial climate can represent up to 50 percent of energy use in commercial buildings. Cooling system efficiency is a design responsibility: regardless of whether the building is operating too many hours or is overcooled, the cooling system efficiency can, and is required to, meet an efficiency-based performance standard.
Of course, there is an operational component to achieving high performance from any cooling system design. But in recent years it has become clear that advanced high-performance systems require monitoring and support to ensure they are maintained over time. These features need to be included in the system’s design and construction, and Singapore requires that they are.
Results so far: efficiency and savings
This still-developing standard has already achieved large savings. Cooling systems in existing buildings that have been subject to the standard (due to upgrades or expansions) are showing a nearly 50 percent average efficiency improvement.
This result tracks with Optimum Energy’s data: building owners using the OptiCx platform, which is fully compliant with the Singapore standard, report energy use and cost savings of up to 50 percent. And because the platform prevents performance drift, users are assured of maintaining those savings over time.
Another benefit of this model for performance improvement is that it encourages building owners to invest in efficiency. Because of the standard’s performance verification requirement, building owners can be certain they will meet their return-on-investment projections. Thus, Singapore is seeing an increasing number of system improvements in existing buildings that do not even fall under the standard.
Next steps: adding building use targets
With these system performance requirements in place, Singapore is now working on overall energy use indices (EUIs) for various building types, along with a simple means of demonstrating that buildings are maintaining their energy performance. This will ensure that buildings operate efficiently while meeting occupants’ needs.
Once EUIs are in place, if a building fails to meet its overall EUI target, it will be easy to determine if the failure is due to the design (system efficiency) or to the building operation (scheduling and conditions). Building owners will be able to readily diagnose the underlying problem by reviewing building performance metrics to see which ones are not being met.
Singapore is also developing similar efficiency standards for other building energy systems.
From the results to date, the Singapore building performance model is an encouraging sign that we can reduce building energy use significantly and cost-effectively. And this standard is one that I expect will serve as a template for improving the performance of buildings well beyond Singapore!