A Greener Singapore, One Building at a Time
Meet the woman who is helping to engineer what’s next in low-energy buildings for a greener Singapore.
Can we transform our built environment to be more sustainable? Can we craft working and living spaces that meet our needs but don’t impinge on the planet? Can energy efficiency be hardwired into every type of building, no matter the size or purpose?
These are key questions for Singapore to answer, given that the country has committed to reducing its emissions intensity by 36% by 2030 from 2005 levels. The building sector, which consumes a whopping one-third of Singapore’s total electricity consumption, plays a big part in developing impactful climate change solutions. The only question is, how?
That’s where Lee Si Min comes in. A senior engineer at the Building and Construction Authority (BCA), she works in a department that sounds like a laboratory in a sci-fi movie: the Super Low Energy Department. And in a way, it does dip its toes into the realms of the unknown; it has to, if it’s to achieve its goal.
“I am currently involved in formulating policies and strategies to make the adoption of Super Low Energy or SLE Buildings in Singapore mainstream,” Si Min says. “A SLE building achieves at least 40% energy savings based on the prevailing code. Such buildings push the boundaries of energy efficiency, helping us move toward a low-carbon built environment.”
Supporting BCA’s mission to green up Singapore’s structures, Si Min is the secretariat of the taskforce on “Pushing Boundaries towards Net Zero Energy”. “I review the Green Building framework and standards,” she notes, “and develop strategies to build a robust ecosystem to encourage the adoption of SLE buildings in Singapore.”
Simple Green Touches
There is a host of next-generation technology that can be used to make buildings more eco-friendly, from sensors that adjust lighting levels depending on occupancy levels, to machine learning that optimises an entire skyscraper’s intelligent building control systems.
BCA launched the BCA SkyLab with the aim of test-bedding innovative energy-efficient technologies that can help Singapore construct greener buildings. (Photo credit: BCA)
When it comes to changing attitudes towards energy use, even small touches can make a difference, and in these cases the BCA practises what it preaches. Si Min suggested a simple energy-saving solution: switch off the overhead lights when the team goes out for lunch. “Building occupants contribute around half the total energy usage in a building,” she shares.
On a larger scale, part of BCA’s remit is to encourage more stakeholders in Singapore to take up the (low-energy) torch. In 2018, they invited Singapore’s government agencies to take on the SLE Challenge. As a result, the Defence Science and Technology Agency worked with the Army to lessen energy usage in Seletar and Kranji Camps. Their solutions tapped on the best of Mother Nature, as teams designed buildings for optimal natural ventilation, crafted solar light pipes that maximise the sunlight channelled into a building, and used mass engineered timber, a sustainable material, for the buildings. Simple enough solutions, yet the result was an energy saving the equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of 116 four-bedroom HDBs.
Si Min is also involved in developing the next edition of the Green Building Masterplan, a document that lays out the landscape and opportunities for Singapore structures to modernise sustainably. Engaging a broad swathe of stakeholders, such as trade associations, tenants, home buyers and interest groups, ensures that everyone is a part of the conversation and has a voice in creating the masterplan.
Challenges and Hope Ahead
Slashing energy output will not be easy. “The key challenge faced is that buildings come in various types and sizes: there is no one-size-fits-all solution,” notes Si Min. That’s why it’s so vital, she adds, “to understand the constraints of the building typologies and develop bespoke criteria that will best suit the structure.”
But despite the trials, Si Min’s passion for her career is anything but low energy. Knowing that her career contributes meaningful to mitigating climate change by reducing Singapore’s carbon footprint, she says, “gives me a lot of satisfaction and motivation.” That passion inspires her day-to-day life, too. “I am more aware of how my actions impact the environment,” laughs Si Min. “I now proactively try to influence my friends and family members to live more sustainably too.”
“My work in promoting the adoption of Super Low Energy buildings helps contribute directly to a low-carbon and sustainable Singapore. I am proud and honoured to be able to make a positive impact on our built environment.”