Shaping the Future of Sustainable Buildings in Southeast Asia

Shaping the Future of Sustainable Buildings in Southeast Asia

In a revealing interview with Industrial Automation Asia, Bent Jensen, CEO of Commercial Building Services at Grundfos, delves into the evolving landscape of the buildings sector in Southeast Asia. He highlights the imminent urban expansion, the critical role of green buildings in achieving net-zero targets, and the innovative cooling technologies set to revolutionize energy efficiency. Jensen also sheds light on Grundfos’ strategic initiatives, including the pivotal Singapore Innovation Hub, poised to drive climate progress and sustainability across the region.


  1. What do you foresee to be the key trends and opportunities shaping Southeast Asia’s buildings sector in 2024?

 

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With Southeast Asia’s urban population expected to grow by another 100 million people by 2030[i], the region will be seeing greater urbanisation and buildings within the next decade. In tandem with this development, energy consumption and energy-related carbon emissions from the built environment is projected to grow by 120 per cent by 2040[ii]. As we move into 2024, the construction of these new buildings will potentially face an even stronger sustainability mandate, particularly as many Southeast Asian nations accelerate their net-zero commitments and green building standards.

 

In line with the above, building solutions providers are increasingly adopting more sustainable principles and innovations to integrate environmental sustainability into the built infrastructure. For instance, building solution providers are increasingly looking at smart technology to achieve systems that can operate in optimised conditions at any time, using water and energy in an efficient manner. Here at Grundfos, by tapping into Internet of Things (IoT) and moving building operations towards digitalisation, our Commercial Buildings Services (CBS) division is committed to introducing cleaner, more energy efficient technologies that can help the built environment sector reduce its energy consumption and overall carbon footprint.

 

Another example would be the way buildings are constructed. Instead of the current project-based construction approach, the building sector will likely shift to one which is product-based, pivoting industry players towards modular and prefabricated solutions. With standardised components produced off-site before being assembled on-site, we will be able to achieve greater resource efficiency as well as drastically reduce project timelines.

 

Although building optimisation will lead to massive savings and a reduced carbon footprint, incorporating the facilities and solutions necessary is easier said than done, often due to a lack of workforce knowledge and cost barriers. With our Grundfos Innovation Hub in Singapore, we are well placed to leverage our many years of experience in driving the region’s building optimisation journey with the least effort through innovation in smart user interfaces, digital solutions, and advanced controls.

 

  1. What potential do green buildings have in fostering a net-zero future for Singapore and the region?

 

Buildings are significant contributors to carbon emissions. Globally, they account for 39 per cent of energy related carbon emissions, with 28 per cent from their operation and 11 per cent from materials and construction[iii]. In ASEAN, the building sector is responsible for 23 per cent of energy related carbon emissions[iv].

 

Despite their current impact, buildings also hold immense potential to lead us towards a net-zero future. The International Energy Agency (IEA) sees a promising path: energy efficiency improvements, electrification, and other strategies offer the potential to reduce the sector’s direct CO2 emissions by 97% by 2050, despite the sector’s activity more than doubling through growing floor area, expanding access to energy services and increasing living standards[v].

 

Countries in the region are increasingly recognising the importance of green buildings – 43 per cent of green bonds in ASEAN are used for financing green buildings[vi]. For Singapore specifically, the government has mandated that 80 per cent of all buildings in Singapore be green by 2030, with 80 per cent of new developments be super-low energy buildings (at least 60 per cent improvement in energy efficiency over 2005 levels)[vii].

 

Looking beyond the sector’s direct emissions, green buildings also act as catalysts for positive change throughout the value chain. This ripple effect starts with construction, where sustainable practices like prefabrication and low-carbon materials are expected to incentivise greener manufacturing. It extends to the energy sector, as buildings transition to renewables, pushing for cleaner grid options. Even waste management benefits, as green buildings reduce waste generation and promote recycling. By embracing green practices, the building sector can lead by example, paving the way for a collective effort across industries to achieve a net-zero future.

 

Meanwhile, by showcasing sustainable solutions and demonstrating their benefits, green buildings can also educate and inspire businesses, property owners, and the public to consider changes to their own buildings and lifestyles, multiplying positive impact on the net-zero transition.

 

  1. How can energy efficient cooling systems support the building sector’s decarbonisation journey, and what specific technologies does Grundfos have to cater to this?

 

With 2024 projected to be even warmer than the record-setting 2023[viii], cooling solutions are hard-pressed to work harder to keep us comfortable. Yet, urbanisation and a demand for increased comfort are expected to fuel even higher energy demands in buildings, posing a significant challenge. In fact, space cooling has already been identified as the fastest-growing use of energy in buildings globally and in ASEAN, with regional electricity demand for space cooling projected to quadruple from 2017 to 2040[ix].

 

Given the lack of short-term pathways to make energy production non-carbon based, it is vital to increase the efficiency of energy use in buildings – in both new constructions and existing buildings.

 

One way this can be done is through the buildings’ pump systems – they are central to the water and cooling system of a building, running 24/7 and consuming significant energy year-round. Particularly in commercial buildings, the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems accounts for up to 40 per cent of total energy use[x]. They are also responsible for all water management processes such as potable water supply, wastewater removal, and even fire protection. Energy-efficient pumps thus hold a strong potential in boosting a building’s energy efficiency, and this is where Grundfos comes in.

 

Smart pumps, such as Grundfos’ premium NKE range of end-suction pumps, can instinctively adjust operations based on changes in demand, ensuring that pump systems run only when needed, and can potentially halve the amount of electricity consumed by traditional pumps that operate at a constant rate.

 

Furthermore, intelligent technologies like Grundfos’ Distributed Pumping System are able to intelligently regulate the distribution of chilled water flow in buildings to meet changing cooling demands. To meet the sustainable cooling needs of Singapore’s Ngee Ann Polytechnic, the solution was installed in the campus’ Block 22 – a move that resulted in impressive energy savings exceeding 50% and a delta T improvement of 2.5 degree C thanks to the system’s ability to balance the supply and demand of chilled water while ensuring an optimal building comfort at all times.

 

Such technology also enables water management to be pre-emptive and predictive, ensuring constant monitoring of water systems’ conditions. This allows us to attend to each and every change adequately and address any issue before it happens. Technologies capable of adjusting water flow according to demand through remote sensors help reduce any excess water pressure, which in turn limits water leakages and losses, minimising cost and energy.

 

  1. Is Grundfos partaking in any ongoing or future plans to meet cooling demand while driving climate progress in Asia Pacific?

 

Recognising Singapore’s strong potential in becoming a hub for green innovation, global water solutions leader Grundfos relocated the global headquarters of our CBS division into the heart of Asia – Singapore. The move, made in April 2023, comes off the back of heightened demand for resource-efficient solutions to foster a sustainable built environment in Singapore and the region.

 

To address the region’s growing need for sustainable cooling solutions, Grundfos has also established the Singapore Innovation Hub in November 2023 to spearhead the development of innovative, energy-efficient systems and solutions for commercial buildings, specifically focusing on cooling applications in the first instance.

 

Grundfos has also been active in establishing collaborations with institutions in the region. In June 2022, Grundfos signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Singapore’s Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) to co-develop energy and water efficient smart solutions that will contribute to a more resilient and sustainable built environment across Southeast Asia, through collaboration, talent development and sustainability education. The MoU proved to be a win-win – with staff and students receiving greater industry exposure in the areas of sustainability and experiencing first-hand innovative new technologies, as Grundfos benefits from leveraging NP’s academic rigour and knowledge to improve our sustainability credentials.

 

 

  1. Can you elaborate on how Grundfos’ Singapore Innovation Hub aims to explore and develop the latest cooling technologies to meet the rising demand for cooling while concurrently driving climate progress in the Asia Pacific?

 

To better serve our customers in Asia Pacific, Grundfos’ Singapore Innovation Hub will be prioritising HVAC Cooling and District Cooling to reduce the high energy use demanded by these systems. Aligned with IEA’s 50 per cent energy efficiency target for new air conditioning systems by 2030, supporting the vision of net-zero emissions by 2050, we see ourselves at the epicentre of change.

 

First, our Singapore Innovation Hub will be working on adding digital enablers to our cooling solutions, in order to create cooling solutions that work hand-in-hand with digital platforms. To stay at the forefront of energy optimisation, future modular concepts and AI algorithms or enhanced embedded intelligence will also be areas that we look forward to exploring.

 

Another specific area that will be explored in the Singapore Innovation Hub will be tapping on distributed pumping, which offers better control of hydronic chilled water systems, and can help unlock a new level of energy savings in a chilled water system while maintaining the highest possible comfort. Coupled with the implementation of intelligent solutions, we will potentially eliminate the need for balancing, ensuring that buildings can perform at the highest level for many years.

 

Additionally, we will also look to co-develop a hydronic balancing concept in District Cooling with customers and educational institutions that will help us save significantly on both power consumption and thermal energy.

 

  1. What challenges do you anticipate in developing innovative, energy-efficient systems for cooling applications, and how does Grundfos plan to address these challenges?

 

As each region faces its own unique set of challenges which are increasingly dynamic due to climate change, it is imperative for us to remain agile and updated on region-specific data, including tapping on the knowledge and expertise of our partners and customers across the region. This will allow us to develop more targeted solutions that can better meet the needs of different regions’ end-users.

 

Furthermore, the complexity of developing and implementing innovative solutions will require a multi-stakeholder effort. On this front, Grundfos will strive to continue forging relationships with various stakeholders, to co-create and co-manage new innovations to unlock energy efficiency.

 

Additionally, while energy-efficient cooling solutions are instrumental in helping businesses manage their energy consumption more effectively, implementing such systems can equate to a great deal of financial investment for businesses. Additionally, while green financing and capital is growing, there remain financing gaps to support the development and adoption of energy-efficient cooling systems.

 

Recognising this financial hurdle, Grundfos has introduced the Grundfos Energy Earnings (GEE) program where businesses, including commercial buildings, can benefit from energy savings without the need of any capital outlay. In Southeast Asia, we have offered this zero financial investment solution for buildings such as hotels, where we share the realised savings with the business to finance the solution installed. For example, we have worked with Le Meridien Chiang Rai Resort and Hilton Hua Hin in Thailand to upgrade chiller pumps in both sites to improve energy and cost savings. The upgrades, made under the GEE program, helped to deliver 35% and 36% in energy savings respectively.

 

Despite the availability of energy-efficient technologies, building owners might still not have the incentive to integrate these solutions into their operations due to a lack of awareness of the technologies they can leverage, or their benefits. To fill this gap, Grundfos’ energy consultants are able to provide energy checks on existing pumping systems to demonstrate the amount of savings a company can potentially achieve, using measuring equipment such as ultrasonic, analogue and digital sensors, as well as advanced data loggers.

 

 

  1. How does Grundfos plan to leverage its global resources and collaborate with partners across the APAC region to enhance the development of innovative solutions for commercial buildings, especially in the realm of cooling applications?

 

Grundfos will continue to work on this front with a two-pronged approach – through the Singapore Innovation Hub, as well as efforts on the ground to gain a more well-rounded understanding of the challenges faced by the region.

 

Grundfos’ Singapore Innovation Hub has the potential to act as the epicentre for APAC through which information and resources flow, leveraging cross-functional expertise to create synergy across Grundfos. One way we are currently doing so is through Grundfos’ collaborations with local institutions such as Ngee Ann Polytechnic. Relevant insights and knowledge from these partnerships will be instrumental as we endeavour to enhance our solutions in the region, especially in developing new technology, exchanging of best practices, as well as trials with cutting-edge technology to reach net zero emissions.

 

The Singapore Innovation Hub is also embarking on a collaboration with Asia Pacific Urban Energy Association, an organisation launched in 2017 to promote public and private sector collaboration in the development of sustainable urban energy systems that support liveable cities across the Asia Pacific region.

 

To further deepen our understanding of the region, especially pertaining to cooling applications, our CBS team also participated in the District Cooling International Conference organised by Alliance for an Energy Efficient Economy (AEEE) in India last October, during which we gained valuable insights from fellow industry players. In addition to the conference, we held customer meetings in Thailand, the Middle East, and Singapore to learn more about the different challenges and opportunities within district cooling. Equipped with an enriched knowledge base of the region, Grundfos will be looking towards co-development workshops with customers to identify the first potential technical concepts to take to market. The first version of our district cooling strategy is expected to be in place in the first quarter of 2024.


[i] Florida, R. and M. Fasche. (2017). The Rise of the Urban Creative Class in Southeast Asia, Martin Prosperity Institute, Toronto

[ii] International Energy Agency (2022). Roadmap for energy-efficient buildings and construction in ASEAN. International Energy Agency.

[iii] World Green Building Council. (2019). Bringing embodied carbon upfront.

[iv] International Energy Agency (2022). Roadmap for energy-efficient buildings and construction in ASEAN. International Energy Agency.

[v] International Energy Agency (2021). Net zero by 2050 – a roadmap for the global energy sector.

[vi] Azhgaliyeva et al. (2020). Green bonds for financing renewable energy and energy efficiency in South-East Asia: A review of policies, Asian Development Bank Institute Working Paper Series.

[vii] Fogarty, D. (2022). Businesses are key to meeting Singapore’s green building challenge. The Straits Times.

[viii] The Straits Times. (2024). 2024 could be even warmer than record-setting 2023, scientists warn. The Straits Times.

[ix] International Energy Agency (April 2022). Roadmap towards Sustainable and Energy-Efficient Space Cooling in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. International Energy Agency.

[x] Australia Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (2013). HVAC factsheet – Energy breakdown.


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