First District Energy System Roundtable in Singapore


19 Sep 2016 | The roundtable gathers energy researchers from Princeton, NUS, City University of Hong Kong, EPFL, ETH Zurich, Singaporean government agencies, and utility operators.

District Energy Systems

At the COP21 talks in December 2015, Singapore pledged to reduce carbon emissions intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, even as it faces a growing population and the resultant increase in energy consumption. One means to achieve this despite the challenges is the deployment of district energy systems in Singapore.

In Singapore, the successful implementation of district energy systems such as Marina Bay has helped businesses save enough energy to power 24,000 HDB units. Experts say that these energy savings could well apply to residential developments in Singapore. This is among the key conclusions by energy experts from academia and industry at the first Roundtable on Future District Energy Systems in Singapore.

Organised by the Future Cities Laboratory at the Singapore-ETH Centre, the roundtable is the first in Singapore to bring together researchers from top universities such as Princeton University, National University of Singapore (NUS), City University of Hong Kong, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich), Singaporean government agencies, and utility operators from Singapore and China, including Singapore Power, Keppel DHCS, Chongqing Cooling.

District energy systems centralizes networks for cooling, heating and electricity at the district or neighbourhood scale. Besides energy efficiency and low carbon emissions. district energy systems bring the advantages of space savings in buildings, low operational and maintenance costs, and higher utilisation of energy infrastructure. The centralisation of energy infrastructure, for instance, frees up space at rooftop and parking areas that would otherwise be used to house electrical and cooling equipment. The ability of district energy systems to tap on different sources of energy and even out imbalances in demand brings about considerable efficiencies and cost savings.

A future widespread use of district energy systems in places such as Singapore and Hong Kong with access to heat sinks such as sea water and industrial processes could save from 50 to 80 per cent of the energy consumed for cooling buildings. Two-time winner of the prestigious Engineering award and the R&D award by the Ministry of National Development, Prof Ernest Chua of NUS, as well as Prof Francois Marechal of EPFL, presented how new technologies such as super-desiccants and refrigerant-based district networks could highly contribute to this goal. The major barriers to the integration of these technologies are higher upfront costs and building regulation. The last currently inhibits the implementation of such technologies, especially in the residential sector.

According to the experts, the residential sector of Singapore represents an unexplored market for district energy which today represents close to 50 percent of the total energy demand in buildings. District energy systems at Marina Bay, Woodlands, Changi business park and
Kowloon Hong Kong have demonstrated the successful application of district energy systems in commercial areas in the region. However, as it stands today, the implementation of district energy systems in the residential sector presents high economic challenges for both utility operators and home owners.

According to the experts, future district energy systems in Singapore will require new business models and regulation to allow the access to cutting-edge technology in both commercial and residential sectors. The experts proposed a new public-to-private partnership (PPP) between utility operators and developers that lead to the upfront connection of residential and commercial units to a district energy system. A change in current building standards will be required to this end.

Evaluating this and further opportunities is a challenging task in itself. It requires a thorough analysis of technology, commercial implication and building regulation. Led by ETH Zurich professor Arno Schlueter and EPFL professor Francois Marechal, researchers at the Multi-Scale Energy Systems group (MuSES) at Future Cities Laboratory in Singapore will dedicate the next four years to overcome the challenges of adopting future district energy systems in Singapore.

“In a topical and highly dense city such as Singapore, district energy systems are not only a highly relevant, but also a highly viable solution to the city’s cooling needs while ensuring energy efficiency and reduction of emissions,” says Prof Arno Schlueter, principal investigator of the research group. “Our research will not only tackle technological considerations, but also important factors such as human comfort and the interactions of energy systems with urban design”.

The MuSES group has in the past been recognised for launching one of the most energyefficient offices in Singapore. The ‘3for2’ office at the United World College South East Asia (UWCSEA) features a suite of cooling technologies that promises energy savings of over 40%
as compared to conventional office spaces, while offering significant space savings.

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