Green Mark and Facilities Management

Image result for green mark buildings

With Singapore gearing towards a more sustainable future, pushing for more building efficiency is one of the top priorities. The Green Mark certification by BCA certifies buildings that are more environmentally friendly and sustainable, by such indicators like a reduction in water, electricity and material usage, as well as improved indoor quality for better health and well-being. Currently, Singapore’s 31% of buildings are certified green with a lofty target of 80% by 2030. This is where facilities management comes in crucial.

FM drives the efficiency of buildings through active monitoring, tracking and managing of building energy efficiency, water and waste management and suitability of the indoor conditions for use. The FM scene is starting to get dependent on cloud-based solutions using such technologies like predictive analytics to improve asset management and provide real-time updates and tracking with all indicators. Currently, digital analytics is still nascent in the field, and there are few players, but it is important in ensuring that problems are detected beforehand instead of being dealt with post-occurrence.

There remains challenges in revamping the building landscape. One of the challenges is the fact that many buildings are old and efficiencies degrade along with age. It is up to the management and owners to decide whether the benefits of an upgrade will exceed the upfront costs of replacing the old systems. Some see benefits of an upgrade to sensor-based systems due to rising labour and utility costs. Ultimately, a simple cost-benefit analysis should answer the very question of “should we green our building?”

Sustainability and SMEs

Web-button-for-SDGs-smaller

In Singapore, SMEs take up a majority share of the economy. Over 90% of the businesses are SMEs. Back in 2015 The UN developed a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for all countries in the aim of curbing poverty, inequalities and climate change worldwide.

The relevance of the SDGs however may be blurry to Singapore SMEs. Some feedback on the friction SMEs feel for SDGs include:

  1. They need government regulation and framework as guidance
  2. Tendency to focus only on sustainability costs rather than opportunities
  3. Time is needed to change consumer’s demands for more sustainable products

Suggestions for improvement in the adoption of SDGs in SME’s business strategies include looking at long-term partnerships and relationships, through factoring in not only finance but social and natural capital. Adopting the SDGs would also enable them to make better decisions based on more holistic considerations such as security of the supply chain and more reliable production. The companies would also need to be more creative and resourceful, equipped with the knowledge and ability to think ahead.

Companies need to up their innovation in greening their businesses, but they also require help from the government, public sector and policy side. Successful transition lies in having a well-developed ecosystem, not piecemeal efforts. Singapore’s recently opened Sustainability Academy between CDL and SEAS serves as as a good role advocate and platform for engagement in sustainability, underscoring the importance of partnership with such entities as NGOs.

Blended Finance in sustainable development

Related image

Just a week ago, a new finance hub under the OECD and WEF called Sustainable Development Investment Partnership (SDIP) was launched. This was created in the aim to help fund and support sustainable development in the developing Southeast Asian region. Cambodia was the first in the SEA to join. According to the Asian Development Bank, Asia needs to invest US $26 trillion by 2030 to meet infrastructure challenges that threatens to stunt the growth of the region’s fast-growing countries.

Traditional financing models such as purely governmental or privately invested ones bear higher risks and thus the new mode of financing, Blended finance, was given birth to. Its flexibility and versatility lends more leeway to investors in a sense that they can pick and choose the types of projects they want to bear risks for, with other governmental institutions, banks, charity organizations, etc. taking up the rest of the pie.

Many projects in developing countries face a common problem: shortage of private investors even with attractive ROIs, because the returns are either hard to monetise, or the risks are too great for their tolerance level. The advantage and role of blended finance is thus to use public or charitable funds to remedy those problems, allowing private money to flow to these types of projects. According to a WEF survey of 74 blended-finance vehicles, this is working: every dollar of public money invested typically attracts a further $1-20 in private investment.

Blended finance can also be used to generate ROIs that would normally only yield less tangible benefits. The most common method is the “social-impact bond”, in which “outcome funders”, such as governments and aid agencies, pay back investors when goals are met which although socially desirable do not yield direct profits. For example, a charity foundation that pays a return of 10% on a project designed to improve school attendance among Indian girls if enrolment, literacy and numeracy improve as agreed after three years.

Such investment vehicles will be the linchpin of the future development of sustainable projects in the long-run and will be a terrific kickstarter for investors who are more cautious and uncertain of investing in projects that may be deemed risky. Hopefully, this will be a good start of achieving that $26 trillion goal to meet the needs of tomorrow.

“The Grid” Analysis of America’s Energy

Image result for the grid fraying wires book

Renewable sources are still far from overtaking energy supply fully because the grid just isn’t robust enough to deal with the fluctuations in electricity being made. Oftentimes, solar panels produce more than 100% power needed in the day, and flounders at night. The extra power made in the day cannot be put aside for use later. Thus, night time demand is usually supported by firing up of more power plants. These power plants are not efficient unless ran at full capacity.

First of all, the grid is very old. It is the same grid, for the most part, that was first built from 1950s. The grid is also unstable, susceptible to crumbling at the slightest perturbance, and get overloaded easily leading to blackouts.

Back in the days, DC grids were developed based on multiple private companies each with their own generating station and lines. The first step towards universalizing access to power was invention of AC power.

Samuel Insull, Thomas Edison’s assistant, was the one that led to the centralization of the grid. He bought over infrastructure and private companies, consolidating “load” and persuading factories to purchase cheaper off-peak power resulting in more switching to general grid from private power.

Then there was a regulation, PURPA to allow for small power plants to do cogeneration (using leftover steam to generate useful heat). This broke up the monopoly structure. And in even more recent times electricity start becoming a traded commodity. Too much electricity start travelling to far, burning and degrading the lines. Upkeep of grid lines are declining as customers do not wanna pay more. Power plants often do not keep up with maintenance, or try to evade inspections.

The biggest challenge utility faces today is the problem of peak demand. Peak times happen around 5pm. That’s unfortunately when the renewables are starting to become asleep/inactive. Thus most of US evenings are powered by fossil fuels. Utilities in the past used to have up to 30% capacity margins (ie. they can fire up to 30% more power in times of emergency), while now it’s only down around 10%. While consumption of energy surges. But the entire concept of having power plants sitting idle for half the time when there’s no demand is a huge waste. It costs the same whether the plant is idle, or going full steam, and it is even more costly when they start firing up additional plants to make up for the excess capacity needed.

Smart metering is the one tool that utilities can consider upgrading themselves to keep their businesses running. Shedding 5-10% during peak hours could eliminate powering up of dirty power plants. Utilities could also monitor and control electricity (unbeknownst to some).

The bad thing about home-based grid solar is that the normal citizens who are not using solar or who cannot afford solar systems pay higher electricity rates which are used to curtail the loss of utility customers. In 2013, Germany’s two largest utilities lost $6 billion as corporate are getting off the grid. This leads to the “utility death spiral” leaving utilities with stranded assets like those big expensive power plants but aren’t used. Their initial colossal investment in fossil fuels ended in unprecedented losses.

Electric cars could well be the most viable solution for smoothing out the instability of the grid. Much like huge batteries on wheels, they could act to balance out peak load by feeding power into the grid (when they’re docked into the 2-way charger). Besides their flexibility to go anywhere and readily provide power back to the grid, they are also in lower demand at night when peak load happens. This would tie perfectly with rooftop solar when the solar power wanes at night, and the “car batteries” are plugged in to fill in the gap. Cars are only utilized about 3% daily. So if we can make use of them effectively as storage, they can be used up to 95%.

However, the drawbacks are that electric car batteries are the main holdbacks for consumers who are concerned with their lifespan and range. Which all comes down to price and costs. Denmark has provided zero tax incentive (usually 100% of car price), and also lifelong free batteries for electric cars. Another question is the costs of infrastructure for the massive expansion of charging spots in order to make the “cars as storage” dream a reality.

What Donald Trump’s presidency means to energy & environment

GOP 2016 Debate

The Trump presidency was not great news to climate change supporters. It was not the outcome many hoped for, and could potentially pose a significant threat by demolishing any progress made in the Obama administration for climate and environment.

Calling climate change a hoax that the Chinese fabricated to gain unfair advantage, he vowed to pull out of the Paris agreement on climate change first thing he comes on board. He will also remove any form of carbon taxing and deregulate any bans on drilling or fracking. Many coal workers voted for Trump in hopes that he can revive the coal industry to its glorious past. However, this proves to be unrealistic and likely impossible.

Renewables aside, coal is no longer competitive on any front. Successful fracking for natural gas in tight shale formations has enormously increased America’s natural gas production, keeping prices low, and outcompeting all other energy sources, especially coal and nuclear. It doesn’t make a lot of financial sense to expand coal use again within the United States.

As for the renewable energy sector, wind companies saw their shares tumble the first few days after the election. Fears have been building up in the renewable industry that his win means a big loss to them. Trump has a personal history with some wind projects which he thinks are against the advancement of his private businesses. One example is his fight against wind farms built across his golf course in Scotland, because it “blocked the views” of his golf course.

Tax credits are the lifeblood of renewables. Concerns about Trump rewinding the tax credits and hurting the renewable energy industry have been raised but may not crystallize in the way we envisioned. The Republican-controlled Congress already extended the renewable energy Production Tax Credit to 2021, and there also are various state tax credits and the Renewable Portfolio Standards — laws requiring a certain portion of a state’s power generation mix to come from renewable sources — to consider.

1

Pure economics will dictate the fate of the futures of renewable energy. The price of wind per MW is already cheaper than coal and solar is quickly catching up. Time-wise, it is also smarter to invest in solar farms as they take only a few months to come online where as coal-fired plants can take up to years. Solar and wind will continue rising at a fast pace in the next few years, and their growth will be driven mostly by state rather than federal policies. Even without tax credits, their prices are falling, making them naturally competitive.

However, let’s remember: all talk of Trump’s actions may deem futile as his words are rarely gone to fruition at the end of the day. Case in point: he has started reconsidering his stances on climate change and expressed that he would like to see “clean air and crystal clear water”.

Grid Curtailment and Other Ailments

We keep hearing news proclaiming the rise of renewables these days. X number of solar plants or wind farms being built, Y% of increase of RE capacity, so on and so forth. It seems that for as long as nature provides together with proper funding, we should be able to tap on these resources as main power sources, right? The answer’s not so simple. There exists a thing called “Grid Curtailment”, an ailment to the spread of renewable energy usage.

What is this grid curtailment all about? Put simply, it’s a phenomenon of power plants fighting for getting their power on grid. Take for example, wind energy. Energy generated from turbines does not automatically get passed to the grid and end users (or “dispatched”). Because the grid is connected to a network of power plants, there are rules that determine which one gets their power onto the grid during certain periods of time.

Factors determining dispatch:

  • Load Matching (Consumption demand).
  • Supply to the Grid
  • How quickly the power can come on line
  • Cost of dispatch
  • Priority is typically given to renewables, deemed as free energy

California saw an issue of oversupply of renewable energy and insufficient load (demand). This is partially due to the inflexibility that some generators need to constantly be run, such as nuclear, hydroelectric, geothermal and some gas-fired stations. That means the price of electricity will go below zero (generators pay to get their electricity on grid). That will lead to grid curtailment of these REs. There is no compensation for grid curtailment by the operator which means that those power generators will have to suffer a loss of profits.

Solutions to these include signing deals for the export of surplus energy to different regions, storage facilities as well as demand response. Storage facilities are valuable in storing energy during low demand hours for future release during peak demands. In other words, you get charged for storing and when energy is released again you get your money back.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we see insufficient supply such as the one plaguing the UK. This may be the first time UK cannot meet peak demand, as they are struggling to also meet emission reduction goals. Coal and gas fired plants are being shut down and this results in losses in capacity. Due to lack of foresight in implementing policy of building new plants quickly, the capacity gaps may lead to market fluctuation in pricing. This was the impetus for the crazy 24 billion GBP nuclear deal that was signed in Oct 2015.

Maybe less risky alternatives like demand response may come in to curb the issue of over demand. Governments such as Singapore’s, are trying out demand response programmes to encourage participants to reduce their electricity consumption during peak demands. They receive an incentive for reducing electricity usage during peak demands via the electricity price reduced.

Sources: NA Windpower, The Energy Collective, GTM, Financial Times, Yahoo and others

San Francisco’s mandatory solar panels in 2017

So San Francisco passed a new law mandating all new buildings below ten storeys high to install some form of solar power: either solar PV or solar thermal. This will come in effect from 2017. This is a welcoming news (any governmental step towards more clean energy is a welcome gesture), indicating the city government is showing vested interest in fulfilling the promise of 100% renewable power in 2020.

Let’s take things apart a little bit and put things in perspective. San Francisco has a land size of 130km2, and around population of 800,000+. The new law is estimated to save around 27k metric tonnes of CO2 / year or equivalent of lifting off 5000+ cars on the road. The average San Francisco-ian uses about 7 metric tonnes of CO2 annually which means that this law will result in an average of per capita reduction of 0.4%. So clearly, the amount of reduction of CO2 is sort of negligent.

There are two things that could be done to improve this:

  1. To increase the mandate of having 15% rooftop space for unblocked sunshine to a greater percentage to say 30% or 40%. This will raise the capacity available for solar panel infrastructure.
  2. To solve the problem of energy demand by building taller residential buildings and encouraging people to move more into city. This will kill two birds with one stone: reducing long-commute hours and reducing apartment unit size which means less energy use.

So I would say if the anyone is really serious about tackling climate change, it would be better to look ahead and consider the bigger picture. That said, let’s hope for more good news to come.

COP20 / CMP10 Lima Peru In Summary

The COP20 CMP10 had just ended in Lima, Peru on 12 Dec. I was nominated to join as a youth delegate but was unfortunately unable to attend. However, I’ve heard many things from people about this year’s conference. Quite frankly, whenever it comes to UN conferences on climate change, my skeptical mode switches on. From last few years’ learning from conferences such as the one in Copenhagen, it seemed like all talk, little achievements and no solid conclusions. It has been notoriously known that countries come together not to work in peace and harmony on a coordinated plan to mitigate climate change but rather to pit against each other with their own interests.

What have been agreed

  • US: Committed to cut their emissions (Also first time that the US Secretary of State engaged directly in climate talks, giving a lot of teeth in the negotiations) by shuttering hundreds of coal-fired plants
  • China: Offered to set date of 2030 for peak emissions
  • EU: 40% cut in emissions by 2030 and new targets w.r.t. renewable energy.

What haven’t been agreed

  • No obligation from BRICs to cut emissions, but accepted that world needs a cap as whole
  • Developed countries’ commitment to the emerging economies to assist and provide funds for their carbon-cutting initiatives

The Kyoto Protocol was set in 1997 to engage countries (mostly developed) in the common bid to fix global temperature rise to 2 degree celcius and 350ppm as carbon output level. The commitment will expire on 2020. The 194 countries who attended the Lima conference reached key decisions that will influence the climate change pact for the 2015 Paris conference, and hopefully by 2020 the world shall see the results that it had set out to achieve more than 20 years back.

Obama’s Climate Bill – Cutting Coal 30% by 2050

Cheer-worthy news: for the first time in history, an American president is showing care (to some extent) about the environment.  Mr Obama announced a new environmental regulation to reduce overall carbon emissions by a whopping 30% by 2030.

Apparently, they are already a third of their way towards meeting the goal of 30% cut.

However, the amount of coal reduction that each state would need to achieve varies. EPA made a fantastic virtual interactive map of where power plants reside and the detailed analysis + breakdown of the current and targeted emissions levels. For a table of states and their proposed levels of reduction click here. States such as West Virginia would be subjected to a smaller percentage cut of less than 20% while states like Washington would be 70%. Each state’s luck depends on how energy dependent they are on coal and how ready they are for the switch.

Again, for your ease of info-digesting and for those lazy to read chunks of words such as yours truly, here are some breakdown of the pros and cons of this new regulation. FYI – For your crunching. Not to be accepted as hard facts.

Against:

  • Create an energy crisis and lead to power shortages
  • Inflate electricity prices
  • Job losses

For:

  • Lower medical bills and fewer trips to the emergency rooms, especially for kids with asthma, the elderly and infirm.
  • Environmental justice- lower-income families and communities of color are hardest-hit by climate change
  • Reduce smog and soot, avoiding premature deaths from heart attacks and lung disease.
  • Energy efficiency leading to lower cost, greater competitiveness.
  • More jobs would be created in the deployment of clean energy usage.

Facts:

  • There is no regulation or cap as to the amount of CO2 that can be allowed in the atmosphere at the moment in America.
  • Power plants are the largest source of pollution, contributing roughly about 40% of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • 1600 power plants, 600 of which are coal-powered.

To help ease the process of transition, the kind EPA provided a few broad solutions for power companies panicking at the moment:

1) switching from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas

2) forming cap-and-trade markets

3) expanding renewables such as wind and solar power

4) encouraging customers to use less energy by moving to more efficient heating and cooling systems and appliances

Basically, no matter what you do, you have to comply with it.

Of course, the country is divided on this new law as to whether it is a boon or bane to the future. Taking into account the amount of time that Obama is giving heavily-polluting companies to wake up and respond, I would say it’s a fairly generous move. Plus, they get 10 years between 2020 and 2030 to meet that goal. In total, they have about 15 years to think about how to rectify any reckless polluting behaviours. Sweet.

Sources: Guardian, Climate Progress, Vox, EPA