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The Case for Cheap Energy

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Poul Erik Kristensen, Managing Director of IEN Consultants Sdn Bhd.

Have we got it quite right?
By Eunice Ng

The heat spell is getting unbearable. But who cares. You’re in your air-conditioned office, nine-to-five, full blast.

The concerns of climate change and global warming have never got beyond the comfort of adjusting the air-cond temperature. But what happens when fossil fuels run out? Ever wondered how much you can save on electricity bills living in an efficiently designed building? While ideals of a green building may not be unfamiliar, why are we still building buildings the way we do?

“It’s not so much about the energy consumption that is the problem; it’s the carbon emissions,” says Poul Erik Kristensen, Managing Director of IEN Consultants Sdn Bhd.

Poul was speaking at the Photovoltaic, Solar Energy and Green Technologies Malaysia 2011 Conference held in March this year. The conference was organized by Asia Pacific Diligence Sdn Bhd at JW Marriott Hotel, Kuala Lumpur.

The building sector is still the single largest polluting sector in the world. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the sector not only consumes 40% of energy, it also releases 30% of greenhouse gases and produces 25% to 40% of solid waste.

Poul sees no other way in generating electricity than to look toward renewable energy sources and to design buildings passively.

Poul’s sentiments is echoed by the study carried out by the Research Association for Solar Power, published in the online report Energy [r]evolution: A Sustainable World Energy Outlook, January 2007
(see Energy Resources of the World). The report is featured on Greenpeace International website, an independent campaigning organization.  One of the contents on the site states:  “Power is gushing from renewable sources at a rate of 2,850 times more energy than is needed in the world.”

The report also states energy from the sun that reaches the earth is about one kilowatt per square meter worldwide. This produces enough energy to meet the world’s current power requirements for eight years. Although a certain percentage is technically accessible, this is enough to provide around six times more power than the world currently needs.

The world is at race towards zero carbon buildings or anywhere near that in five to 10 years’ time. By 2020, all new buildings in Europe must be near carbon neutral. In the United Kingdom, all new residential projects starting in 2016 must be zero-energy houses. The same sentiments are expressed by the United States of America and Korea, targeting for success by 2025. Germany will, by 2015, cut down the country’s total energy use by 60% by constructing passive houses. France takes it one step further by developing ‘Energy Plus’ buildings in 2020 and Japan is committed to promote and develop renewable energy industry as its development goal. Malaysia too, has reduced its carbon emissions by 40% in terms of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) emission intensity by 2020 compared with 2005’s levels.

While we do commit to reducing carbon emissions, our efforts toward a sustainable and greener agenda still lag behind, judging from the rate we construct our buildings. The Zero Energy Office (ZEO), Bangi; the Shell Shared Service Centre, Cyberjaya and Diamond Building, Putrajaya are just some among the few built according to best green and efficient practices; a stark comparison against the abundance of commercial and office towers being built.

Poul says it is not necessarily true that the newer buildings being constructed today are more energy-efficient when compared to older structures. They have in fact larger energy consumption. “We somehow forgot to design passively,” Poul says.

Energy Efficiency of Office Buildings in Malaysia

A standard building consumes between 200 and 300kWh per sq m annually and that is equivalent to 150 to 200kg per sq m per year. A well-designed building, like the Low Energy Office (LEO) building consumes only 100kWh per sq m per year, and Green Energy Office (GEO) building only 35kWh per sq m per year.

Poul says a large percentage of energy consumption in the office comes typically from the lightings accounting to as much as 25% to 30% in the pie, which is a lighting load of about 15 to 25 Watt per sq m. A badly designed office would consume up to a lighting load of 25 to 40 Watt per sq m.

The trick is just to harness free sources of energy! The ZEO building in Bangi is 100% day-lit during daytime and consumes only 4.8 Watt per sq m. With proper zoning of work spaces, there is hardly ever a need to switch the lights on in the day, he adds.

“Once you’ve got the building’s daylight design right, it will be there for a lifetime. There are no moving parts, no electricity bills to pay,” he adds.

But Malaysian buildings too are known to be “leaky”, Poul says. With hot and humid air leaking into the building, additional energy is needed to dehumidify buildings. While Malaysia is not used to building “air-tight” buildings, what seems to be lacking is the awareness of a better usage of materials in different climate conditions.

Energy Resources of the World

He says Malaysian buildings do not need Low E glazing for its windows as it is designed for cold climate countries. What we need here, he says, is specifically selected solar glazing or the solar control glazing that still allows light in but keeps the Ultraviolet and Infrared rays out, which will save on the cooling load.

And to harness the sun’s enormous energy, the ZEO’s roof is fully equipped with solar photovoltaic panels, absorbing the sun’s  powerful rays for free! When your building uses solar energy by day and consumes electricity from the TNB grid at night, coupled with excess energy generated from the solar panels that goes back into the grid, over the year, you will have a zero energy building. And therefore, not responsible for the huge dent CO2 emissions have on the environment, says Poul.

We cannot reverse the effects of climate change, but we can mitigate its implications and dire consequences by the way we live. The onus is on us, now, not just to create the perfect energy efficient equation but to live it.

“We can do something about it. And tthe building sector can do something about it,” Poul says.