Zero-Energy Buildings

Concrete buildings frame our urban landscape backdrop in view of limited land space in Singapore. Buildings are everywhere to feed our industrialisation needs. Therefore, the development of sustainable buildings is prudent in achieving our environmental goals of curbing rising greenhouse gases emission. 1980s saw the birth of low-energy buildings which are buildings that uses less energy than a standard building that house the same amenities. In recent years, we witness a new wave of energy efficient buildings entering the picture – Zero-Energy buildings. Zero-Energy buildings produces as much renewable energy as it needs and is not connected to the nation’s electricity grid (Wall, 2017). It has myriad of benefits including reduction in carbon dioxide emission, being energy saving and contributing to environmental protection (Deng et al., 2014).

The design is guided by 5 basic principles of Green Building:

  • Sustainable Site Design
  • Water Conservation and Quality
  • Energy and Environment
  • Conservation of resources and reuse of materials
  • Indoor Environmental Quality

Zero-Energy building reached Singapore’s shore in 2009. As part of Building and Construction Authority’s (BCA) Green Building Masterplan, an existing building within BCA Academy was revamped into a Zero-Energy Building. It is fully powered by three generations of photovoltaic systems that harnesses energy from the sun. Key features of the building include 40% reduction in energy required to run air-conditioning through usage of advanced chillers and personalised ventilation system and strategically places shading devices that reduces solar heat gain and improve quality of natural lighting with the building. It is a pilot project that serves as a test-bedding centre for Green Building Technologies. As BCA oversees Singapore’s Green Mark buildings rating system, they wanted the project to reflect best sustainable building practices. Five years later, net zero energy targets have been attained and occupants are reaping the benefits of increased thermal comfort (Wittkopf, 2015).

Right at the heart of NUS, we welcome our nation’s first Zero-Energy building built from scratch in 2019 – School of Design and Environment 4. The building house more than 1200 photovoltaic solar panels that is involved in generating 500 megawatts of energy a year, slightly more than the expected usage of the building. This will allow the building to potentially save up to $180000 in electricity cost. Along with its unique architecture design, this made SDE4 a sustainable building design, an important attribute of green buildings. NUS is also committed to reducing energy demand by 40-60% as buildings accounts for 40% of greenhouse gas emission worldwide (Toh, 2019). Key features of the building include an innovative hybrid cooling system to supply rooms with cooler air during times of higher temperature and humidity as compared to conventional cooling system while ensuring that rooms would not be too cold. Ceiling fans speed are also adjusted to decrease usage of air-conditioning which accounts for up to 60% of a tropical country building’s total energy usage. Such energy saving and resources conservation certainly meets the basic principles of green buildings.

In fact, SDE4 was an idea birthed 10 years ago but was rejected then due to overall cost required. Therefore, it is extremely heartening to be living in this generation where the community is committed to see beyond initial financial burden to do their part for the environment. Inter-Ministerial Committee on Sustainable Development has also set a target to achieve 80% Green Mark Certification for all buildings by 2030. With SDE4 and BCA Academy setting stones for Zero-Energy buildings in Singapore, I believe we will be able to look forward to more of such project in our island home.


Deng, S., Wang, R. Z., & Dai, Y. J. (2014). How to evaluate performance of net zero energy building – A literature research. In Energy (Vol. 71, pp. 1–16). Elsevier Ltd.

Toh, M. (2019, April 2). Zero energy building opens in Singapore – CNN. CNN Business.

Wall, M. (2017). Towards zero-energy buildings and neighbourhoods – A combination of energy-efficiency and local renewable energy production. Indoor and Built Environment, 26(10), 1313–1318.

Wittkopf, S. (2015). Zero Energy Building @ BCA Academy: Singapore.


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