Why do we favor renewables over energy efficiency?
Updated: Apr 16
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It is beyond discussion that the global climate emergency calls for solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and requires decarbonisation. Often, the spotlight is aimed at renewable energy as the solution, but in fact, we can achieve 44% of the required global reductions by capturing the potential of energy efficiency, according to World Economic Forum (i). Retrofitting existing buildings with energy-efficient solutions can be a fast and financially wise route to achieve the environmental targets set out in, for example, the Singapore Green Plan for 2030.
A range of initiatives are currently being launched to create a greener and more sustainable future for Singapore and Southeast Asia. Investing in existing technologies is a way to become carbon-neutral significantly more cost-effectively and at a higher pace than if we solely focus on expanding renewable energy.
Imagine if we could achieve the majority of the carbon-emission reduction targets with solutions already at hand. The socioeconomic savings by investing in energy efficiency is a path that deserves more attention. The reason is that when we improve energy efficiency, it reduces the pressure on the growth of clean energy and accelerates our endeavors for carbon neutrality. All fingers point at scaling up sustainability and developing green cities, sustainable products and product life cycle assessments, and renewables and improved energy-efficiency is a prerequisite for this development.
Reducing emissions by investing in energy-efficient buildings
Urban areas account for two-thirds of global energy demand and 70% of carbon dioxide emissions (ii). One of the obvious ways to bring down urban energy consumption levels is to invest in energy-efficient heating and cooling in buildings and electrify transport. If all urban areas and cities in Europe, China and the US invested in energy-efficient buildings, they would contribute to the 1.5°C target of the Paris agreement with 20% (iii), making a significant contribution to keeping global heating within the 1.5°C target. If a similar initiative in Southeast Asia were added to the equation, it would, in all likelihood, increase the contribution even further.
Cities need a vast number of ventilation fans to secure fresh and clean air in tunnels and parking basements as well as fire prevention fans and fans for heating and cooling in buildings. Suppose we replace these with new high-efficiency solutions. In that case, it is a quick and financially wise route to take a massive step in the green transition as the payback time for new fans is short, reducing the need for investment in renewables afterwards.
Energy-guzzling old equipment
Inefficient centrifugal and axial fans with non-optimized aerodynamic design are some of the worst energy-guzzlers. But new solutions are available. Some newer fans, such as the ones offered by NOVENCO, have efficiency levels as high as 92%, where older fan efficiencies hit somewhere between 50 to 80% (iv).
The new fan solutions are also designed and produced with sustainability in mind and are 98% recyclable. Using high-tech frequency drives that can run a motor at variable speeds, they support intelligent building ventilation where the ventilation system helps save energy and improve system efficiency. Since the fan technology has been continually developed and refined, they also meet the highest emission and efficiency targets. Furthermore, replacing old fans reduces heat generation as newer and more efficient fan motors generate less heat gain and have much lower sound levels.
Concerns may put a spoke in the wheel
To bring about this change and move towards a greener and more sustainable future as envisioned in, for example, the Singapore Green Plan 2030, we have to embed the good intentions into the specific product specifications driven by ambitious legislation and by companies taking on the responsibility.
Even though governments blueprint environmental changes, there can be practical concerns by building owners and operators around service disruption and nervousness caused by unfamiliarity with new equipment that may upset their upset thought process. Key points to bear in mind when retrofitting ventilation fans in a building to improve energy efficiency is, firstly, to choose a solution where the physical retrofit work is carried out very quickly and with minimum or no service disruption for the occupiers. Secondly, new fans have higher reliability and lower maintenance needs reducing operating costs. Thirdly, they are a perfect fit to achieve green targets as there are no plastic parts, and they are 98% recyclable.
“Cleaner and better use of energy is core to any plan to tackle climate change” is one of the key Singapore Green Plan statements, and it counts not only for Singapore but for the entire Southeast Asian region and the rest of the world as well. A combined effort from government to company level is the only way to ensure that high energy efficiency levels to lower carbon emissions are put into practice in the production and supply chain. If green legislation is not ambitious enough and is not embedded in the processes and procedures at a company, city or country level, we will not reach the global climate targets set out.
In conclusion, the potential of investing in energy-efficient and sustainable solutions is evident. Still, there is a need for legislation to overcome the barrier which the higher cost for raw and recycled materials poses. The legislation should support green initiatives and products, so the cost difference is only minimal – because, in the end, the initial cost drives the decision to buy for most owners and developers. There is no doubt that legislation can help us in the right direction, and initiatives like the Singapore Green Plan are exciting examples of governments supporting and creating the foundation for a greener and more sustainable future.
(ii) C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, Inc.: https://www.c40.org/why_cities
(iii) “1.5°C in Urban Areas. Contributing to the Paris Agreement through the transport and building sectors” by Navigant
(iv) The total system efficiency is 85% against 60-70% for older systems.