SINGAPORE: When it's still dark in the early morning, you wake up and switch on the lights powered by solar energy. Motion sensor lights in the common areas come alive as you leave the house, making your way down to the dual bicycle racks where you parked your two-wheeler.
As you dispose of your trash, you separate them into two bags - one for the general trash chute and the other for a centralised recycling refuse chute.
While this may be a vision of green living for some residents, it is already a reality for many, especially those in Punggol, Singapore's first eco-town designed under the Housing and Development Board’s (HDB) 2011 Sustainable Development Framework.
Over the last 10 years, HDB has been progressively greening the town, test driving initiatives such as lifts with an energy regenerative system to recover 30 per cent of energy from kinetic movement and braking, motion sensor lights at staircases and car parks, as well as a centralised recycling chute.
Rainwater collected through a rainwater harvesting system is used to irrigate landscapes and clean common areas, while the installation of dual bicycle racks encourages residents to commute through more sustainable methods.
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The initiatives have helped reduce energy and water consumption and improve recycling rates.
Between 2010 and 2018, household energy consumption in Punggol fell by 18.8 per cent, according to HDB.
Household water consumption fell by 13.2 per cent between 2011 and 2018, while water consumption for common areas fell by 19.9 per cent in the same period.
Recycling efforts have paid off too, with about 1,285 tonnes of recyclables collected from Punggol per year, said HDB. This is equivalent to the weight of 89 double decker buses.
In addition, the planned 50km cycling network for the town will ensure that Punggol has 5.2km of cycling network per km sq of town area, exceeding the world’s densest cycling network in Helsinki.
“As one of the youngest HDB towns, Punggol presented a very good opportunity for HDB to demonstrate sustainable urban planning and design, green technology adoption and to encourage more members of the community to lead eco-friendly lifestyles," said HDB in a recent press release.
“Envisioned as a thriving, smart and sustainable town, Punggol also serves as a ‘living laboratory’ where, together with various partners, new ideas and technologies have been test-bedded and applied to create a sustainable, liveable and more pleasant environment for residents."
The green features were rolled out to all new Build-to-Order (BTO) flats from 2014, after trials in Punggol.
HDB GREEN TOWNS PROGRAMME
As part of Singapore's fight against climate change, a key strategy in HDB's efforts to promote green and sustainable living is through harnessing solar energy.
HDB is the country's largest driver for the installation of solar photovoltaics (PV) panels, which are located on the roofs of public housing blocks.
Its solar target, announced in December 2019, is to generate 540 megawatt-peak by 2030. This could potentially reduce carbon emissions by 324,000 tonnes per year and generate enough energy annually to power 135,000 four-room HDB flats.
As of March, 5,500 HDB blocks - or more than 50 per cent of housing blocks islandwide - have been fitted with or identified for solar panel installations.
With a new SolarNova programme, HDB aims to extend this to 70 per cent of HDB blocks by 2030.
Reducing energy consumption through harnessing solar power is one of three areas of the new HDB Green Towns programme, which aims to make towns more sustainable and liveable by 2030.
“Since 2005, HDB has been driving sustainability efforts to achieve a 10 per cent reduction in annual energy consumption in HDB towns. Through the Green Towns Programme, HDB aims to reduce it by a further 15 per cent by 2030,” said the agency in March when the programme was launched.
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To reduce energy consumption, HDB said it has “progressively implemented” smart lighting in places such as car parks, stairwells, linkways, common corridors, playgrounds and void decks of new BTO projects since 2014.
It added that it would work with town councils to install these lights in common areas of blocks built prior to 2014 as well when their existing LED lights are due for replacement.
The Green Towns programme also focuses on recycling rainwater and cooling HDB towns.
Rainwater is stored in an underground tank and treated before being recycled to wash common areas and irrigation.
“In this way, the use of potable water (drinking water) for washing of common areas and irrigation can be reduced by more than 50 per cent,” said HDB.
As for cooling HDB towns, then-National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said in March that HDB was planning to conduct a pilot to apply cool coatings on building facades, roofs and pavements of several neighbourhoods, with the aim of reducing ambient temperature by up to 2 degrees Celsius.
In addition, HDB has been introducing greenery to the top decks of more multi-storey car parks, by repurposing them for urban farming, skyrise greenery or community gardening where feasible.
“Besides offering visual and spatial relief for residents in our high-rise living environment, the greenery also helps to cool and enhance the liveability of our estates,” said HDB.
MORE OPPORTUNITIES FROM TECHNOLOGY AND DESIGN
These efforts by HDB, along with the Green Mark initiative by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) to rate green buildings, have been “substantial” in addressing climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts, said Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, executive director of the Energy Research Institute @ NTU.
“Singapore is a dense high-rise metropolis with a high standard of living. Despite being in the tropics, it has established one of the highest sustainable housing standards in the world.
“This is buoyed by our HDB estates which have long relied on design principles that maximise natural ventilation, reduce heat gain, promoted shared facilities and communal spaces, and construction principles that leverage new technologies,” he said.
These initiatives, along with the Green Mark, have allowed Singapore to become a leader in sustainable building technologies, addressed its sustainability goals and provided new opportunities to export technologies developed here, added Prof Subodh.
The green efforts by HDB will help “counter the heat island effect where heat is trapped within our dense urban environments”, he said.
“Leveraging natural ventilation and natural means of providing a cooler environment will naturally reduce our dependence on air-conditioning and reduce our carbon footprint.”
But Singapore can continue to develop new technologies and designs, he said, such as combining green rooftops with solar panels, incorporating solar cells into windows and building integrated solar cells.
As electric cars become more affordable and HDB builds more charging stations in car parks, these charging stations could be powered by solar cells and energy storage, to “significantly reduce our carbon footprint from transportations”, he added.
In constructing buildings, HDB could use new technologies in pre-fabrication construction to reduce the amount of carbon produced while manufacturing concrete used in construction, he suggested. The Housing Board could also consider using recycled materials like incineration ash or recycled construction materials for the buildings.
Singapore should also explore ways of supporting the “circular economy” by reducing food waste, segregating waste streams for recycling and promoting sustainability practices, added Prof Subodh.