The Green Crab

If you look at Singapore from above, it resembles a crab, with its mouth at the Singapore river and the back facing Malaysia. The Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, has persistent practice of Feng Shui and believes that Singapore will prosper only by being a “green crab”, the color of a live crab, covered with trees, rather than a red, dead crab with only barren soil — at least, according to an interesting Singapore Feng Shui (“风水”) myth I heard today.

The Green Crab from above. Picture is from Google Earth.

Walking around Singapore, I often marvel at how much green space is created in this bustling city with a population density ranked  third in the world. While less 0.2% of its primary forest remains, Singapore is actively restoring forest and wetlands, which provide a refuge for not only animals but also people seeking an escape from urban life. A lot of building are brimming with green vines.

My lovely Tropical Urban Ecology class walking through the Green Crab’s street.
Oasia Hotel on Sinaran Dr.

The green efforts extend beyond just increasing the number of plants. In 2005, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) launched the BCA Green Mark Scheme, an initiative that assesses the sustainability of buildings. The Inter-Ministerial Committee on Sustainable Development further set a target for 80% of all buildings to achieve Green Mark Certification by the year 2030.

Building in BCA Academy

The Zero Energy Building we visited today is the first of its kind in Southeast Asia, and a test bed for the goals of energy efficiency and green buildings. Having lived in Duke Smart Home, a sustainable technology housing at Duke University for the past semester, I am eager to see the sustainable technologies that are in application in Singapore.

This three-story building was reconstructed in 2008 to integrate sustainable technologies that enabled it to produce enough energy for its own consumption.

Among the features of the Zero Energy Building, I was most impressed by its efficiency in temperature control. We were told by our guide that buildings in the tropics typically spend 40-50% of their energy on air conditioning, so improving this aspect could be very crucial to energy efficiency.

Western facade of the Zero Energy Building shows features such as Thin Film photovoltaic boards and Green Wall.

The building has solar chimneys that utilize the density difference between hot and cold air for  cooling its open spaces. It also integrates advanced design in improving air conditioning. The Single Coil Twin Fan System, patented by the National University of Singapore, controls the fresh air (for ventilation) and recirculated air (for cooling) independently, based on the actual user demand. Compared to a conventional system that mixes the two types of air together, this new design not only significantly saves energy, but also improves the thermal comfort and air quality. In conventional air distribution systems, the cold air vent and extraction vent both are situated on the top of the room. Here, the diffusers on the floor blow in cold air, while the hot air gets recirculated from the top; a pair of small, white  ventilation machines site on each person’s desk to provide personalized local cooling. Ah! Imagine having fresh, cool air blowing on your face while working!

The top of the building is covered with Silicon Wafers photovoltaic boards and solar chimneys. Behind are high-rise apartments constructed by the government.

Lighting also constitutes a large part of electricity use, and could be easily improved by several designs. Of course, the LED (light-emitting diode) light is ubiquitous in green buildings. As what I experienced at Duke Smart Home, the Zero Energy Building also has localized lighting controlled by motion sensors. In addition, while Singapore requires higher lighting in workplaces, the office actually has a dimmer overall environment, which is augmented by individual task lighting. Moreover, horizontal and vertical light pipes use various mirror dots to transmit natural Singaporean sunlight directly into the building.

But of course, these technologies would not make the world a greener space if people do not end up using them. I therefore inquired of our guide about how much they could be applied into the life of ordinary Singaporeans, 80% of who lives in high-rise apartments constructed by governments. Because these housing units are in close proximity to each other and are high and slender, solar panels might not help much. However, I learned that energy-efficient designs could be incorporated into the housing, and this is actually encouraged by the government through a series of funding initiatives such as ones through Design for Efficiency Scheme.

Building is only one aspect of city life, though. As the second busiest port city in the world, Singapore faces large amount of pollutants emitted by vessels. The Green Port Programme designed by the Maritime and Port Authority gives a 25% reduction in port dues to vessels with approved scrubber technology or ones that burn clean fuels.

Pasir Panjang Terminal

For me as someone interested in sustainability, the Green Crab is an inspiring model. It not only has ambitious goals to achieve a greener future, but also the determination and efficiency to do so. In various cases I have heard about, the funding from Singapore’s government is sufficient to allow these clean-energy projects to move quickly, as well as the commitments from teams and individuals nationwide to ensure that these projects bring a tangible change to Singapore. As I spend more time here, I expect to learn more about this Green Crab’s efforts!


Reference Zero Energy Building BCA Green Mark zero energy building Green Future Solutions – 2015 Guide to Singapore Government Funding and Incentives for the Environment Feng Shui in Singapore