March 16, 2007

S'pore homes to be more energy-efficient: Mah

First such flats to be built in Punggol as Republic follows trend to go green

By Neo Hui Min, Straits Times Europe Bureau

IN CANNES - SINGAPORE'S next generation of housing will be more energy-efficient, and the first such flats will be built in Punggol, says National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan.

'If you look at European cities, they are aiming for 20 per cent savings in energy, so if we can achieve somewhere close to that we would have done well... that's our benchmark,' he told The Straits Times on his second and last day at this year's 'Marche International des Professionals de L'Immobilier'.

In fact, at this international real estate and city planning fair, many cities have taken the opportunity to showcase green buildings as the global trend shifts towards more environmentally friendly and sustainable buildings.

Rome, for example, has launched a 130m residential tower with environmental features, while environmental sustainability was one of the criteria set by the Paris financial district of La Defense in its redevelopment plans.

For Singapore, an 'experimental project' of energyefficient HDB blocks will be piloted in Punggol, with new technology and building designs.

While Mr Mah would not reveal specific features, he said the buildings would reduce energy and water usage and boost recycling.

This suggests there could be energy-entrapment devices, such as solar panels, as well as water-saving mechanisms, like rain catchment facilities. Recycling of so-called grey water - water which is drained from washing machines and sinks but which does not include sewage water - may also be involved.

It will be designed in such a way that it encourages people to have a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, said Mr Mah, adding that there would be some trade-offs.

'That's why I call it a pilot project. The fact of the matter is that most people generally want to go the tried and tested route. We hope to interest some people in adopting some of these new things, these new ideas,' he said.

Cost is a factor still being worked out.

'There are some areas where they (HDB and other relevant agencies) may have to invest a little bit more upfront, in order to enjoy the savings downstream,' he said.

'They are still trying to work it out. It has to be attractive enough so that people are willing to adopt it, to make the choice that 'yes I want to live here'.'

As for the older buildings which most Singaporeans now live in, Mr Mah said it would be more difficult to make them environmentally friendly.

'When we retrofit buildings, we try to make them more energy-efficient but, to be frank, the potential is rather limited, so what we have to do for older estates is to...tear them down and rebuild,' he said.

Singapore is moving in the right direction to become a great global city, added Mr Mah, but a consciousness of the need to be environmentally friendly is a key missing ingredient.

'I think one of the things we need to do is generate a greater consciousness, or a habit, among our people of reducing waste and creating a more energy-efficient society,' he noted.

'This is something European cities are highly conscious of, and we're beginning to move in that direction.'

Another aspect that needs to be improved upon is making the population more tolerant in a high-density environment.

'As we become more built up, more dense, the pressures of city living become much more intense on one hand, but on the other hand the expectations of people for a higher quality of life become more acute.' he said.

Singapore has taken a 200-sq-m pavilion at the fair to showcase some of the new sites available for investment, as well as some of its iconic buildings.

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