BCA Singapore seeks to convert its flagship Zero Energy Building into a positive energy building using smart technologies

Zero Energy Building @ BCA Academy (Photo: Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS), NUS)/ source:

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) in Singapore announced a partnership with the Singapore-Berkeley Building Efficiency and Sustainability in the Tropics (SinBerBEST), to embark on a research collaboration to transform BCA’s flagship Zero Energy Building (ZEB) into a positive energy building. (SinBerBEST[1] is a research entity under the National Research Foundation (NRF) CREATE Programme. It is hosted by the University of California Berkeley (UCB), with National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) as main partners.)

The press release stated that it could serve as a unique living laboratory for smart building technologies, or an “Office of the Future”. It seeks to integrate software, hardware, and people elements to provide an exemplary model for the design of smart and healthy buildings for occupants.

The Research Collaboration Agreement was signed and exchanged between BCA and SinBerBEST on 29 June during the Ministry of National Development (MND) Urban Sustainability R&D Congress 2017. The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2018.

A zero energy building is one that produces enough energy to run itself. The current ZEB, which was opened in October 2009, has already been recognised as one of the most energy efficient buildings in Singapore with 50% better energy efficiency than a code-compliant building. It houses green classrooms and offices, and also function as a test-bedding centre for Green Building Technologies. 

Since its launch in 2009, ZEB has delivered a net zero energy performance for seven continuous years, producing more energy than it consumes with a net surplus of between 7- 9% achieved on a yearly basis. The energy efficiency of ZEB will be enhanced to achieve a further 20% improvement over the current level. The building will be able to achieve an overall energy surplus of at least 40%, with the upgrading of the existing solar photovoltaic system and savings from the smart technologies.

Smart building technologies

The latest energy efficient technologies will be incorporated to address the positive energy challenge. More than 20 innovative building technologies developed over years of R&D at UC Berkeley and local universities, covering air-conditioning, lighting, façade, smart controls, etc, will be engineered and tested in the refurbished building. There will be significant emphasis on smart building technologies. Enabling technologies at user level, such as occupancy positioning, personalised environment setting, plug load monitoring and control, etc. will be streamlined into the infrastructure of the office space.

The current number of sensors and monitoring devices in the space will be tripled more than 1,000. The sensors will provide real-time feedback of its occupants’ activities to a dedicated smart building management system (BMS). This BMS will interact with the deployed technologies, collect data and analyse it and then adjust the building systems to deliver an indoor environment that optimises the energy usage of the space, as well as the experience of its occupants.

Some of the key technologies are as below:

  • High-performance PoE-based (Power over Ethernet) dimmable ceiling lighting fixture + lighting control: Lighting system to be powered through ethernet rather than normal power cabling (Potential lighting energy savings of up to 30%)
  • Demand Controlled Ventilation System: A smart system to provide automatic adjustment of the space cooling and ventilation requirement according to the occupants' needs (Potential cooling energy savings of 15 to 20%)
  • Smart ceiling fan and personal desk fan: It will operate when the air conditioning system set point temperature is increased from standard 24 degrees to 26-28 degrees (Potential energy cooling savings of 20-25%)
  • User personal space settings: Provides allocated personal space information, such as present temperature, brightness and CO2 levels, allowing user control to manage personal space according to preference
  • Plug loads management system: This will monitor plug-load energy consumption of each occupant to understand usage pattern and reschedule operation of plug load to reduce energy wastage.
  • Double skin facade: High performance facade system that reduces operational energy use i.e. cooling energy use.

Wifi-based Occupancy Monitoring System: Provides real-time occupancy level and occupancy distribution (via WiFi-enabled mobile devices) to help manage the energy consumption from the air conditioning, lighting and plug load technologies

The refurbished ZEB will also aim to provide an adaptable, smart, biophilic and healthy office environment for its occupants. Biophilic and ergonomic design will be systematically implemented through a collaborative and integrated design-thinking process with deep end-user engagement.

SinBerBEST Program Leader Prof Costas Spanos said, “One of our key philosophies at SinBerBEST, is that the modern built environment can benefit from an integrated approach that blends design, building science and information technology in order to improve the efficiency and the quality of the built environment. The SinBerBEST team is very excited about this unique opportunity to partner with BCA and demonstrate some of our key inventions in a true living laboratory,embedded into one of the most advanced buildings in the world.” BCA’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr Hugh Lim said, “With the technological advancements in the past 7 years, it is opportune for ZEB to undergo a technology refresh, so it continues to serve as an effective living testbed for energy efficiency in buildings. This project signifies BCA’s commitment to continued innovation, creating a model of positive energy low-rise building that provides a healthy and conducive working environment for occupants. This is in line with BCA’s long term aspiration of achieving ‘positive energy low-rise, zero energy mid-rise and super low energy high-rise buildings’ in the tropics.”

[1]It is one of the two core research programs within Berkeley Education Alliance for Research in Singapore (BEARS). Established in 2011 by UCB as a non-profit company, Its research is focused on building energy technologies for the tropics, with an expertise in smart building technologies, lighting and data analytics

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