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Research into four emerging energy efficient technologies at the BCA SkyLab in Singapore

Screenshot from video on BCA SkyLab

The Building & Construction Authority (BCA) of Singapore was among the 14 Singapore government agencies recognised by OpenGov at Singapore Opengov Leadership Forum in May this year. BCA was awarded for its innovative testing facility, SkyLab, which is working towards the development of energy efficient building technologies. 

The SkyLab which celebrated its first anniversary this month, received the IES (Institution of Engineers Singapore) Prestigious Engineering Achievement Awards 2017, at the World Engineers Summit 2017 Conference on July 20.

In a press release BCA provided an update on the ongoing projects at SkyLab and outlined future plans.

What is the BCA SkyLab?

Opened in July 2016, the BCA SkyLab is a state-of-the-art rotatable test facility on top of a 7-storey building working. The 132 sq m facility is equipped with a network of more than 200 sensors with high accuracy and granularity, across two identical cells for comparison testing. These sensors measure performance metrics such as energy performance, indoor environmental quality, outdoor environmental parameters and building automation system indicators.

The SkyLab’s rotatable platform system allows the study of the performance of building systems, building energy use and indoor environmental parameters change in a variety of orientations relative to the sun. This can facilitate studies in cooling, lighting and shading strategies.

The SkyLab is leveraging IoT (Internet-of-Things) and green technologies, in support of Singapore’s Smart Nation efforts and towards the achievement of the BCA Green Mark scheme for 80% of all buildings in Singapore to be green by 2030.

Projects in four emerging energy efficient technologies

During the past one year, the BCA SkyLab has been conducting research and testing projects on four emerging energy efficient technologies, namely automated reflective blinds, chilled beam, smart lighting, and thermochromic/electrochromic glass.

The projects are funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and carried out by BCA’s Built Environment Research and Innovation Institute (BERII) and Energy Research Institute at Nanyang Technological University (ERI@N) in collaboration with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL; SkyLab is modelled after LBNL’s Facility for Low Energy Experiments in Buildings or FLEXLAB in  ).

A study on ‘Automated reflective blinds with dimmable LED lighting system’ investigated the lighting energy and performance and visual comfort aspects of several lighting and daylighting technologies.

The integrated system automatically adjusts the angle of the blinds according to the weather conditions to allow maximum daylight penetration. It helps to cut down the discomfort from glare and saves energy through digital lighting dimmers. Recent tests by SkyLab found that in tropical climate, the use of dimmable LED lighting with automated reflective blinds is able to achieve lighting energy savings of up to 74% compared to conventional T5 lights (T5 lamps are fluorescent lamps that are 5/8" of an inch in diameter and are the most efficient of all fluorescent lights) with manual blinds down and no dimming control.

The second technology, ‘chilled beam’ is an energy efficient technology in air-conditioning. It provides radiant and convective cooling via circulated cool water within its cooling coil. Unlike conventional fan coil unit, the chilled beam system does not have a built-in fan and hence saves energy.

Energy savings are achieved in the system by reducing the fan power and refrigeration energy. It also requires little maintenance as there are no moving parts.

The third area of ‘smart lighting’ consists of the use of sensors to automatically adjust the brightness of the artificial lights according to the presence of the occupants and current ambient environment. Test have shown that with just using daylight dimming control with T5 fluorescent lamps, up to 47% lighting energy savings, compared to T5 fluorescent lamps with no smart lighting and daylight dimming control. The addition of automated shading control could lead to even more energy savings.

The rotatable BCA SkyLab allows test-bedding in different orientations, demonstrating that measured energy savings were 17% greater when the test rooms are facing north compared to when they are facing east, due to difference in solar angles.

The SkyLab has also been looking into ‘Thermochromic/electrochromic glass’, which is a self-tinting and heat responsive glass technology for optimal lighting and heat moderation. The electrochromic glass adjusts transmittance based on ambient environment conditions, occupant thermal or visual comfort etc. This helps to reduce solar heat gain into the space, resulting in savings on energy for air-conditioning.

Industry partnership

Industry partners are actively engaged in the design of experiment and development of solutions. For instance, local company Automated Lifestyle designed, supplied and installed the automated blinds system.

Future plans

More than 20 organisations, comprising research institutions and industry players such as Singapore developer CapitaLand, have expressed strong interest in testing the latest building technologies such as cool construction materials to reduce the ambient temperature at the BCA SkyLab over the next two years.

Continued collaboration between LBNL and BCA SkyLab will help compare technology performance in different climatic conditions, such as energy efficient windows and facades, and to further improve these technologies to suit singapore’s local climate.

Emerging technologies being tested at the SkyLab are expected to eventually find their way to real-world applications in offices, schools, homes and public amenities. This includes innovative Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV; photovoltaic materials that are used to replace conventional building materials in parts of the building envelope such as the roof, skylights, or facades) technologies with clear glass, smart air-conditioning technologies using model predictive control (MPC), and many others.

Mr Lam Siew Wah, Managing Director, Built Environment Research Innovation Institute (BERII), said commented on the future of SkyLab, “'The BCA SkyLab will continue to support the emerging and evolving research needs of the built environment industry. We will continue to provide a “real-world” test on the latest green building technologies for the tropics and to accelerate their adoption in order to maximise energy savings. In doing so, we also hope to enhance Singapore’s R&D in building energy efficiency to support our ambition of having Positive Energy Low rise, Zero Energy Medium rise and super Low Energy High rise buildings for the Tropics.”

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