Using Benchmarks and Penalties to Improve Energy Efficiency in Singapore
By Cheng Zhi Wei
When we think of long-term solutions to our energy needs, we usually think of sustainable energy sources. Big projects that harness energy from renewable sources, yet do not release the copious amounts of carbon dioxide that today’s conventional sources (oil, gas and coal) do.
There are several problems with pursuing these energy sources as the only solution to our energy needs. They are expensive and would take more research and development before they can compete with today’s conventional sources on a per dollar basis.
More importantly, changing the supply of our energy to more sustainable sources does not do much if energy consumption continues to grow at the rate it has been in recent times. Therefore, it is important that energy efficiency be factored in any solution we choose to implement for our energy needs.
Energy Efficiency in Singapore
Energy efficiency is the concept of achieving the same level of performance or outcome at a lower energy cost. This can be done through using more efficient technologies, smarter implementation of existing technologies or simply better practices.
In this area, the Singapore government has implemented several noteworthy initiatives. These include energy ratings for electrical appliances such as refrigerators and air-conditioners, and the Green Mark Scheme for green buildings.
They have also set up a multi-agency committee, Energy Efficiency Programme Office (E2PO), to spearhead the adoption of energy efficiency initiatives in Singapore. The E2PO website has a wealth of information on how we can adopt more energy efficient practices in our workplaces and homes.
There are programmes to co-fund energy audits for companies who are interested in reducing their energy bills but are put off by the cost of hiring an Energy Services Company (ESCO) to do the audit. In addition, there are funding for the installation of energy efficient equipment or technologies, and a pilot financing programme for building owners to carry out energy efficiency retrofits of existing buildings.
Despite these initiatives, there are areas where more could be done such as having more comprehensive benchmarks and requiring regular data collection to improve transparency and facilitate the identification of inefficient practices, and having penalties for gross energy inefficiencies.
Comprehensive Benchmarks and Regular Data Collection
Benchmarks serve as signposts for building and home owners to gauge where they stand in terms of energy use. In Singapore, the current scheme for green buildings is the Green Mark scheme which is a comprehensive rating scheme that looks at many aspects of a building’s operation including its water and energy efficiency. This is a good attempt to set benchmarks for building owners.
To help building owners further, there should also be more comprehensive information and reports on benchmarks for different types of buildings, such as energy consumption (daily, monthly, and yearly; peak and off-peak), monthly utility bills, average maintenance costs, capital costs, etc.
This would allow building owners to do a quick cost comparison and have a rough idea on where they stand among similar building types, and whether it would be worth engaging an ESCO to do a comprehensive energy audit.
Benchmarking requires consistent data collection and publication on energy use and cost on a regular basis. This would not only aid benchmarking efforts, it would also improve the transparency of the system, and help identify whether energy costs are rising due to inefficient equipment or increased consumption by users. Furthermore, the data collected can be used by researchers to conduct further research into energy efficiency studies.
Penalties for Gross Energy Inefficiencies
While the government has taken a strong stance on corruption, especially in the misuse of public funds, it may be argued that energy inefficient buildings used by public institutions lead to higher utility bills which may also be considered as a misuse of public funds and should be liable to the same penalties. Even though that may be an extreme punishment, there should still be penalties for gross energy inefficiencies, especially those arising from negligence and oversight.
Currently, we are unable to identify wasteful or inefficient energy practices that waste money and resources. While it is in the interest of building owners to reduce their energy bills, some might not do so and simply pass the higher costs on to their tenants or customers. They may not be as incentivized to reduce energy costs as we think. Furthermore, the lack of a system for people to identify these wasteful practices lowers the probability that they would be found out.
Hopefully, with a more comprehensive benchmarking system, regular data collection, and a penalty system for gross inefficiencies, the public, private and people sectors will be able to play a more active role in identifying and reducing wasteful energy practices.