A methodical approach to the net-zero city

Trying things out, observing the results, learning from them, adjusting, trying again. A loop of learning and progressions that can be used at all scales, from personal projects to… cities. In this case, Singapore uses such a methodical approach to becoming a net-zero city.

The authorities conduct pilots and demonstration projects and then scale up after recalibrating technology, delivery systems, regulations and business models.”

“Net-zero” tends to include non-existing carbon capture technologies, so it’s often a loaded word. In this example, however, through their Green Plan 2030, Singapore is concentrating on lower emissions, solar power, and innovative shared resources in various districts and neighbourhoods. A portfolio of “national strategies to become more sustainable, with actions taken on the level of buildings and districts forming part of the learning process towards achieving more ambitious sustainability goals.”

As a flagship project, the design of SDE4 combines contemporary tropical architecture with an innovative hybrid cooling system to effectively manage its energy consumption. Its entire energy demands are met by an extensive photovoltaic array on its large overhanging roof. As of January 2020, SDE 4 exceeded its net-zero energy target and is currently net-positive, i.e., supplying more than 500 MWh energy surplus to the campus micro-grid.

One of the most exciting aspects of the use cases mentioned in the article, and perhaps a surprising one considering the “tech” reputation of the city-state, is that alongside buildings like SDE4 above, they are also taking on the “super low-carbon refurbishment” of existing buildings.

The approach for the redevelopment of SDE1 and 3 demonstrates an effective strategy for renewing existing buildings to create low-carbon, high-comfort environments. The project aims to reduce energy demand, while also using power by on-site solar photovoltaics. The adaptive re-use approach conserves the original embodied carbon and minimizes new carbon expenditure, using less than quarter of the carbon of a new-build on the same scale.

Jurong Lake district
One such use case is the Jurong Lake District, planned as “car-light,” where at least 85% of all trips will be made on foot, by bike or using public transport.

Tengah Town development

Surrounded by lush landscaping and a forest corridor, the Tengah Town development creates nature-centric neighbourhoods in a holistic manner. Tengah residents can connect with nature and enjoy its intrinsic benefits, but also enjoy convenient modes of transport within and around the town.

This development mixes shared and building-scale ideas with a centralised cooling system, “which is more energy-efficient than installing individual air conditioning units, ” and rooftop solar.

Sensors are installed in each home, allowing residents to have a breakdown of their energy consumption and make informed choices. All these features could translate to estimated energy savings of up to 30% for residents.

Punggol Digital District
The last example is the most “smart-city-like” initiative.

The ODP [(Open Digital Platform)] is capable of pulling together and overlaying data from various sources, which enables control systems to “talk” to each other through an interoperable platform. The platform not only acts as an exchange for the district systems but can also simulate different operational scenarios through a digital twin.

Some of these projects are more technocentric than most of the projects we tend to associate with Fab Cities, but have the advantages of being run by the city, not by corporations, and are planned with the learning loop mentioned above, which hopefully will result in evolving ideas and solutions.

Image: The Tengah Town development in Singapore is surrounded by lush landscaping and a forest corridor, creating nature-centric neighbourhoods. (Singapore Housing & Development Board.)