DIY Green Energy – The Underlying Philosophy

 When we look at green energy technology it’s clear that two or more philosophies are at work here. There are major, often publicly-funded projects, such as offshore wind farms that use collections of turbines over 300 feet high and designed to provide enough green energy to run several small towns. Or there are hydro-electric and wave-power schemes that may cost hundreds of millions of dollars and take decades to come to fruition.

The philosophy here is often related to political expediency as governments use their ostensibly green credentials to win votes and remain in power. This might be somewhat cynical but often we find that such large schemes are badly thought through and often have running and maintenance costs far in excess of original expectations.

The small scale approach

Then there is the small scale approach in which green energy generation is designed for either small groups of houses, or perhaps a small industrial unit or even individual homes. The market for green energy generating equipment is now growing at a very high rate despite the poor economies in much of the developed world. However, purpose-built green energy equipment, such as solar panel heating arrays, solar pv arrays and wind turbines are still expensive for the average householder.

So for anyone wanting to cut their energy costs and reduce their carbon footprint but is not in a position to invest the large sums that commercially produced equipment demand, the Do It Yourself route is the only one available to us.

The DIY Green Energy approach

Now some people consider the DIY movement, if we can call it a movement, to be a penny-pinching way of doing things that has meant the death-knell of the professional tradesman. Others would see it as a nursery ground for ingenuity and recycling.

Doing things for yourself can be a very rewarding experience. To be able to understand a problem, think it through, and then experimentally and incrementally arrive at a practical solution is not only very satisfying but it is very instructive too. 

DIY Green Energy Guides

If you want to venture into the world of DIY green energy generation then there is plenty of help out there. The guides that now proliferate on the internet provide a wealth of information, not only on how and where to source the parts you’ll need at the lowest possible prices but also on construction methods and, crucially, the theory too.

You will find as you embark on your solar panel or wind turbine projects that understanding the theory of how and why the systems work is very helpful if you want to deviate from the explicit instructions in the guides. 

The philosophy of DIY matches up with that of green energy generation perfectly. They both represent an approach to self-sufficiency that seems to have been declining ever since the second world war. However, it may be that a resurgence of the indomitable spirit of the do it yourselfer is in the offing. Large-scale schemes may be the province of governments but for individuals the do it yourself approach to green energy generation is the perfect solution to cutting your costs and reducing your carbon footprint at the same time. 

How Does Green Deal Finance Work?

Via the Green Deal scheme run by the UK government, you can make your home more energy-efficient without paying a lot of money. Unlike other systems, it does not offer grants, but finance in the form of a loan. Still, this does not mean that it is financially burdening in any way. Find out more about Green Deal finance so that you can use it with confidence.

Scheme Basics

The scheme is designed to help you make home improvements which will contribute to energy efficiency. The list of eligible improvements includes wall and loft insulation, double-glazed windows, draught-proofing, underfloor heating, heating controls, boiler replacement and even solar panels. Other types of improvements may qualify as well. In order to make these improvements, you will receive a loan which is repaid under special terms and conditions.

Finance Eligibility and Amount

Any person owning or renting a property in England, Wales and Scotland can apply for Green Deal finance and qualify. There is no income assessment. You can qualify irrespective of the income which you earn. The finance is available from registered providers and lending criteria apply. The lender will take into account your credit score and history when determining your eligibility and the interest rate to be charged. Still, the requirements are lower so around 8 of every 10 applicants qualify.

The loan amount is based on the amount of money which you are expected to save on your energy bills. This will enable you to finance the most energy-efficient improvements which can be made. In general, you are free to make a personal financial contribution of any size. Similarly, you may use grants available from other schemes to pay for the improvements.

Repayment Term and Structure

Each Green Deal finance package has payments which are lower than or equal to the savings on your energy bills which you will generate as a result of the planned home improvements. In this way, you will incur no additional costs whatsoever. You will keep on paying the same bill or a slightly lower one. Once the loan is paid off, you will start generating major savings from the energy-efficient improvements.

The repayment term is typically between 10 and 25 years. You can select it in line with your financial plans. A longer term will result in smaller payments while a shorter one will help you to save on interest.

Finally, you should know that the Green Deal finance payments are automatically deducted from your energy bill. The loan stays with the property and does not go with you if you move to another house.

BCA Green Mark Scheme: What It Is All About? (Abridged Version)

The BCA Green Mark Scheme was launched by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) in January 2005. Supported also by the National Environment Agency, it aims to make Singapore’s built-up environment eco-friendly by awarding four different levels of rating: Green Mark certified, Gold, GoldPLUS, Platinum (previously Silver, Gold, Platinum and Platinum Star) to buildings that meet five key criteria:

  • Energy Efficiency
  • Water Efficiency
  • Site/Project Development & Management (Building Management & Operation for existing buildings)
  • Good Indoor Environmental Quality & Environmental Protection
  • Innovation

The rating given depends on the points garnered under the assessment. Awarded buildings are re-assessed every three years to retain their status. Into its seventh year now, this scheme has evolved to include parks, office interiors and other infrastructure. Currently, it is divided into four categories of infrastructure.

The government’s commitment to promote sustainable development was demonstrated in the master-plan BCA came up with in the second year of the inception of the Green Mark scheme. Named the “1st Green Building Masterplan”, the project introduced several new initiatives to further boost Singapore’s pursuit of a greener living environment. Among which include courses and certification for green building specialists and the imposition of minimum environmental standards – equivalent to the Green Mark Certified level – for all new public sector buildings and buildings undergoing major retrofitting works. Others include a S$20 million Green Mark Incentive Scheme for new buildings and a S$50 million R&D Research Fund to develop green technology. This research move brought forth the first retrofitted Zero-Energy Building in Singapore and Southeast Asia – a flagship BCA’s project. Retrofitting the building – located in the grounds of the BCA academy – is a joint effort by BCA and NUS, in which a three-storey school building was fully equipped with green technology. The building was opened in October 2009.

This master-plan was followed by the “2nd Green Building Masterplan” in 2009. The key objective of the second road-map is to have at least 80% of the buildings in Singapore achieve the Green Mark Certified level by 2030. The plan comprises six strategic thrusts, key initiatives include making it mandatory for all new public sector buildings to attain the Green Mark Platinum status and launching a Green Mark Gross Floor Area (GM GFA) Incentive Scheme, which awards to private developers that earn the Platinum or GoldPLUS accolade, an additional GFA of up to 1% or 2%, respectively, above the Master Plan Gross Plot Ratio (GPR). For developers, a higher GFA means they can build more houses or buildings on the site.

Gross Floor Area (GFA) = Gross Plot Ratio (GPR) x Site Area

Before the GM GFA, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has been introducing various bonus Gross Floor Area incentive schemes to encourage high rise greenery, public artwork promotion, among others. Fearful of excess bulk on a site, in 2009, URA imposed a 10% cap on the additional GFA allowable beyond GPR. Now all development sites cannot have more than 10% additional GFA above the GPR, regardless of the number of bonus GFA incentive schemes they are eligible for.

Perhaps the promotion of the Green Mark scheme abroad has taken off because according to BCA, as of November 2011,”133 overseas projects have been certified, or are seeking Green Mark certification” (“Green Buildings Make Value Propositions”).

Apart from the above incentive schemes to provide financial aid and other incentives to building owners, another two schemes in place are the S$5 million Green Mark Incentive Scheme – Design Prototype (GMIS-DP) and Pilot Building Retrofit Energy Efficiency Financing (BREEF) Scheme. The former provides funding support for developers at the design stage; while the latter provides credit facilities for retrofitting.

To further spur developers to adopt sustainable and energy-efficient development, BCA came up with the Green Mark Champion Awards in 2008 to recognise developers who have demonstrated corporate social responsibility. Under this award, developers that have a number of buildings with Green Mark Gold and above rating are eligible for the Green Mark Champion or Green Mark Platinum.

Thus far, the Green Mark Scheme has proven largely successful judging by the jump in number of buildings certified with a rating. In 2005 and 2006, only 17 buildings were qualified for the award. But this figure skyrocketed to more than 1180 as of May 2012.

So why the motivation by developers to obtain the ratings? Besides the incentives of additional GFA under the Green Mark Gross Floor Area (GM GFA) Incentive Scheme, having a Green Mark reputation can enhance the firm’s competitive edge in overseas ventures. The saving in energy costs will also translate to higher property and rental values.

“A Green Mark Platinum building, for instance, can achieve more than 30% energy-savings compared to a code-compliant building” (“2nd Green Building Masterplan”).

In addition, a joint study on 23 commercial properties, in 2011, by BCA and NUS with six top real estate consultancy firms, revealed that retrofitting commercial buildings with green technologies can cut operating expenses by 10 per cent, on average. While commercial buildings can enjoy capital appreciation of about 2 per cent.

Specifically, the average total saving in energy consumption for a building after retrofitting to attain the standard BCA Green Mark certification can be as high as 17 per cent of its total energy consumption.

Further, retrofitting may not be costly.

“There is now greater awareness in the industry that the upfront cost of retrofitting energy inefficient buildings can be recovered in about 4 to 7 years,” said Mr Quek See Tiat, Chairman, BCA (“BCA-NUS Study shows that Greening Existing Buildings can Increase Property Value”).

It is also estimated that the retrofit cost, expressed as a percentage of the current market value of property, is only 0.5% for retail and 1% for offices.

BCA’s well thought-out green initiatives have been a huge success in creating a win-win situation for different groups in this tiny red dot. For building owners, they gain from the lower maintenance costs. For developers, including green features are done at low costs and with no impact to GPR (due to the bonus GFA incentive schemes), but these features not only enhance the aesthetic beauty of the buildings, they also translate to reputation boost and higher property values. For the community at large, they get to enjoy healthier living spaces. Singapore is living proof that sustainable, green living is possible within an urban jungle.

References

1. Building and Construction Authority Newsroom, “BCA-NUS Study shows that Greening Existing Buildings can Increase Property Value”, 16 Sep 2011, Web

http://www.bca.gov.sg/Newsroom/pr16092011_BN.html