Global Surge in Green Energy Investment

Reports released in July by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), have revealed that global investment in the green energy sector has witnessed a significant boost. However, this information has been somewhat marred following the release of a Bloomberg report indicating that the fossil fuel industry enjoys a far greater share of government subsidies in comparison with the renewable energy sectors.

The twin reports from the UN and the REN21 conclude that in 2009, renewables accounted for 60% of newly installed energy resources in Europe, with the figure for the USA sitting at 50%. In addition, new private and public sector investments in new renewables and biofuels rose by 53% in China last year, with the country adding 37 GW of renewable power capacity.

This dramatic increase in China’s renewable energy capacity coincides with the news that they have overtaken the US in terms of energy consumption. Over the past decade, China’s use of coal, oil, wind and other power sources have more than doubled.

This trend bucking also featured in the UN and REN21 reports, with suggestions that total investment in renewables increased in 2009. Although investment in new renewables, biofuel and energy efficiency decreased by 7%, there was record investment in wind power. In the USA, the American wind power industry added 39% greater capacity, with almost 2% of the country’s electricity being derived from wind turbines.

Although the global investment figures appear to have risen in terms of the increased renewable energy capacities of many countries, a report compiled by analysts Bloomberg provides a damning overview of government commitments to the development of the renewable energy sector.

The report concluded that in 2009 governments provided $43 and $46 billion worth of global subsidies to the renewable energy and biofuel industries. This was dwarfed by the $557 billion allocated to the fossil fuel industry the previous year.

It is believed that the lack of funding for renewables from investors is due to a visible lack of direct government funding. However, it seems that more subsidy schemes are appearing in various countries with the aim of providing the support needed for the continued development of green energy alternatives.

In the UK and in Germany for instance, a feed-in tariff offers financial incentives for those willing to employ small wind turbines as a means of powering their house or small business. Such subsidiary schemes are a significant factor if the G20 countries are to fulfill their pledge to phase out fossil fuel subsidies.

Green Energy Versus Nuclear Power

With the main UK political parties wanting to create thousands of new green jobs over the next ten years it will be interesting to see how we aim to become a market leader in green technology which is where China are currently the world leader. India is aiming to be a solar country within 10 years as it deals with decreasing fossil fuels and population growth that is gulping petrol and oil at an unprecedented rate.

The effects of climate change seem to be taking second place against cold hard cash and the lack of it as a result of the global recession. Global concerns on security are leading to countries wanting to become less dependent on others for energy which is essential for economies to grow and prosper. There is also the threat that countries considered rouge by the West are developing nuclear power for other purposes than for power.

Once a country develops nuclear power it is less dependent on others and nuclear is definitely needed in countries which are not blessed with the sun for solar power. On the flip side there is the never ending question of what to do with nuclear waste and this has not been resolved to date with all the modern technology that we have at our disposal.

The Conservative Party and Lib Dems have recently been voted in in the UK and they want to spend two hundred billion pounds investing in nuclear and renewable energy in the UK while cutting carbon emissions. These are honourable intentions but I am not sure where the money will come from as we deal with the biggest budget deficit since World War 2. Any increased target of increasing the amount of energy produced from renewable energy is the way forward as it reduces the pollution and environmental damage from fossil fuels.

News announced in May 2010 are that a proposed 40 million solar power development is being discussed in Cornwall which would triple the UKs solar capacity. This money is being raised from private investors which is great to see. Only when solar becomes profitable will we see the wide scale use but these schemes should be subsidised by the tax payer when it makes sense to do so. The use of energy created by sea waves are also expanding in the UK which is logical considering we are an island and more money should be invested in research and development. In parts of the country where there is little wildlife or threat of ecological damage then these are the areas where renewable energy should be concentrated as jobs will be created as a result also.

On a more smaller scale homeowners with surplus solar power are being encouraged to feed this back into the national grid for which they will be paid for.

As a summary it appears that nuclear energy has not been promoted as much as in recent times which is likely to be due to the recession and reduction in energy needs. As the demand for energy increases in the developed world as we come out of recession then I’m sure this article will be very different in the future.

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