Moving towards sustainable cities

May 17, 2010 |

(The Edge, Monday, 17 May 2010 – Technology – Page, 2 )

Malaysia is an urban nation – 70% of us are city dwellers and our urban homes, offices, public buildings, shops and streets account for the lion’s share of the nation’s energy consumption.

According to data from the UN, Malaysians emitted 7.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide per capita in 2006 – an alarming figure that caught the attention of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak,who at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference held late last year announced that Malaysia will pledge to reduce its carbon emissions by 40% by 2020.

The globalisation of cities is fast becoming an increasingly important aspect of the socio-economic development of our country.

Beyond being engines of national productivity and a factor to boost tourism, cities are also the magnets for sending rural residents up the value chain. As a result, sustainability practices in the cities are becoming key factors that contribute to curbing carbon emissions.

Cities need to be more aware of the impact their consumption patterns make on global warming and carbon emissions. The real cost of energy Our energy needs are rising as are energy costs worldwide.This raises the possibility of increasing our dependence on fuel imports and the certainty that we will need greater investment in power plants and infrastructure if we are to continue to fuel economic growth.

At the same time,we cannot ignore the implications of climate change. In global terms, Malaysia is a coastal nation. Almost all of us (98%) live within 100km of the sea compared to 39% worldwide. Weather instability and rising sea levels thus pose an enormous risk to our homes and our economy.

As part of global efforts to combat climate change and overcome dwindling energy supplies, we will certainly need to find renewable energy sources. But these will take time to become commercially viable.

The good news is that we already have sufficient knowledge and technology today to make a real difference. How? By making our cities more sustainable.

The key is energy efficiency.And the area with the greatest potential for immediate and ongoing operational savings is lighting. Huge savings from small actions Lighting accounts for 19% of electricity consumption in Malaysia.

If every household replaced three 60W incandescent lamps with equivalent 11W compact fluorescent lamp (CFLs), this would slash Malaysia’s overall electricity consumption by 80% and achieve almost RM400 million in savings per year.

What is more, these new CFLs would provide an extra 8,000 hours of light, which is the equivalent of normal daily use for four years, compared to just 1,000 hours by the old incandescent bulbs.

So the energy savings would positively impact individual household budgets for many years. At the same time, we would also be reducing Malaysia’s energy bill and need for new power stations, and our nation’s overall CO2 emissions.

In large buildings – offices, hospitals and schools – the potential is even greater since we can go further by adding daylight and presence controls to our energy-efficient lighting systems.

These controls automatically switch off or dim lights when they are not required, helping achieve savings in excess of 60%.These savings really add up at city level,where lighting generally accounts for around 50% of total energy.

Adopting efficient technologies to light streets and high-profile city landmarks could save up to 80% of current energy use, in addition to a possible 60% savings on interior lighting in public buildings.

Small steps forward It is assuring to know that Malaysia is striving to make a difference in reducing carbon emissions, especially with the recently launched GTower – Malaysia’s first and only corporate office designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions with its environmentally friendly structure.

Specifically designed to maximise energy and water efficiency and because of its multimedia Super Corridor-compliant building and connectivity specifications, the GTower is rated Grade A++ by Singapore’s Building & Construction Authority (BCA) Green Mark Gold certification (provisional). The GTower is expected to be up to 25% more energy-efficient than similar structures.

With green buildings becoming a benchmark in property development, the Malaysian Institute of Architects and the Association of Consulting Engineers Malaysia jointly developed the Green Building Index (GBI) in April 2009, a recognised green rating tool for buildings to promote sustainability.

The GBI rating tool allows developers to design and construct green, sustainable buildings that follow six core criteria: energy efficiency, indoor environment quality, sustainable site planning and management, materials and resources, water efficiency, and innovation.

In the urban jungle, the concept of “green cities” is becoming a familiar strategy as the government look towards implementing sustainable and environmentally friendly urbanisation.

Cyberjaya, Putrajaya and i-City are examples that reflect the government’s commitment to sustainable practices of renewable energy and green technology.

Take Cyberjaya. Besides making it a haven for the country’s ICT development, landowner Cyberview Sdn Bhd has drawn up a green roadmap to reduce the carbon footprint of the city, in line with Budget 2010 as well as the prime minister’s call.

Cyberjaya has implemented several initiatives that will culminate in the city becoming a showcase township for green technology, along with its neighbour Putrajaya.

With the development of these cities underway, city beautification efforts are another factor that contribute to carbon emission. Cities like Putrajaya and i-City are planning systems that will light up the whole city via strategies such as the Putrajaya Lighting Master Plan and i-City’s latest lighting infrastructure of millions of LED lights.

Brightening up city life It is evident that sustainable cities are at the top of our minds for the present and future. What we need now is for our local governments to offices and industry, 75% of lighting systems are based on 1940s technology; only 1% use lighting controls. In city lighting, the situation is no better because the current rate of renovation in offices is only about 6% to 7% per year.

The government can help reduce this by encouraging organisations to save energy through retrofitting and renovation. In Europe and Asia, many countries have created successful financing solutions for business and consumer lighting programmes through the partnership of government, financial institutions and energy technology providers.

Replicating this in Malaysia would be a good step towards promoting energy-efficient technology here, especially given the government’s plan to make green technology a driver of economic growth.

Leadership and vision in lighting required Malaysia’s National Green Technology Policy is an exciting refocusing of efforts. Well funded
and ambitious, it should strengthen the development and use of sustainable technologies here.

However, without a specific focus on lighting,we are missing an opportunity to make immediate, substantial and relatively easy progress towards our environmental, economic and social goals.

The setting-up of a task force solely for lighting, under the purview of the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water, would promote the policy’s energy pillar.

This task force could work as adviser for the lighting part of the newly set up voluntary Green Building Index for Malaysia. It could also help establish green labelling for lighting products to enhance the quality of products available to consumers and raise consumer awareness of ecofriendly lighting options.

It is now clear that efficient lighting is no longer an option but a necessity in Malaysia, both for environmental and economic reasons. At
the same time, efficient lighting will improve life in the sustainable city.

The right lighting beautifies the urban landscape and enhances safety on our roads and footpaths, making our cities better places to visit and to live.

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