Saving Energy Is By Design | VIR

09:03 | 05/06/2013

Yannick  Millet, executive director of the Vietnam Green Building Council (VGBC), analyses the relationship between Vietnam’s precarious energy situation and its push for greater development

The current situation of energy consumption in Vietnam is not good.

Over the past decade, the country’s total energy consumption has risen by 400 per cent due to an increase in population, urbanisation and economic growth. The national energy deficit is forecast to be approximately 10 per cent by 2015 and 70 per cent by 2025. To date, buildings and their construction demand an alarming 38 per cent of total energy in Vietnam.

It is troubling to observe the current trend of modern buildings in Vietnam as they are predominantly high-rise with large, glazed surfaces. While it is desirable to have natural ventilation and light, in tropical conditions this architecture style is not efficient and can increase the demand for cooling and thus operational cost. There are many ways to rectify this situation however, and make buildings greener and more energy efficient.

Retrofitting existing building stock can bring substantial improvement. The first step in retrofitting is to conduct an energy audit to determine a building’s efficiency. From this, recommendations can be made as to equipment upgrade and replacement and new management strategies. Finally a plan should be developed to successfully implement the recommended changes and a monitoring strategy employed in order to ensure benefits in the long term.

However, it is more beneficial if new buildings follow green design principles from the start. Currently, this is happening in a too-small percentage of buildings in Vietnam. To date, there are only nine LOTUS projects and a handful of LEED and Green Mark buildings which have been certified as “green”.

A new design paradigm is necessary to overcome this critical mindset. Designers should rediscover basic principles of traditional Vietnam architecture, which optimise the use of natural ventilation and lighting, thus creating a healthy environment for occupants whilst being less dependent on electricity.

In order for buildings in Vietnam to be more efficient, detailed investigations are required to clearly assess the total saving potential of this sector. Unfortunately, energy consumption benchmarks have yet to be defined in Vietnam. Moreover the lack of enforcement of the energy efficiency building code has led to a complete lack of understanding and implementation of energy efficient strategies for buildings across Vietnam.

Another obstacle facing green building development in Vietnam is the lack of local budgets allocated for design, compared to international standards. This represents another mindset change that developers will have to achieve in order to design and build greener building.

There is a misperception that green buildings are more costly, although there are many successful examples demonstrating that green buildings can be built with no extra cost. In order to achieve this, good design is of the essence. The earlier the green design strategy is set, the more cost effective the building will be.

Amidst the obstacles, there are many opportunities for green energy efficient buildings in Vietnam. From a regulatory perspective, the Ministry of Construction is due to release an update of the Energy Efficiency Building Code. Hopefully this time regulations will be carefully enforced to ensure successful implementation. This regulation will set performance requirements for parameters like: facade windows to wall ratio, thermal performance of building materials and energy efficiency of equipment.

In anticipation of this strengthened legislation and the yearly increase of energy costs, now is the right time for developers to consider investing in this niche green market. In order to be successful in entering the green market there are several pieces of advice that should be followed. The commissioning stage is very often neglected or even omitted in Vietnam. This step is crucial as it is the only way to ensure that all equipment operating parameters are optimised and will perform according to design specifications. Skipping this stage is not recommended as it can lead to increased building operation costs. Moreover, building operations have to be carefully handled and monitored. Proper preventive maintenance programmes are also crucial to ensure that building designed capacity is continuously optimised and energy consumption is minimised.

As the cost to operate a typical commercial building throughout its life is 80 per cent of its total investment, it is recommended that investors carefully implement these steps in order to optimise their benefits in the long run. Additional recommendations to policy makers, investors and construction contractors include capacity building and awareness of green building benefits, strengthening regulatory framework, and certifying buildings according to the Vietnam Green Building Council’s LOTUS Green Building rating tools. LOTUS certified buildings lower operating costs, have higher return on investment, greater tenant attraction, enhanced marketability and improved occupant productivity.

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