Green buildings have become essential to cities striving to achieve net zero. But what are the challenges that building owners face, how cost-effective are green buildings and what impact could they have on economic growth?

In this episode of the Cities of Tomorrow podcast, Matt Rickard speaks to Karen Ng, Head of Digital Solutioning at ENGIE to find out.

WATCH – you can also watch the recording of the episode here: Cities of Tomorrow with Karen Ng - A conversation around green buildings – in the studio

What are smart buildings and how important are they to a city’s transition to net zero?

Smart buildings cover any buildings that are automated or feature integrated technology. For example, in Singapore, it’s common to see robotic vacuum cleaners or dashboards that show live energy consumption in buildings such as shopping centres. The definition of smart buildings is very broad but it essentially involves the automation of elements of a building to enhance the experience for owners, occupants, or visitors.

The key for smart buildings to become net zero is having sensors or tools that allow people to understand energy consumption. There are many buildings that don’t have proper metering systems in place to report energy consumption which makes it difficult to control.

What challenges do building owners face when making their buildings ‘green’?

Building owners must consider the initial cost of making a building ‘green’. It may not be cheap to make buildings more sustainable but in terms of the entire lifecycle cost, it’s likely to make economic sense and may bring other benefits such as an improved occupant experience and enhanced branding.

Alongside this, operation and maintenance are key components to consider. Having very experienced people who are well skilled maintain a building with strong knowledge of energy efficiency and equipment operation and maintenance is not easy in the facility management industry, and even in developed countries, it’s a challenge for building owners to maintain this cost whilst hiring skilled people.

With the current volatility of utility costs, building owners will face the challenge of optimizing the operational costs of maintaining a building. This also brings the challenge of knowing when to maintain equipment. What is the optimal frequency? How can you continue to find a better way to maintain it through usage, condition, or predictive maintenance?

Find out more about ENGIE’s Smart Facilities Management Project with KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital


Is it always more expensive to make buildings ‘green’ or are there methods of making this more cost effective?

This depends on the type of building and energy efficient measures that are being put in place. The obvious one that can generate the best return on investment would be the replacement of an old chiller in a building, as it’s estimated that 50% of building energy consumption usually comes from heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. The initial cost of doing so may be high but there are many energy companies that could offer to replace the equipment and ensure it’s maintained at a certain efficiency level.

Could you tell us more about Smart O&M? How does it add value to ENGIE and their customers?

Smart O&M (operations and maintenance) is a tool that has been developed by ENGIE’s digital development team in Paris with the objective of better monitoring the operation and maintenance of our assets. It’s now been extended from assets that ENGIE owns to solar plants, district cooling systems and the facility management services we provide to our customers. Through this, building owners can get real time information on how the building is operating in terms of lighting, air conditioning, energy usage, and improve the workflow for reporting and preventive maintenance. All of these will be displayed on dashboards which building owners or facility managers can monitor in real time. The O&M platform itself can integrate with different data sources such as building management systems and IOT devices to provide insights into how the building is operating in terms of temperatures, equipment performance and maintenance.

For ENGIE, Smart O&M has the power to generate energy savings for our clients, better maintenance of equipment and enhance the customer experience.

Find out more about Smart O&M


What is your view on the rapid urbanization of Southeast Asia? What does the future of smart solutions look like?

We do see a lot of development in Southeast Asia, particularly in the Philippines and Malaysia. In the past, smart buildings were only something that developed countries could invest in whereas with the advancements in technology today, there will no doubt be a stronger adoption of smart buildings, due to the reduction in price points for these green solutions.

There are also solution providers that offer different kinds of financing mechanisms and various opportunities for the implementation of digital solutions that we can tap into.


Do you see these solutions playing a role in balancing the economic growth of regions in Southeast Asia with sustainable expansion?

It depends on which types of tools are invested in. Basic tools like monitoring energy consumption help businesses grow sustainably by identifying areas for improvement and once this has been recognized for one building, these learnings can then be replicated elsewhere. With digital solutions that are highly scalable, these solutions are really worth investing in.


What can everyday people who are occupants of these buildings do to support the process of ensuring buildings can be ‘green’ to help achieve net zero?

It’s the simple things such as turning off the lights, air conditioning, and the radiators upon leaving a room. These may be simple things, but they are essential to saving energy. Whilst there are huge opportunities for investment in digital tools that make these automated, small habits go a very long way.

Users are not always aware of how their actions can help to reduce energy consumption. For example, a study showed how the majority of people leave their laptop connected to the power plug, but this actually consumes more energy at the end of the day. So, with better education, more people will understand how they can contribute to a building’s energy efficiency.


Do you have any final comments to add?

People always ask which digital solutions can reduce energy consumption and whilst there are things that can automatically control elements without people in the building, some of the solutions come down to better operation, maintenance of equipment or even replacing equipment with more efficient alternatives. When it comes to digital solutions, it’s important to monitor consumption as a first step to give you a good starting point on how and what to control.

Did you enjoy this podcast? Listen to the previous episode with Anh-Ha De Foucauld here.