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Sustainable residential design: Is it worth the money?

Blog post   •   May 22, 2015 08:00 +08

The Green Building Market Report South East Asia 2014 compared the expectations of builders, developers and architects in 2008 with the realities of their green building projects in 2014. The report concluded that while green building was considered the right thing to do in 2008, it was viewed as a business opportunity in 2014.

Moreover, builders in Southeast Asia discovered that green building costs were lower than anticipated and more than 50 per cent of respondents saw reductions in operating costs of 10 per cent or more.

Japan and Singapore were two of the first Asian countries to actively adopt sustainable building practices, but as green building technologies evolved, Malaysia, Indonesia and other countries soon followed.

For example, Malaysia's Sustainable Energy Development Authority (SEDA) sets Feed-in Tariffs (FiT) for solar photovoltaic systems and other renewable power sources. The FiT system then allows qualifying Feed-in Approval (FiA) holders the opportunity to sell their unused renewable energy.

The payback period for solar photovoltaic installations

According to a University of Nebraska-Lincoln study, the cost of installing a solar photovoltaic system in the United States went down from US$9.70 per watt in 2000 to US$4 to US$5 per watt in 2012. The drop in cost per watt is attributable to the lower cost and higher efficiency of today's solar panels and related technologies. Lower installation costs, combined with government incentives, have greatly reduced the time it takes for a solar photovoltaic energy system to pay for itself.

The Water and Energy Consumer Association of Malaysia (WECAM) calculated the payback period for solar panel installations in 2013. The installation cost of a 4 kilowatt (kW) system was between RM8000 and RM10,000. Using the higher cost as a guide, WECAM calculated that the payback or ROI (return on investment) period in Malaysia would be 6.08 years. WECAM reports, "Proven track record, accountability and reliability are very important indicators to ensure the quality and durability of the PV system installation." Better quality solar panels, such as Panasonic's HIT solar panels, are a sound investment and will continue to save users money well past the payback period.

Water heating and air conditioning

The US Department of Energy estimates that a solar hot water system can save 50 to 80 per cent of energy costs, compared to a gas or electric storage system. The actual savings depends on several factors, including the system's performance, geographical location and the cost of energy. Equatorial regions were not mentioned in the report, but a study by the Solar Energy Research Institute at Universiti Kebangsaan found that water heating accounts for 30 per cent of energy consumption in Malaysian hospitals and goes on to recommend replacing energy-intensive hot water systems with solar hot water heaters.

In Southeast Asian homes, air conditioning accounts for a large part of energy usage. According to a University of Pennsylvania study, an investment in a more energy-efficient air conditioner can significantly reduce energy consumption. Although an energy-efficient air conditioning system costs more, the payback period for an initial extra investment of US$500 is just 2.3 years.

When sustainable building design was in its infancy, early adopters embraced green ideas because they felt it was the environmentally correct thing to do. As the importance of green technology became more apparent, government bodies encouraged the use of renewable energy sources and manufacturers continued to improve their products.Today, we have statistics that prove sustainable residential design is worth the extra initial cost.

Whether it is a modest expenditure in energy-efficient appliances or a more expensive investment in a solar photovoltaic system or an entire Home Energy Management System (HEMS), sustainable design is ultimately a money saving investment.

[Image Source: Flickr]