SGInnovate and TechNode Global presented a panel: Sustainable Development in Asia Pacific – Innovating for Energy Efficiency last Wednesday (Sept 15).

The panel discussion hopes to take a closer look at the role of innovative energy efficiency solutions in achieving carbon reduction goals. It also hopes to dive deeper to understand the current market trends, opportunities, barriers to deployment, and what can be done to drive adoption and meet various sustainable development goals.

About our panelists

The panel was moderated by Hui Ying Yap, Senior Manager – Venture Investing of SGInnovate. SGInnovate is a Singapore government-backed Deep Tech investor and company builder that helps entrepreneurial scientists and tech startups that are looking to innovate in areas such as health care, quantum tech, and autonomous technology across various industries.

Myriam Akhoun is a Director of ENGIE Impact’s Sustainability Solutions team in APAC with 10 years of experience in the renewable energy industry and worked both in the West (France) and in Asia (Southeast Asia, India).

Stanley Ng is the Program Director for New Energy Nexus in Southeast Asia, working on building vibrant energy & climate startup ecosystems in Asia. He works with universities, companies, and governments to support clean technologies to enable the transition to a clean energy economy.

Saikrishnan Raganathan is the Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of SensorFlow, a Singapore-based startup that offers hoteliers a smart solution to reduce their energy consumption, optimize their operational efficiency and achieve their sustainability goals.

Below are some of the topics discussed during the panel:

Main Topics

Energy efficiency has always been identified as one of the enabling tools that can support energy transition efforts towards decarbonizing the industry. It is one of the key pillars of Singapore’s energy story to meet its carbon reduction targets.
Below are some of the topics discussed:

What constitutes energy efficiency and why is that important?

According to Saikrishnan (Sai), there are many components to energy efficiency. “There’s the production side, the demand side. Within the building, there is cooling or heating or any of the other services. For Sensorflow we particularly focus on the demand side. What we do is use data to understand the environment we are in and automate or reduce the demand without ‘human touch’,” he shared.

“By looking at a building and its operations, occupancy rate, humidity temperature, we can understand what the real-time demand of the building is and then adjust parameters like the Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) consumption or even turning off certain services within the building to save energy. We’ve been targeting hotels mostly because we saw a big opportunity there with the amount of variation that happens within a day,” he said.

He said his company is able to detect situations where people have left their hotel rooms and then automate the systems like the fan coil units or the chillers to reduce that consumption to reduce wasting energy, he explained.

Myriam opined that energy efficiency is usually the first lever that one would use when companies decarbonize as it has both a carbon impact and a cost impact by implementing those measures. Companies would also make economical cost-efficient investments and save potentially energy costs.

“According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 40 percent of carbon abatement by 2040 could come from energy efficiency measures so we see that as a very important lever to activate and to work on as the first step but indeed this has to be embedded in a wider decarbonization plan that also looks at the energy supply side and at potentially other types of measures,” she shared.

Ng said that when New Energy Nexus supports startups, it usually asks about the target audience and who are the customers. The target audience will be divided into three groups: residential, commercial buildings, and industrial sectors.

“We usually bucket these into the smallest group the residential–your home. Maybe you have a couple of hundred dollars as your energy bill. So solutions would be things that are completely scalable. How do you target a thousand homes? How do you work with utilities to then target their customers and enable mass adoption of energy efficiency?” he said.

“Second, it’s the commercial buildings that you see in the central business district, the malls. How do you reduce HVAC usage? For Southeast Asia, that’s a big focus. Then you have your industrial [sector] wherein Singapore there’s only like a couple hundred but in other countries, they have very different manufacturing processes such as food manufacturers that require cold chain. How do you help them to be more efficient with their energy usage?” he said.

He noted that the industrial segment has always been overlooked because in any ecosystem or country the sector uses up to 30 percent of the entire uh country’s energy production.

“For these few companies, when we target those we can get a lot of bang for the buck when we do energy efficiency. There’s also transportation and then shipping which obviously we’re trying to electrify and efficiency is tied to that,” he said.

40 percent of carbon abatement potentially could come from energy efficiency measures. In your course of work, what kind of reductions are we seeing in the market today?

Myriam said based on observations, even on-site where clients think that they have already implemented some of the measures, but once a proper audit is conducted to identify what can be done, there could still be up to 10 to 30 percent savings.

“This is across multiple types of sectors, the manufacturing sector is one of them. The data center is another and the campus we really see very strong potential,” she shared.

She said that it is interesting to see how one looks at the savings versus the investment needed.

“It comes with some cost at the beginning but then the savings is on the lifetime of the project which will have a long-term impact and it’s something that that you can also stagger in the way you implement it. What we do for our clients is to help them decide what to start with so what are the low-hanging fruits and then move maybe to the more transformative solutions that are maybe more expensive, with longer payback but still bring some savings and so,” she explained.

“It’s both about doing an exhaustive identification of those measures but also planning them in an economic and optimized fashion,” she added.

Sai, who works with hotels on smart energy measures, shared that with COVID-19 pandemic has a huge impact on hotels’ occupancy rates. Typically, during pre-COVID times, most of the hotels see occupancy rates anywhere between 70 to 90 percent.

“When you start seeing single-digit occupancy rates in certain places and in certain cases, the hotels had to close down, we saw two new things emerged: The first was how to maintain a hotel while you’re going through a low occupancy period,” he noted.

If a hotel room is not consistently used, there will be issues like humidity building up which can cause mold formation. There could also be Legionella (bacteria) in the water and dust collection. When you recommission the room, you start to see a whole lot of problems on the maintenance side,” he said.

He pointed out that a lot of the HVAC systems were designed for high usage.

“So when you go into low occupancy modes you actually don’t see the energy consumption come down in correlation. You might be having only 30 percent occupancy that week but energy costs are the same as 60 percent occupancy and so the hotels got really alarmed because they weren’t sure what was going on,” he said, adding that how hotels allocate rooms to guests play a big part in the hotels’ energy consumption.

“We actually use data to allocate rooms better. We take that data and we actually tell them which particular rooms they should allocate guests to so that they can minimize the energy consumption for that [level of] occupancy rate,” he shared.

What are the barriers to the deployment or adoption of energy efficiency technology? How to address some of these challenges how can we get more people to be more aware adopt more energy-efficient solutions?

Ng pointed that policy, financing-related issues are some of the barriers to the deployment or adoption of energy efficiency technology.

“We see ourselves as an ecosystem builder and our job is to enable all these companies to be successful. That means helping to tackle some policy barriers, financing barriers, and figuring out business models for younger companies and also the technology. All four of those things we’re actively thinking of different ways where we engage other organizations that maybe specialize on that, to figure out how we can take advantage and further move the market forward in terms of energy efficiency technology adoption,” he shared.

“As an example, in the Philippines, we’re planning an accelerator [program] for energy efficiency service and technology companies and taking advantage of the fact that they last year or a couple of years ago passed this energy efficiency law that mandates like different companies of a certain size to have an energy auditor annually and then the larger companies having an energy manager which really drives can drive the market forward. We are also working on whether these companies and solutions can get proper financing and also for these companies to be able to do bigger and do more projects,” he said.

Myriam said according to a survey conducted last year, 60 percent of companies in the region still do not have decarbonization targets in place or do not know how to achieve decarbonization targets.

“The capability gap or expensive gap is the first challenge. The second one is the scale. The third one that we usually observe is the financing of those solutions,” she noted. “Decarbonization solution, whether it’s energy efficiency or new energy or other types of solutions comes with a cost. Some companies might not have necessarily a budget for that.”

Sai pointed out that a good thing about going sustainable is that it can be “very profitable” as a business.

“You’ll just need to work on how you structure that, how you can add it to like hardware leasing or do it like an installment plan across a certain period. The key thing here is proving that return on investment (ROI) very quickly which means you’re able to show the value from the product,” he said.

“I’m hoping that we get more and more financiers focused on partnering with companies like us where you know they can also get a piece of that profits but also they’re doing the right thing like – putting money behind ESG initiatives which actually go a long way not only for their funds but also what they’re trying to achieve as an organization,” he shared. “This part of the puzzle is still relatively new at least in Asia, I know that in certain parts of Europe and the US, we do see a lot more maturity and how this is being approached,” he said, adding that in Asia there’s actually a big opportunity in Asia as a lot of the buildings are inefficient.

“We can improve that and so partnering with the right set of financial advice and structured financing can really help. We’ve seen a couple of productivity grants from the government of Singapore that can be tapped on but when you look beyond Singapore like in general, Southeast Asia, it’s not as prevalent. We are in those scenarios we either do the financing ourselves but we work with a third-party financier who provides us this kind of capital and then we pay them back with interests,” he shared.

Q&A: What has been the most ground-breaking innovation for energy efficiency that you have seen in the market today?

Interestingly, Myriam said a lot of the energy efficiency measures one can start implementing are not necessarily rocket science.

“It’s changing your lighting, it’s improving the efficiency of your cooling system through digitalization or through sensors. The technology in itself is not it’s not that complicated. But it’s really about like knowing how, which one to select and how much savings it will bring and how do you finance it rather than the technologies itself,” she noted.

“We have seen some innovation in the data center space around the cooling technologies for centers because cooling is very important in this kind of assets to maintain the servers at a certain temperature and in a tropical climate. Maintaining that temperature is obviously much more difficult than in other countries and therefore there are a lot of innovations around liquid cooling solutions in a tropical environment that is being explored by the data center sector together with the National University of Singapore to really develop innovation to help be more efficient,” she shared.

Ng said there has been a number of interesting companies coming out after New Nexus Energy created a new joint venture last year with The Rocky Mountain Institute and two of the main focuses are industrial energy efficiency and also related to buildings.

“For example, Rebound Technologies developed the freezing point suppression system to enable food processors and cold storage processors to be more efficient. This is one of those deep tech technologies that enable a huge range of industrial players to be a lot more efficient,” he added.

Featured image credit: Unsplash

Innovation Partnerships: China & Singapore [Event highlights]