HDB Green Towns: Supporting Singapore’s Sustainable Development Goals

Posted by Written by Timothy Standen and Ayman Falak Medina Reading Time: 4 minutes

What are Singapore’s Green Towns?

Singapore has implemented a variety of initiatives to drive sustainable development in the city-state. One such initiative, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) Green Towns Program, aims to ensure sustainable living is a key feature across Singapore’s public housing sector, by focusing on new technologies that help reduce energy consumption, recycle rainwater, and cool HDB developed towns.

The HDB Green Town program is a 10-year program, started in 2020 with an overarching goal of reducing annual energy consumption by public estates by 15 percent by 2030.

The Green Towns will not be constructed from scratch. High potential public housing areas will be subjected to a period of retrofitting and potential restructuring to turn the chosen towns into more self-sustainable areas. This includes the installation of solar panels, smart LED lighting, cool coating materials, greenery intensification, and water harvesting systems.

The HDB and public housing in Singapore

Established in 1960, the Housing and Development Board is Singapore’s housing public authority and was tasked with replacing the crowded squatter settlements with affordable and high-quality housing. Within a decade, the HDB had built 54,000 apartments.

Today, some 80 percent of Singapore’s 5.4 million residents live in housing provided by the HDB, by far the dominant housing provider in the country. The apartments are issued by the state on 99-year leaseholds and their value is dependent on the property size, location, and type. The government provides an array of readily available financing from bank loans to HDB loans to funds drawn from the national social security fund.

Singaporeans are prohibited from owning more than two residential units at the same time. In the case of inherited apartments, the inheritor must first dispose of their existing private or public residential property before inheriting the property.

An important feature of HDB towns is their integration with urban infrastructures, such as public transport, healthcare services, schools, and parks.

What are the features of the HDB Green Towns?

Solar panels

HDB announced a solar power generation of 540 megawatt-peak (MWp) by 2030 across its public estates. This target could potentially generate 648-gigawatt hours (GWh) of clean energy per year, enough to power 135,500, four-room HDB apartments. The harnessed solar energy is initially used to power common services, such as water pumps, lights, and elevators, among others, with any excess energy being channeled to the electrical grid.

Out of the 8,400 HDB blocks committed to solar panel installation, 2,700 have been installed, meaning that HDB is currently on track to meeting its 2030 solar targets.          

Smart LED Lighting

Smart LED lighting is applied to common areas within HDB apartments. This smart lighting initiative uses motion sensors to automatically adjust the luminosity of LED lights depending on the motion detected. HDB has progressively used this solution for car parks, stairwells, playgrounds, common corridors, and link ways, among others, helping to reduce the energy used for lighting by up to 60 percent.

Urban water harvesting system

The urban water harvesting system (UWHS) was designed specifically to conserve water by harvesting rainwater as well as the detention of stormwater, under one system. The UWHS collects rainwater, and it is stored underground in a harvesting tank. The harvested water is treated before being recycled and then used for washing common areas. In this way, the use of potable water (drinking water) for washing common areas is reduced by 50 percent.

Cool coatings

Buildings and infrastructure within HDB zones are prioritized for cool coatings — paint containing pigments that reflect the heat of the sun — and which can lower the overall temperature in HDB living areas. As surfaces treated with cool coatings absorb less heat during the day, they, therefore, emit less heat at night and cool the overall environment. HDB is looking to reduce the ambient temperature by 2oC.

Greenery intensification

To further green HDB blocks, HDB has introduced more greenery in the top decks of multi-story car parks by repurposing them in the form of urban farms and community gardens.  

Developing these alternative spaces for urban farming is in line with Singapore’s efforts to build up its agri-food industry, whereby the country aims to produce 30 percent of its nutritional needs locally by 2030.

The potential impact of climate change on Singapore

Southeast Asia and Singapore are not insulated from the impact of climate change. According to Singapore’s National Climate Change Secretariat, sea levels in the Straits of Singapore have increased at the rate of 1.2mm to 1.7mm annually between 1975 and 2009. As a low-lying island, the rise in sea levels poses the most immediate threat to Singapore.  Further, the annual rainfall in the city-state has also increased at an average rate of 67mm per decade from 1980 to 2019.

Food security

The effects of climate change, such as prolonged droughts, can threaten global food and water security. Singapore is particularly vulnerable since the country imports 90 percent of its food. Moreover, periods of droughts can impact Singapore’s water supply, whereas sudden episodes of intense rainfall can lead to flash floods as the drainage system overloads.

Singapore Green Plan 2030

Going beyond Green Towns, the government has developed a  Green Plan 2030 that sets the target for sustainability in Singapore by 2030.

The plan involves five key pillars: city in nature, sustainable living, energy reset, green economy, and resilient future. Through the plan, the government aims to achieve zero-net emissions by the second half of the century through initiatives like reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills by 30 percent and doubling the number of electric vehicle charging points by 2030 — the city-state is expected to have 60,000 electric vehicle chargers.

In terms of clean energy, Singapore is already exploring initiatives to import renewable energy. This includes the Australian-Asian Powerlink, which delivers power from the world’s largest solar farm in Australia to Singapore via overhead and undersea cables. Once completed, the project is expected to supply some 15 percent of Singapore’s energy needs.

At present, the country will trial the import of low-carbon electricity of up to 100MW from Malaysia, Indonesia, and Laos. Singapore intends to import up to four gigawatts of low-carbon electricity by 2035, making up about 30 percent of the country’s electricity requirements.

Further Reading


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