Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Eco friendly PGCC

The developers of the Penang Global City Centre project (PGCC) tell us that it represents “….the highest commitment to the creation of energy-efficient and environmentally conscious architecture” and will be ‘carbon zero’. Sounds fantastic! But what do they mean?

Unfortunately, they have chosen to tell us very little. This is very worrying already – if it such a great project, what is there to hide? Instead, their brochure wraps up the project in fancy (and often grammatically challenged) wordings. Here are some examples:

The Promises

“The Master Plan provides a sequence of parks; like pearls on a necklace inching towards the hills with displays abundance of flora and fauna along the journey. The serene landscape will create a microclimate and a new ecological system; hence producing refreshing recreational parks and an urban ecosystem in the heart of Penang. The greens soothe the eye and make it the most desirable place for living and working.” (Wow, wonderful!)

“The design approach is to rehabilitate with enough organic mass to enable ecological succession to take place and to balance the existing organic life of the site.” (Umm….?)

The project “takes advantage of the lushness of the surrounding mountainous landscape by pulling it into the urban fold.” (Help! … run?)

PGCC Eco-Tech City will be built on the soil of Penang…. will have numerous of green lungs, where a truly green environment is preserved for people living within the confines of PGCC” ….. “The programmatic distribution of Penang Global City Centre creates a diverse, yet dense and dynamic, urban environment that is attractive to a variety of users ….”

All of which means “The city will soon take pride of place in Penang as one of the world’s zero carbon landmark which Penangites will be proud of.”

Zero carbon? What does that mean?

Let’s check out some zero-carbon factors….


The project promises: “Energy demands for transportation will also be minimized. Transportation throughout the PGCC will account for a significant portion of the area’s carbon emissions. Enhancing the city by designing for pedestrian friendly movements a highly effective means to reduce transportation emissions within cities. Transportation energy will be reduced by increasing public transportation options, as well as ensuring a reliable and frequent service fitting to transportation demands.”

But at the same time, the project is utterly dependent on the completion of PORR (already a hugely destructive project that will have serious environmental and carbon emission consequences) and needs at least three major road-building projects. The PGCC brochure announces this:

“Quantum leap to Penang’s transportation infrastructure with major investment to build Penang Outer Ring Road and major private/public sectors initiative to provide seamless connectivity along Scotland Road and Masjid Negeri Road with road widening, new flyovers and underpasses.”

In other words, there are major traffic implications, but it is others who will pick up the tab for the traffic consequences of PGCC, and we can rest assured a huge part of this will be us, the Penang taxpayer.

So PGCC will generate additional and very high levels of traffic, which will mostly be of private cars that run on carbon-based fossil fuel and emit CO and other environmentally unfriendly pollutants. The necessity to widen Scotland Road, build two interchanges and connect to the PORR irrevocably attests to this. On this alone (and without even considering any other socio-economic/environmental impact of PGCC) PGCC will not be carbon-neutral.

We all know the reality of transport choices. Glossy words talking about bicycle and pedestrian options and public transportation systems should not fool us. We all have common sense.


Of course in making their claim about being a zero-carbon project, it is very unclear whether PGCC is taking into account these traffic flows. In its brochure, it is more concerned to tell us that each building will include daylight and high efficiency lighting; natural ventilation and operable windows; occupant confort and productivity (their spelling); native and adapted vegetation; water use reduction and recycling; high performance glazing; building-integrated photovaics; ‘building-integrated vertical-axis wind power’; green roofs; solar hot water; bicycle and pedestrian transportation options; electric and fuel efficient cars; efficient HVAC systems; and natural groundwater infiltration.

All of which are fine, and even exciting! But the claim that the project will be zero-carbon is meaningless unless everything associated with the project is included in the measurement of emissions, including people flows because of the city, traffic flows (within and outside the city, if caused by PGCC) and of course including the actual building of the city (ten and more years of carbon emissions and pollution of Penang). Are those who claim ‘zero carbon’ including any or all of this? Can they tell us, please?

PGCC admits it will not be zero-carbon

The fact is that even in PGCC’s own admission, the city will not be zero-carbon.

“Carbon offsetting can neutralise the remaining emissions associated with the city to achieve carbon zero status. In this final step towards becoming carbon zero, PGCC will quantify unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions. The different types of greenhouse gases can be converted into carbon dioxide equivalents; the standard unit for measuring a gas’s global warming potential….. Once the total carbon emissions are quantified, PGCC will invest in carbon offset projects which obviate an equivalent amount of carbon emissions. In other words a site’s emissions will be neutralised by preventing emissions which would otherwise occur without the investment by PGCC.

The brochure goes on to mention wind, solar or hydro projects, reforestation, and coal mine methane capture and flare off projects without stating where or how these projects are to be chosen and invested in.

In other words, whatever carbon emission are generated by PGCC on the racecourse site, polluting Penang, the PGCC developers will pretend don’t actually exist because they have invested some money in a project somewhere else in the world. It is a mathematical sleight of hand; Penang and Penangites will suffer the consequences.


Just on the eco-claims of the project alone, it would be very helpful if the developer and their team (‘a dream team’, as the brochure says) let Penangites know the exact calculations they have made about eco-design principles. For example

a) How much of the energy needs of the city will be generated by on-site wind power? How much by other energy sources? Could someone please publish the figures so we can see the assumptions.

b) Do the energy needs include air-conditioning units? How many is it calculated will be in the city and what will be their carbon emissions?

c) How much of the water needs will be supplied by on-site recycling of water? How much extra demand for water will the city generate and from where will this water be supplied? (Penang island of course is already being seriously challenged as far as water supply is concerned).

d) What alternative sites were considered for PGCC? Were any mainland sites considered? Why were alternative sites refused?

e) What alternative plans for the racecourse site have been considered by those in charge of Penang’s future – for example, the town planners in MPPP and state government representatives? Were other more low density plans incorporating a far more sensitive environmental design, protecting much more of the green, open space that the racecourse presently is, taken into consideration? Why not?

f) How many trees will be lost to Penang because of the PGCC project? For example, how many mature trees along at Scotland Road will be cut? Is the effect of this included in claims that PGCC will be zero carbon?

g) Can PGCC publish their Traffic Impact Assessment (TIA) please, so we all know the calculations for the traffic impact on the Penang and Penangites. How much carbon emission is calculated from this TIA?

Without public information and public discussion, it is very difficult to believe anything the developer is claiming about the project. Indeed, on the face of it, and as someone remarked the other day:

“The project, if implemented as proposed, is a gross disrespect of the island's natural setting and a disgrace to the government and the people who elected them.”


The concept of Zero Carbon

Are there examples of zero carbon projects anywhere else? What does it actually mean?

Well, there are very many vague claims, and controversial ways of measuring ‘zero carbon’. Possibly a more substantial example is that of Zero Emission Development (ZED), which has been popularised by the British architect Bill Dunster through his BedZED (Beddington Zero Emission Development) project. This project aims at achieving the British Government's aims of providing sufficient housing (particularly affordable ones) in London and the rapidly developing Southeast corner of England.

The project is innovative in that it tries to achieve a number of conflicting economic, social and environmental objectives - providing good quality affordable housing (social) that strives to meet carbon reduction policies (environmental) amidst rising construction costs (economic), particularly involving green designs that are non-conventional. The whole idea is to build on existing stocks of BROWNFIELD sites without losing valuable green sites. The general built forms are averagely 3 storeys, back-to-back Victorian style terrace houses, each with an individual garden and climatically oriented to be energy efficient in terms of heating and cooling. The building blocks are kept short (maximum 6 units in a row) to allow for higher permeability of pedestrian and bicycle networks. Car parks are provided round the perimeter of the site and the artist impression of the project shows the use of compact, environmentally friendlier, SMART cars (an expensive item in Malaysia, of course).

SkyZED is a proposed mixed use development in an INNER CITY traffic island, near an underused Waterloo Line railway station, in Wandsworth, London (i.e. it is an inner-city traffic island near an existing public transport line, NOT on a peripheral GREEN site with no public transport facilities whatsoever!). SkyZED comprises two 35-storey aerodynamic blade structures standing atop a 4-storey car-free office plinth, capped with communal roof garden with social facilities like creche and cafes. The complex houses 300 affordable one- and two- bedroom flats. The two vertical blades are connected every six floors with communal enlarged lift lobbies incorporating communal herb gardens and shared play space for residents. The building has been designed to focus the prevailing wind on to building-integrated wind turbines that provide all the homes' annual electrical requirements from renewable energy generated within the site's boundaries. So SkyZED provides 300 homes with NO LOSS of OPEN SPACE and at the same time creating a landmark green gateway as the urban focus to one of the most important approaches to London

For more details on ZED, websites include\ 035.html

See also: for BedZED's failure to achieve its zero carbon aim, and problems besetting the project.

For more on PGCC, check out (the developers)