Profile: Lee Eng Lock

For showing the rest of the world how much energy can be saved through good engineering, innovative design, and attention to details, Lee Eng Lock is made a Champion of Energy Efficiency Award by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) presented at its 17th biennial Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings last month. He was a popular speaker at this month’s Internatonal Green Building Conference. With Trane Singapore for many years, he is an Associate with The Green Asia Group and one of the 100 Global Sustain Ability Leaders. Read more

In the line of fire:

Energy reduces and words fly when Engineer Lee Eng Lock’s in full flight

By Ken Hickson

Being with international award winning energy engineer with the firepower of Lee Eng Lock can be compared to being caught in an electrical storm. You need protection from the lightning strikes. The sounds of fury. The criticism and the barbs. Avoid the angry lashes.

It’s not aimed at you the audience or the interviewer. You sense it is directed at his fellow engineers whether they work for Government agencies, industry, energy service companies (ESCOs) or consultancies. No-one is immune.

Lee Eng Lock, with Trane Singapore for many years, is an Associate with The Green Asia Group and one of the 100 Global Sustain Ability Leaders.

The Singapore-born British-educated engineer with a growing international reputation for an iconoclastic approach to the design and construction of Heating, Ventilation, and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) systems. Lee says there is “no special magic” needed to cut HVAC costs, just a “return to basic value-for-money thinking, careful measurement and analysis, openness to new ideas, and willingness to do hard work.”

It is an understatement to say Lee Eng Lock is entertaining and engaging. He is also respected. He is listened to not only at home but aboard. He wins awards – the latest being the prestigious “Champion of Energy Efficiency Award” from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) presented at its 17th biennial Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings last month.

“To Eng Lock Lee, Trane Singapore” the inscription reads, “for world-leading HVAC design and engineering that shows the rest of the world how much energy can be saved through good engineering, innovative design, and attention to details”.

He’s had accolades before. Amory Lovins, the renowned energy advocate at the Rocky Mountain Institute, in the book “Natural Capitalism” crowned Eng Lock as “the world’s master of the new design mentality in fluid-handling and air-conditioning systems.”

Not only does he fire off criticism like an angry young man – even though he says he’s ready for retirement this year – but he peppers his talk with expletives left, right and centre. He might not fully answer one question, before jumping on to another topic.

Outbursts, criticism of authority, of companies, of consultants, of media, of technology, of useless “tools”.” He also fires off facts and figures with machine gun rapidity. He shows pictures of mistakes in the installation of chillers and piping. He produces quotes and reams of paper to support his claims.

If he was an expert witness in a court case, you would have to pity all – proponents and opponents, defence and prosecution alike – as well as the judge.

Is he a loose cannon? No. He is just a passionate advocate of change. He knows what’s best and he gets annoys when others cannot see it that way.

It is hard for him to find good in anything, he will admit. When I once asked him to give me a good example of a well-managed green building, he quickly came back: “Good is a four letter word”!

He is the acknowledged energy efficient exert – a perfectionist, yes – but when pressed he can give out some deserving accolades to buildings where valuable results were achieved. Of course, he had something to do with them. A lot. And because he knows what was done and what was achieved he can fully value the results.

That’s one of the big problems he sees. Lack of transparency.

“Some will say that can achieve certain energy savings, or has already, but they cannot verify that. No-one knows for sure.

“We are not going to get anywhere unless we get total transparency”. That’s his campaign call.

In his talk at the recent International Green Building Conference  in Singapore – peopled by Government officials, industry fellows and energy managers keen to sit at the master’s feet and get a measure of his expertise – he fired off critical shots like these:

•             Energy use readings which cannot be trusted

•             Installed things that don’t work

•             Correct tools are needed to measure accurately

•             Wrong data leads to wrong decisions

•             There’s an acceptance of lower standards

•             Data must be shared

•             Admit mistakes to learn from them

If that’s not enough to chew on, he reminds the audience, mostly engineers, he suspects, that those professionals  in the building industry need to be more like doctors, who learn medicine by cutting up bodies!  Is that what we should be doing to fix buildings? Maybe.

But whatever it is, Eng Lock knows we must not bury our mistakes.

“We must be more transparent. We have to see what works and how it works”.

He makes it clear that if we are serious about producing greener buildings. If we are serious about energy efficiency in the build environment, we must have total transparency.

This is necessary from Government agencies, as it is from building developers and owners, and from the engineers and consultants doing the job.

When asked for examples and case studies of where energy efficiency has been put into practice and shown improvements, or to name buildings which have honesty and effectively achieved significant energy savings,  he becomes very thoughtful after being at first dismissive.

After a while, when pressed, he will give some examples. “Of course there’s the Grand Hyatt in Singapore, but that was a few years ago. Yes, we have some good information on that.”

The Green Energy Management (GEM) project, which won the Bronze in the 2004 Asian Innovation Awards, involved the hotel spending almost S$2.6 million, covering the heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system. The redesign produced annual savings of more than S$1.1 million, paying for itself in just over two years. Most of the savings are in reduced use of electricity and water, which means less carbon dioxide is being pumped into the air.

“Then there was the SingPost building. That worked”. It won an ASEAN Energy Award in 2008.

He explains that the main objectives of this project were to reduce energy consumption by 20% without compromising comfort and the service level provided to the tenants and occupants. The key focus of this initiative is in the central chill water plant room. In fact it achieved a 23.17% energy saving year on year.

In addition to the energy cost savings, this project also saves an estimated 2,694 tons of Carbon dioxide per year being discharged by the power plants into the atmosphere.

This project clearly shows that commercial buildings can cut greenhouse gas emission by reducing energy consumption.

Besides the technology and equipment that was installed to bring about improvements in energy efficiency, SingPost also embarked on an education programme to inculcate the correct practices of energy conservation. These initiatives included:-

- Appointment of higher management Energy Conservation Committee

- Organisation of energy conservation talks

- Inclusion of energy conservation in department KPI

- Publication of articles and materials for energy conservation

- Organization of energy conservation between delivery bases and between post offices

The latest that he is most proud of is the United World College new campus at Tampines. It has been touted as one of the best examples around of integrated design and application to achieve genuine results. And it is being measured and managed in real time when results can be monitored, where mistakes can be detected and fixed.

He will admit tings are improving.  According to Eng Lock, there are positive moves underway from all quarters. The Building Construction Authority (BCA) has come up with higher standards and better management of the Green Mark process.

Property developers are paying greater attention to “genuine greening” of their buildings and better systems are being introduced to measure and manage energy.

But Lee Eng Lock won’t stop making pointed observations and handing out brickbats ahead of bouquets.

He’s still not prepared to admit to using the word “good”. That’s one four letter word not in his colourful vocabulary.

Good for Lee Eng Lock!

Source: and

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