Grundfos: 40th Anniversary in Singapore, Driving Global Innovation in Southeast Asia

With the buildings sector accounting for 39% of energy-related carbon emissions globally, the built infrastructure has been recognised as a critical area in the ASEAN Sustainable Urbanisation Strategy (ASUS). In fact, energy efficiency in buildings has been marked as a major business opportunity (US$770 billion) linked to leveraging technology for sustainability issues.

Grundfos Singapore – which recently reached four decades of operations – is a key driver in the organisation’s global operations, serving as Grundfos’ regional headquarters in Asia Pacific, and the global headquarters of its Commercial Building Services (CBS) division. As part of its efforts to provide water solutions and technology that can ensure more effective and efficient usage of energy in buildings, its Singapore Innovation Hub was recently established last November to accelerate the sustainability transition for the region’s buildings sector.

Asian Water talked to Bent Jensen, CEO of Commercial Building Services, Grundfos recently on his views as a leading voice in the water solutions industry, including on trends shaping the region’s buildings sector and how energy-efficient water solutions can play a vital role in accelerating the green transition in Southeast Asia.

Bent Jensen, CEO of Commercial Building Services, Grundfos

Bent: The APAC region faces a confluence of factors creating unique water challenges.

Urbanisation, economic development and population growth are driving up water demand across the region. This puts immense pressure on existing water resources, threatening the water security of many countries. Climate change intensifies the problem. More extreme weather events, like droughts, further strain water availability.

Increased water demand often comes with a rise in wastewater.  Chemicals from agriculture, industrial waste and untreated sewage pollute waterways, leading to water quality issues.

Water and energy are intricately linked. As cities grow, along with the increased demand for water, more energy will be needed to treat, move and distribute the water. In Southeast Asia, for example, urban population is expected to grow by another 100 million people by 2030.  This rapid urbanisation will lead to more buildings, and a projected 120% rise in energy consumption and energy-related carbon emissions from the built environment by 2040. 

These challenges have shaped the way companies like Grundfos innovate. For over 75 years that Grundfos has been in play, we’ve gained a lot of insights into the green transition and the challenges that we face in the water sector. Working closely with our customers has also allowed us to constantly improve our solutions to help address these challenges. Moving forward, we will continue to work on harnessing digital technology, automation technologies and big data to reduce both financial and environmental costs in water systems.

Bent: Grundfos’ history dates back to 1945 when our founder, Poul Due Jensen, started his business in the pump sector. We’ve been in Singapore for 40 years now since 1984. Over the years, Grundfos Singapore has grown to become a key driver in our global operations. We have about 200 people here in Singapore across four different divisions, and we have advanced manufacturing, R&D, sales, digital capabilities and so on. So, we possess a strong foundation and expertise to serve our customers both in Singapore and across the region.  

Over the years, we have been recognised as a trusted partner in Singapore. Some of the key landmark projects we’ve collaborated with have included the Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay and Resorts World Sentosa integrated resorts. 

In 2023, we have relocated the global headquarters for our Commercial Building Services (CBS) division that I’m heading to Singapore. So,we are now headquartered in Singapore for the rest of the world. This is an important move for us because it changes our perspectives – when you move from North Europe to Singapore, and this becomes your starting point. 

And with that, we also have launched our Innovation Hub here to be able to drive global innovation, but with a Singaporean mindset or with an Asian mindset. As a company with a strong root in North Europe where heating is so much needed and of course, water, our business is based on water and heating. While we are also strong in air conditioning and cooling, we have established our industry leadership in heating. By moving here and learning about the right innovations that are needed for the markets – air conditioning and cooling, we hope to get even stronger in these areas. And that’s why the relocation means so much to us, allowing us to become a truly global company.

Bent: Pumps account for 10% of the world’s energy consumption as they are widely used across a diverse range of applications for water utilities, industries and buildings and they need energy to operate. 

Take buildings as an example, pumps may not be very well spotted by many people because they are somewhere on the roof or in the basement. But they are crucial for the smooth operation of buildings, responsible for everything from water supply and distribution, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), wastewater and drainage, to fire protection. 

As a company, we are committed to achieving net zero by 2050, which has been validated by the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi). To achieve this ambitious target, we look at how our products are being produced and how much energy we consume in our own operations. This focus extends to the energy our products consume when they are in use. In fact, 99% of our emissions come from our products’ use-phase. So, it’s extremely important for us to reduce the energy consumption of the products that we sell in order to become net-zero. 

Therefore, I think we have a very important role to play in this transition. By providing energy and water efficient solutions to our customers, we empower them to reduce their environmental footprint, supporting the green transition. 

Secondly, our influence on working with governments and businesses and other industries – that is also super important. Through our strategic local partnerships, we are advancing sustainability efforts through the contribution of complementary expertise, knowledge and talent to move the industry forward. 

Bent: Governments can accelerate the green transition by driving net-zero commitments and introducing green initiatives aimed at supporting the growth of the green economy. Again, take the building sector as an example, governments can introduce green building standards to ensure that the new buildings are actually living up to a certain standard. At the same time, a government’s incentives can also increase the uptake of green technologies, including sustainable and innovative water solutions. 

They can also potentially help bridge some of the financing gaps through innovative financing schemes and policies that ease the transition and reduce risks. A lot of the green technologies out there actually offer a relatively short payback time. With the government’s support, it makes it easier for businesses to adopt energy efficient solutions, this in turn accelerates the green transition.

The private sector can do a lot as well by setting up ambitious sustainability goals. At Grundfos, we are committed to achieving net-zero by 2050. These targets were validated by SBTi in 2022, making us a water solutions industry first. These ambitious targets have already set a huge requirement on us to find new solutions to reduce our carbon footprint across the whole supply chain. If all companies do that, then we are on a good track to reduce carbon emissions by making the right choices when there’s a need for something new in the buildings or in the plants. 

In response to cost being a common barrier for customers to adopt green technologies, we came up with a new business model called Grundfos Energy Earnings. We install the new pump solutions without charging customers an initial fee, and we share the energy earnings achieved through our solutions with the customer. That way, the building owner doesn’t have to worry about the initial investment when adopting a new solution, but he/she can already see the benefits from day one. 

And then of course, consumers also have a very important role to play. For example, they can do digital metering so they can see how much water they use. By allowing households to understand their water usage behaviours, it serves as a reminder to them, and actually helps reduce the amount of water that they use. 

Bent: There is a constantly growing demand to green the built environment. In the coming decades, if we look at the world map, then we can easily see that the place where urbanisation is going very fast, where we are building a lot of new cities, is in this part of the world.

And as that goes on, the energy consumption is expected to grow by 120% by 2024, leading to a significant increase in the energy related carbon emissions from the built environment. So, it is an enormous amount of additional CO2 emission that we can expect to get from this built environment. 

At the same time, there is a growing demand for solutions that can reduce energy consumption in the built environment. We’ve observed that building owners and managers are gradually adopting the best possible solutions when the building is being built. We can see that digitalisation and modular concepts are also playing a big role in ensuring that the energy consumption is retained on a low level. 

For existing buildings, we often notice that the pumps are oversized. This leads to a waste of energy. Especially if there is no digital layer to control it, it is going to waste a lot of energy over its lifetime. If we add the right devices to control and optimise it, a reduction in energy consumption can be achieved.

Buildings are currently responsible for nearly 40% of global energy related emissions. With the rapid urbanisation in the region, more new buildings are being built. Hence, the building sector holds a great opportunity for us to reduce the CO2 emissions if we make the right investments. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), energy efficiency improvements, electrification, and other strategies offer the potential to reduce the sector’s direct CO2 emissions by 97% by 2050, despite the sector’s activity more than doubling through growing floor area, expanding access to energy services and increasing living standards.

So, there are opportunities, and a lot of the solutions that are needed are already available today. How can we increase the adoption rate of these technologies is a focus for us in this industry. And countries are increasingly recognising this. We can see that many governments are looking at ways to get the right standards and legislation in place. 

And then, green buildings also act as catalysts for positive change across the value chain. If the building sector is embracing more sustainable practices, it can drive the construction sector, the energy sector, or even waste management to take action. It also further fuels all businesses’ interest in coming up with the right solutions that are helping the green agenda. 

Green buildings can also educate and inspire businesses, property owners, and the public to consider changes to their own buildings and lifestyles, multiplying positive impact on the net-zero transition.

Bent: For buildings to operate in a sustainable way, there’s a need to tap into technology that can adjust the output to the users’ changing demand. Typically, a cooling system or water pressure systems and so on, are more or less installed to be able to meet the peak demand, but there are only rare cases where that is actually needed. So we need to apply technologies that are always dynamic. That reduces the output that runs when the building is not occupied or if the need is not there. 

We have a number of solutions to address this need. We have for instance the Distributed Pumping Solution. It is a system that intelligently regulates the distribution of chilled water flow in buildings to meet changing cooling demands. Normally a cooling and air conditioning system is a system with a very nice old fashioned big pump and then some valves along the way to control how much is needed in the different places of the house. These valves are blocking the flow. So, we have a big pump to create big pressure and flow and then you have valves to cut it off. That’s like putting your foot on the brake when you’re driving the car and then putting gas, so it’s really an inefficient way to run your heating and cooling system. Our Distributed Pumping Solution uses several small pumps for the distribution of chilled water flow all around the building. Instead of valves, we have small pumps that move the water based on real-time demands of the different areas within the building. Therefore we actually reduce both the loss of energy in the hydraulic system and we also optimise very much the flow over each of the units that needs the cooling. So, this is a very good way to optimise a cooling system – that is one solution. 

Grundfos Distributed Pumping Solutions

And of course, we have smart pumps. Compared with a traditional pump that would run on one speed throughout its lifetime, today we’ve added frequency converters so we can run it up and down in speed depending on the need and that we do with built-in frequency converters that are already mounted into the pump. And that allows an enormous energy saving on the pumps itself and it provides our customers with a much more dynamic system because it does not run with maximum pressure all the time. 

We also have solutions that go beyond energy efficient components. Grundfos iSOLUTIONS is a good example. With a range of products that focuses on connectivity, intelligent monitoring and advanced features, we allow our customers to optimise water and energy efficiency across water systems. For commercial buildings, Grundfos iSOLUTIONS drives intelligent systems with smart pumps, cloud connectivity and digital services, helping to reduce system complexity and ensure optimal performance, comfort, control, and energy efficiency, for any application.

We also have modular and prefabricated systems. At a time when it’s harder and harder to find skilled labour that can be on a building site to put things together professionally, this approach makes a lot of sense. We prefabricate the skids in a factory environment, and they are optimised and tested from the factory as one big unit. Such solutions not only bring significant energy savings, but also reduce uncertainty and shorten the construction process, reducing the environmental footprint.

Bent: So, the Singapore Innovation Hub is part of our global headquarter for our Commercial Building Services division. Traditionally coming from a North European environment, we’re very much focused on heating and we’ve been building our company around heating solutions. We are now headquartered in the centre of an air-conditioned area. With that comes a lot of universities, a lot of companies, customers, and a lot of complementary solutions in the market that we can learn from. And being in that environment enables us to focus on air condition solutions, with a team dedicated to finding the right solutions for the cooling environment. We will utilise that across what we call the aircon belt in the world. That is, the belt that goes around Asia, Middle East, and Americas, where in the middle of America, North America is very much used to the air condition environment. 

Grundfos CBS global HQ ribbon cutting

Having it here in Singapore actually allows us to get into contact with very important stakeholder groups. Here we see that with the urbanisation going on in Asia, with the speed that you are building new cities, new large buildings, you are also part of inventing new technologies for those buildings, and we want to be part of that journey. We want to lead the journey for the part that we are in play for. We can see that we can do that by having the right focuses in this part of the world. 

We continue to add digital enablers that can help us optimise on the cooling solutions. We’re also exploring modular concepts and utilising AI algorithms to improve energy efficiency. And also, we are adding embedded technology into the products that we sell, so that they come already predefined and predestined for air condition. We are accelerating the adoption of distributed pumping as I mentioned before the ones with pumps instead of valves. We are accelerating those solutions in the region here because we can see that there is an opportunity for that. With that we can even completely eliminate the need for balancing in a cooling system which is done automatically by the pumps. 

And then we are working on district cooling as well with a focus on co-developing some hydronic balancing concept for the district cooling. District cooling is something that is also done in Singapore and is also something that we can see on the rise in other countries where they are implementing bigger plants for cooling, distributing the water to the buildings or cold water to the buildings that need the cooling. So we’ll continue to do that and drive innovation with some co-development activities with some water efficient smart solutions with strategic partners over here, which are Ngee Ann Polytechnic and Singapore Polytechnic. Those are close partners of ours with whom we have Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) that we worked with together in finding new solutions.

Grundfos – Ngee Ann Polytechnic MoU Signing

Bent: We recognised the built environment’s environmental impact. We have actually committed to driving solutions in order to support the operations of green buildings as well as green cities. And that is a focus we are dedicated to here at Grundfos, and we will continue to work with kind of a two-pronged approach supported by our innovation power and closeness to the market. The Singapore Innovation Hub will continue to work with the expertise we have across Grundfos. Grundfos has close to 20,000 people, we have a lot of innovation power in other parts of the world and we want to cross-utilise that. At the same time,  the closeness to the market here will allow us to gain more insights and knowledge in order to bring new solutions here. And with other partners here as we mentioned before, these local organisations like Ngee Ann Polytechnic and Asia Pacific Urban Energy Association, we’re working with them on specific things where we co-create solutions. 

And one thing I believe is very important for innovation is also the understanding of the market and the local environment that we’re in. So, we are doing a lot to deepen our understanding of Asia by also having our teams participate in, for instance the District Cooling International Conference that was organised by the Alliance for Energy Efficient Economy (AEEE) in India last October. We’ve got a lot of insights from fellow industry players with a lot of focus on the cooling applications. We have also done different meetings with a lot of customers across the whole region from Thailand, Middle East, Singapore where we want to listen and learn about the challenges that they’re facing and their way of driving efficiency. Actually, we’re doing a lot of these co-creation workshops with customers where together with the customers, we come up with new solutions. It’s amazing how much you can drive in terms of new innovation if you involve customers, their day to day even if it’s the same environment, you actually figure out that they know a lot that is very valuable. The combination of the knowledge we have about what can be done and their ideas of what needs to be done can be very helpful in creating new solutions – our Innovation Hub here is very well-versed in this aspect.

Bent: For me, the big hope here is that we can actually see that it’s a collective effort from multiple sides that helps us tackle the water crisis and also our transition towards a net zero environment. And that is really something that requires not just one company or one business or one government, it requires all the governments and all the businesses and all of the different stakeholders like universities, and supply companies, like us, as manufacturers and producers and developers, to get in there in order to be that leading partner or to ensure that the region’s challenges are really met. And collaboration is simply the cornerstone for our achievements, and this is why we can do our humble approach of reaching out to everyone. 

Luckily, we can feel that there is such a movement towards it now. So, it actually brings a lot of energy from different government sides and bodies that we can engage in the dialogue and it gives us a very good platform to collaborate on and to ensure we can move things forward. I actually hope that Asia becomes the beacon of the world in energy transition. And I think with the willingness that we could feel from the Asian population and governments over here, it’s really something that is desired and wanted, and therefore I have a strong belief that the region is going to become the leading star of how we are going to move energy transition in the future.

Bent: I think we have probably been around the most important parts here. What’s most interesting for me is that this is somewhat of a bit of a call-out for other governments in Asia. We’re interested in getting more relationships with governments, companies, universities that have an interest in improving the environment and providing pure water for people. For us, that is the main objective. We are super welcoming to all initiatives that go in that direction. So, we’d be happy to talk to anyone who would be willing to join us.