October 23, 2015

The retrofit revolution takes hold in Dubai

Experts keep records and track all the data which are monitored closely in retrofit energy projects

DUBAI - Saving energy and protect­ing the environment are increasingly topping gov­ernment priorities in fast-developing countries, in­cluding the United Arab Emirates, where “green building” practices are gaining momentum to achieve the country’s sustainable develop­ment goals.

Retrofitting buildings construct­ed decades ago without considera­tion of environment-related issues is a key concern for the Emirates Green Building Council (Emirates­GBC) in Dubai where it is estimated that 30,000 of the 120,000 older buildings have a high energy-saving potential and can be refitted.

It is a trend that is growing rapidly in the other Gulf Cooperation Coun­cil (GCC) states as well, according to EmiratesGBC Chairman Saeed al- Abbar.

“Green building councils in the region are promoting the concept of retrofitting. Further, the govern­ments across the GCC are now plac­ing increasing emphasis on building environment sustainability,” Abbar said.

He said retrofitting often in­volves the installation of energy-saving products on older systems, including lighting, water and air conditioning, to reduce energy con­sumption. Lighting retrofits include replacing non-efficient lamps with LED lights, while water retrofits im­ply use of low-flow faucets.

However, solid planning for ret­rofitting buildings is a prerequisite. “It includes setting goals, selecting a team that will lead the process and benchmarking energy and water consumption levels and operating conditions, at least over the last 12 months,” Abbar said, noting that the EmiratesGBC recently introduced Technical Guidelines for Retrofit­ting Existing Buildings, a handbook in English that will soon be avail­able in Arabic.

“The handbook highlights 31 ret­rofit methods that a building owner, operator and end-user can adopt to increase energy and water savings, improve occupant comfort and well-being and also increase the longevity of the existing building,” he said.

Retrofitting of existing buildings has been undertaken in several parts of the UAE. The Dubai Elec­tricity and Water Authority will be refitting seven buildings and replac­ing the lighting at power stations in Jebel Ali and Al Awir. “This will reduce energy consumption by 68% and prevent 6,286 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year,” Abbar pointed out.

Etihad ESCO and Economic Zones World (EZW), the parent company of Jebel Ali Free Zone, have com­pleted the first phase of an energy-saving project and UAE telecom operator Etisalat is retrofitting 368 buildings.

The key benefit of retrofitting buildings is cost savings of up to 20%. “There are also specific bene­fits that apply to particular building typologies, such as improved pro­ductivity for commercial buildings and better health for residential buildings,” Abbar said.

“An estimated 30,000 buildings (in Dubai) have been earmarked as ideal retrofit candidates and are required to reduce their energy consumption by 30% by 2030,” he added.

Ali al-Suwaidi, from the Middle East Facility Management Associa­tion, underlined the role of facility management professionals in the retrofitting process.

“We are consuming more power compared to other countries and there is a lot of room for savings,” he said, stressing that improving energy efficiency while maintain­ing the building’s value can be done with the help of professional man­agement.

“We try to help the government introduce legislation covering qual­ity control, design, health and safe­ty parameters but the biggest chal­lenge for the retrofit industry is the lack of benchmarking information, without which one cannot measure energy consumption.

Meters and submeters have to be installed to track down energy waste,” Suwaidi said.

In the UAE, energy consumption figures typically fall 20-30% after the retrofit has been completed, ac­cording to Stuart Harrison, support services director of Emrill Energy.

“One of the first things we do at Emrill Energy is install data-gath­ering sensors and adapt the Build­ing Management System (BMS) to become more intelligent,” Harrison said. “It literally learns and adapts to any changes in the building in real time, while maximising energy savings.

“This is managed through a cen­tral command centre, which keeps records and tracks all the data that are monitored and managed by ex­perts in retrofit energy projects.”

However, the market has been slow to pick up on retrofit projects and finance has been difficult to come by, Harrison noted.

“Even if banks are willing to en­gage, the cost of borrowing the money for retrofit projects is often prohibitive. Taking all these factors into consideration, Emrill Energy made a conscious decision to offer funding to give this important seg­ment a much-needed kick-start,” he said.

“We start by doing a basic assess­ment of the building, followed by an investment grade audit and a design to save up to 30% of building energy costs. We then propose to fund the project over a five-year period and we share the savings, which allows both parties to enjoy the benefits.”

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