The retrofit revolution takes hold in Dubai
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.”