Climate change is a realty challenge

Greenhouse gas emissions are a major cause of climate change, which is defined as an alteration in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over an extended period of time. The change affects all of us, irrespective of whether we are responsible for it. If it progresses unabated, the UAE could find much of its  coastline several feet under water in the not-so-distant future based on studies. This may not affect us now, but it will certainly have an effect on our descendants.

The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals Report 2014 unequivocally states that “global greenhouse gas emissions continue their upward trend”. Carbon dioxide emissions reached 32.2 billion metric tonnes in 2011, a 35 per cent jump from 2000 levels. This is despite the global economic downturn and has been attributed “mostly to the fast growth in emissions from developing regions”, which includes the GCC.

A major cause of greenhouse gas emissions in Dubai is the high level of electricity consumption in the real estate sector. Since it is generated almost entirely from fossil fuels, every time a kilowatt of electricity is produced, greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere. In an ideal world, all electricity would be sourced  from clean sources such as the sun and wind, but we are still a long way from that.

According to the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, 75 per cent of electricity generated in 2013 was utilised in the commercial and residential sectors,  confirming that the real estate sector is a major consumer of electricity and a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions.

Dubai has introduced initiatives, such as the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, which was announced in 2013, but most will only help the emirate shift partially from conventional electricity, not reduce energy demand. Much needs to be done quickly, especially in the real estate sector, to mitigate the challenges of climate change.

Dubai’s energy strategy

Through the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy (DSCE), the government has initiated steps to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. The council recently announced the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy (DIES) 2030, which aims for a 30 per cent reduction in energy demand.

Dubai’s GDP is likely to rise by 4 per cent a year in the foreseeable future. If this rate of growth is maintained, it will more than double in 2030 from the 2012  levels. This growth will be linked to and supported by expansion in the property sector, underlining its importance to DIES 2030. When GDP grows, energy consumption grows as well, and this poses a key challenge: how can energy demand reduce by 30 per cent when the GDP is likely to double in the same period? Presumably, the 30 per cent reduction will be achieved on a per capita basis.

Go for effectivemeasures

While there are plenty of initiatives designed to achieve that goal, they need to be categorised by cost and complexity of implementation. One needs to understand that most buildings in Dubai are overdesigned with regard to air conditioning and lighting, which means the capacity is always much greater than necessary. This leads to excessive electricity consumption, but it also presents an opportunity to reduce consumption drastically through low-cost and less complex measures.

The problem of climate change is so severe and urgent that it is best to implement easy measures that have immediate and significant reduction benefits and deliver higher return on investment. For instance, centralised airconditioning equipment in commercial and residential property can be managed manually, through automated systems or a combination of both to suit the desired indoor comfort level, as opposed to using a single setting round the clock. In commercial buildings that use centralised air conditioning, it is the responsibility of the equipment operator or a specialised service provider, while occupants of individual residential units will have to manage it themselves.

Residents of smaller apartments can turn off or set air-conditioning units to more comfortable (usually higher) temperature settings when needed. In larger residential units such as villas with four bedrooms or more, it might be worthwhile to install a basic automation system either during construction or as a retrofit. This will enable occupants to programme different temperature settings for different times and days. Such systems can recover their costs within a couple of years or less if used properly. These measures need to be complemented with regular monitoring of electricity consumption.

For buildings that have centralised air-conditioning systems, e.g. mixed-use buildings, shopping malls, hotels, hospitals and educational institutions, a combination of basic automation system and a well-trained building equipment operator or an energy specialist) works. Usually, building equipment operators don’t have proper training, time or resources to regularly check on electricity consumption. Therefore, it is best to outsource this service for a nominal fee. The cost savings will far outweigh the service fees, as a professional energy manager will help minimise consumption. Relying overly on automation systems is a risk because of issues related to programming consistency and accuracy of the sensors and meters over time. Regular oversight by specialists is mandatory.

Having implemented energy management programmes across 200 buildings in the UAE since 2000, my personal experience is that combining automation and regular oversight by energy management specialists generates the best results in reducing electricity consumption. With practically no investment costs and just one energy specialist working across 70 commercial buildings, the annual  lectricity consumption was reduced by 10 per cent in one instance, saving more than Dh10 million.

In another programme that needed a little capital expenditure across about 100 different types of buildings, close to 20 per cent reduction was achieved with a payback period of less than a year. If such programmes can be extended across all buildings in Dubai, a 15-20 per cent reduction in energy demand across the real estate sector can be easily achieved within five to ten years.

On average air-conditioning systems usually consume 60-70 per cent of a building’s annual electricity. The remaining 30-40 per cent is consumed by lighting, plug loads (computers and printers) and other machines (pumps and motors).

Using Energy Star-labelled equipment, such as computers and washing machines, will reduce energy demand. I have not been fond of such techniques largely because of the small incremental savings in the overall scheme of things. Lighting, however, holds tremendous potential in terms of realisable savings by using the latest technology and some level of automated controls.

Reduce wastage

Dubai’s real estate sector is guilty on several counts as far as electricity wastage in lighting is concerned. First and foremost is the excessive number of lighting fixtures in commercial complexes and residential units, which can have 200-300 per cent extra light fittings than necessary.

Second is a strange fascination with halogen lighting fixtures, which invariably generate more heat than light, thereby overloading air-conditioning systems needlessly while producing inadequate light levels. Third is a lack of control and inappropriate usage of lights, such as turning them on when there is sunlight or leaving them on when a space is not in use.

If all fixtures in Dubai were to be replaced with LED lights, the real estate sector can easily reduce its lighting electricity consumption anywhere from 50-90 per cent and overall energy demand by 5-10 per cent. All types of LED light fixtures are now available in Dubai, ranging from façade, office and residential lighting to table lamps. These retrofits can be very cost-effective, sometimes with a payback period of 12 months.

In addition to reducing electricity consumption, these fixtures also last longer, reducing replacement costs drastically. A mass-scale retrofit, coupled with smart controls, can contribute greatly to realising the goals of DIES 2030. Government regulations (such as banning the sale of halogen lamps) and sustained public awareness will also be crucial.

Using compact fluorescent lamps is also a good idea, although there are environmental concerns due to the presence of mercury. By adopting many of these measures, I have been able to reduce the lighting electricity consumption in my villa by more than 90 per cent.

The above-mentioned steps can effectively reduce Dubai’s energy demand by 20-30 per cent with nominal investment. They are fairly straightforward and  easy to implement.

However, in several instances,  these steps might not be sufficient to achieve the 30 per cent target. For instance, there are buildings in Dubai that have been very well managed for energy consumption and these steps might not generate any additional savings. Therefore, extra effort is needed to reduce demand in this segment of the real estate sector.

Get ready for an overhaul

This is where the Energy Service Companies (Escos) come in. Such challenging projects require a large-scale overhaul of electromechanical systems and architectural features. For example, facilities that are 15-20 years old could actively explore the option of replacing their entire chiller plant systems with the latest equipment and advanced controls.

Buildings that are at least ten years old (constructed before Dubai Municipality’s building insulation regulations were in place) and have significant glass façades could consider coating the glass with window films to block solar radiation, thereby reducing air-conditioning costs. Such measures, however, cost a lot of money, time and effort.

Real estate owners are, therefore, unlikely to invest in such initiatives. This is where Escos have a role to play. They will install energy- saving equipment and manage the programme at no cost to the building owner. These service providers will recover their fees as a percentage of the energy cost savings. The DSCE has created a super Esco with the establishment of Etihad  Energy, whose mandate is to manage Esco projects on behalf of real estate owners, in accordance with the guidelines set out by the Regulatory and Supervisory Bureau of Dubai.

Of course, Esco projects largely apply to buildings that have numerous  opportunities to reduce energy consumption. Hence this concept will not work in individual villas or apartments.

Society’s role

Various stakeholders such as the government, industry and developers will have important roles in realising the goals of DIES 2030, which will not be achieved overnight. To fight climate change successfully and meet these goals, each resident  of Dubai needs to contribute. If everyone plays their part, the real estate sector can improve its image from being the highest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Source: Sougata Nandi, Special to PW


For Rent


View more properties

For Sale


View more properties