Green construction mushrooming in UAE


In November of 2013, the Burj Khalifa was lit ablaze with fireworks as Dubai won the bid to host the World Expo 2020. Within the overarching theme of  “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”, sustainability was positioned as one of three main pillars of the 6-month exhibition event. As an estimated $7 billion is slated to be spent on infrastructure development for the mega event – $1 billion on Expo Village alone – the Dubai government has launched a full scale campaign to leverage this winning bid to develop Dubai into “one of the smartest cities in the world.”  Eco-friendly construction has become a foundational principle in the UAE as strategic economic plans include strong sustainability platforms. Driving the low carbon future of the UAE is the commitment to green infrastructure and smart buildings, ensuring eco-friendly architecture with things like energy efficient air conditioning units, recyclable construction materials, renewable energy systems for heating and cooling, and automated thermostats.

Sustainable construction was first embraced in the UAE by Abu Dhabi, with the creation of a building and design methodology platform in 2010 known as Estidama, to promote the core sustainability principles of the Abu Dhabi 2030 master plan. Under Estidama, the Pearl Rating System (PRS), similar to the LEED rating system in the United States, was built as an essential tool to promote sustainable design, construction, and operations of new infrastructure development in the capital Emirate. The PRS building-rating framework operates on a scale from 1 to 5 Pearls with all new private projects mandated to achieve 1 Pearl, and 2 Pearls for government projects, based on specific credit requirements.

As Abu Dhabi continues to realize its sustainable urban development goals through the sophisticated Estidama and Pearl Rating programmes, Dubai Municipality recently outlined its own Green Building legislation. The municipality has highlighted green building standards as a key component of a government-led demand side management initiative launched in 2010, held as a key component of Dubai’s own Integrated Energy Strategy 2030. Already, successful demand-side management pilots in Abu Dhabi, geared towards time-of-use electricity pricing, indicate public openness to sustainable measures. Initially targeted toward government buildings, the new mandates have been expanded to include private development. Because 70% of total energy consumed in Dubai is by buildings, and of that, up to 80% is used for climatization, or heating and cooling (mainly cooling in the oppressive heat of the summer months), the goal is to reduce energy consumption by 30% by 2030.

According to Dubai Municipality, almost half a billion sq. ft. of building area is slated to be constructed over the years leading up to the Expo, all of which will abide by the new building standards. 79 new specifications have been added to the codes geared towards materials manufacturers, suppliers, developers, and contractors.

In addition to the regulations and codes roll-out, the Dubai government is working to educate industry stakeholders of the business benefits of going green. “A lot of people are afraid that going green will increase costs”, said Eng Abdullah Raifa of Dubai Municipality, speaking on an expert panel at the Sustainable Expo 2020 Seminar this past May. One way these misconceptions are being addressed is through the development and marketing of the newly inaugurated eco-friendly market place, the Al Fahidi Souq, built in full compliance of the Green Building standards. The 50 million dirham, or $13 million, green project was completed with a 0% increase in costs after using entirely green building materials, with water and energy savings of 25% and 43%, respectively. Other estimates for development costs suggest an up to 6% increase, but argue that the upfront cost is earned back handsomely through the long term energy and water savings.

Along side the new building codes, a new regulatory framework was launched which mandates energy efficiency refurbishments of existing buildings. The new regulations stipulate a plan to retrofit 50,000 of the existing 130,000 buildings in Dubai. To enable activity in this space, the Dubai Electricity and Water authority created Etihad ESCO, an energy service company which supports contract market across the sector through project development, financing facilitation, and assists in capacity building of local ESCOs. Etihad works along side Dubai’s Regulatory and Supervisory Bureau (RSB). The RSB aims to develop standardized contracts, an ESCO accreditation scheme, dispute resolution processes, and a uniform M&V protocols.

The green building materials industry is being galvanized as the compulsory regulations and activities of Etihad ESCO and RSB are driving demand. According to Adam Weber, Energy Efficiency Executive at Smart4Power, a Dubai-based engineering company that provides turnkey solutions for building energy and water efficiency, “the run-up to the Expo has been a strong driver behind the development of the local energy efficiency industry”. Companies like Smart4Power, which engage in energy audits and retrofit installations, have seen a spike in business opportunities as government policies prompt developers and property owners to invest in energy efficiency.

Tackling free zone areas across the emirate will be a challenge. With 17 free zones in Dubai alone, these free trade areas do not fall under the purview of the Dubai Municipality, therefore buildings within the zones are not subject to the mandatory regulations. Here, corporate buy-in to the economic benefits of going green will be key, unless DEWA sets forth separate mandates, as they are the only government authority, along with the Dubai Police, that have power to override ownership authorities in the free zones.

Mega events like Expo 2020 and the World Cup 2022 in Qatar are being deemed as opportunities for the Middle East to the lead the charge in eco-friendly construction and development. As the UAE ramps up its green building regulations and materials market, leadership would like to see the codes be used as a framework to regionalize standards across the GCC, which will likely broaden the market. Unlike other renewable and sustainable sectors, like solar and energy storage, which have had more sluggish government movement to spur the market in the UAE, the eco-friendly construction sectors really are enjoying the benefits of favorable policies and government buy-in. The policy push, along with all the new projects breaking ground, and old projects being revived after the 2008 crisis, have positioned the market to enjoy rapid growth as Dubai stands firm to earn the title of “Most Sustainable City”.


Source: the Energy Collective

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