In the UAE, residential buildings form the largest part of the infrastructure and are the biggest consumers of energy. Figures quoted by the authorities and utility companies show that 70 per cent of the power generated is consumed by commercial and residential buildings, with the latter taking the biggest share.
Scarcity of resources and the escalating cost of electricity are two of the biggest drivers for improving energy efficiency. Obviously, environmental concerns are also another major incentive for the continuous pursuit of energy savings. So how can we achieve energy efficiency?
New technologies are constantly being developed, for use in new and existing buildings. Education and raising awareness are essential for achieving behavioural change. For example, energy consumption can be reduced by using insulating materials, and controlling air conditioning and lighting, both of which are occupancy-based. Some of these technologies have existed for a long time; there has never been a better time to put them to good use than now.
Reducing energy consumption is directly correlated to reducing costs. According to several analysts’ reports, every household can reduce its utility bill by 15 per cent by adopting very simple measures. The key to achieving this, however, is through identifying usage patterns and providing consumers with their own usage profiles. Monitoring energy and water consumption is very important, as it reveals consumption behaviour and identifies opportunities for taking corrective action, which in turn facilitates long-term behavioural change.
The biggest challenge now is influencing consumers to act more responsibly towards the environment and help conserve limited natural resources.
If you look at the stock of existing buildings in the UAE and the wider region, you will find some constructed in the 1970s without much consideration for energy efficiency. The basic systems, services and functions in those old buildings can be replaced with today’s significantly more efficient technologies. Enhancing external insulation considerably reduces air-conditioning costs, which are clearly a prerequisite for living in this region. Up to 40 per cent of energy consumption can be conserved if old buildings were to be retrofitted with new technologies. A number of entities in the Emirates have done this and have already started modifying buildings without regulatory pressure.
Proactive change is encouraging; however, the cost of retrofitting new technologies tends to be high, and in some cases, offers only marginal cost benefits. Encouraging developers is an increasingly urgent priority.
Today district cooling delivers chilled water to a number of buildings in a development through a centrally-located cooling facility. This can achieve operational savings of as much as 40 per cent compared to a stand-alone system for each building. However, the initial investment in district-cooling infrastructure is higher than traditional air-conditioning systems, and the cost has to be met – initially at least – by the developer.
So the main issues hindering the implementation of energy-efficient technologies in residential buildings today are cost and resistance to change – which emphasizes the need for designing community developments that respect the need for sustainability.
The UAE has taken significant strides in the development of energy-efficient technologies, establishing it as a knowledge centre in this area. This was recognised when the country was chosen in 2009 as the permanent headquarters for the International Renewable Energy Agency in Abu Dhabi. The UAE has become a centre for global debates and cooperation on renewable energy and climate-change topics; it hosts a series of dedicated conferences and international events such as the World Future Energy Summit (which is held in Abu Dhabi annually).
While significant investment has been dedicated to green-energy generation, raising awareness of responsible energy consumption and driving the adoption of sustainable practices continue to be important government priorities.
Abu Dhabi has set a clear vision for 2030, dictating sustainability as the foundation for all new commercial and residential developments in the emirate. Entities such as Estidama ensure that sustainability goes beyond other sustainable-development initiatives around the world by creating new tools, resources and procedures that are crucial to and fully-aligned with the 2030 vision. In 2010, the Estidama Pearl Rating System became a mandatory requirement for all new developments in the capital.
Today, UAE government bodies are significantly further ahead in the journey towards sustainable energy consumption. Government behaviour and national policies are gradually influencing individuals to adopt an approach that is more responsible and conservative to energy consumption.
Arvind Rotiwar is the building automation regional director of business development for the Middle East and South Asia for Siemens