Masdar-designed smart villas to cut household energy use

Those who live in the smart villas will notice a substantial drop in their energy and water usage.

A rendering of the phase 2 expansion of Masdar City and purpose-built community serving the city’s dedicated R&D cluster. Courtesy Masdar
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ABU DHABI // From the outside, it looks like a normal villa, but the new Masdar design will be among the most eco-friendly properties in the world.

Those who live there might not notice many differences from a normal home. But what they will notice is a substantial drop in their utility bills as the villa is expected to use a quarter of the energy and 35 per cent less water compared with the average Abu Dhabi household.

Chris Wan, head of design management at Masdar City, said that while the villas will be constructed at Masdar City, they could be built anywhere in the UAE.

“Although it is a prototype, it is designed to be lived in by a family to help understand its performance under ‘live’ conditions,” he said.

The savings are, in part, because of experimental water and energy-saving technologies in the villa.

According to Mr Wan, energy in the average household is considered wasted only when a device is consuming energy without purpose, for example lights left on when a home is empty.

To that end, the Smart Home Energy Management System research project led by the Masdar Institute is currently testing intelligent IT systems to manage that. The system learns the habits of the residents so that it can reduce energy consumption. For example, if the residents are at work during the day, it would automatically reduce the levels of air conditioning during that period.

Masdar specialists are also studying energy-efficient indoor climate control technologies, known as variable refrigerant flow systems, for the eco-villa project and other residential and commercial real estate.

“Cooling in villas is responsible for between 40 and 70 per cent of their energy consumption, therefore a highly energy efficient cooling system is key to achieving low to net zero ­energy,” Mr Wan said.

The four-bedroom “eco-villa” is designed to consume 97 kilowatt-hours per square metre per year without solar panels, which is 72 per cent less energy than older villas in Abu Dhabi typically consume, and 46 per cent less than newer properties.

Residents who wish to completely offset their energy consumption can do so with an optional “net zero energy” version of the prototype, which has ­solar panels on the roof.

Dr Muhammad Asif, associate professor in architectural engineering at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Saudi Arabia, said while environmentally friendly houses were a good idea, changing mindsets was also important.

“Technological innovation alone can only partially help,” he said. “About 15 to 30 per cent of energy could be saved by good housekeeping or changes of attitude.

“Awareness or motivation is the most important part of any sustainability drive, and yet it is the least-addressed issue in GCC countries.”