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Still Cool

by Gerhard Hope on Nov 14, 2010

The exterior of the Masdar Institute
The exterior of the Masdar Institute
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RELATED ARTICLES: Siemens makes move in to Masdar | In Pictures: Masdar City scales back plans | First residents move into $22bn Masdar City

RELATED ARTICLES: Siemens makes move in to Masdar | In Pictures: Masdar City scales back | First residents move into $22bn Masdar City

The Masdar City development is to be scaled back dramatically. But it remains at the forefront of innovation, particularly in energy management.

Afshin Afshari is in charge of Masdar City’s strategy for energy efficiency, demand side management (DSM) and the smart grid, during the design and operational stages. This encompasses the optimisation of available resources and the reduction of demand, which are equally important. Afshari gave a presentation at the World Architecture Conference at Cityscape Global 2010 at the Dubai International Conference and Exhibition Centre.

“I have not been involved too much with what Masdar is most known for, namely PV and active generation systems. We are working on the more low-key stuff, which is actually becoming more important as the project evolves.” Afshari says DSM refers specifically to the efficiency of buildings, and “how we can save energy at the source rather than produce expensive renewable electricity.”

Energy efficiency, of course, is a major pillar of sustainability. “It is one of the most important issues, with direct implications for water use and carbon reduction, for example,” says Afshari. Energy efficiency is critical in terms of Masdar City overall, which has a built footprint of 2.8 km². “The sustainability targets of Masdar City have not changed really since its origins, although the timeline has been extended. We will now be approaching those targets in a more progressive fashion.”

The first building of Masdar City to be up and running is the initial phase of the Masdar Institute campus, while the Masdar Headquarters, which will also house Irena, is ongoing. Afshari highlights some of the passive design features: “The streets are relatively narrow to enhance shading; we use natural ventilation such as wind cones; we use an undercroft for all the utilities and public transportation.”

Masdar City, and the Middle East region in general, has specific climatic conditions that impact on the design. In summer, the dry bulb temperature typically peaks at 45˚C. “The humidity, on the other hand, is typically low during the day, but gets higher in the evening.” In terms of solar radiation, “we rarely have any cloud in the summer.

However, we do have an effect which has become quite important in our designs, namely that, because of the dust and haze, the direct normal radiation is actually quite low compared to places like California, Nevada and the south of Spain, for example. What I am stating here was not always so obvious to Masdar City, but now everyone is more or less convinced that trying to achieve a low-carbon city without first optimising the demand side can be very expensive.

“You can build ‘business as usual’ buildings and then put in as much PV as it takes to cover that demand, but then it is not a very sustainable approach. So right now we are really focusing on demand-side reduction, which is the buildings, the air-con systems and the infrastructure generally speaking, before even starting to look at active renewable energy resources,” says Afshari.

“Typically, energy efficiency can be seen in different lights. Of course, through efficient design of buildings and systems we can conserve energy, which means basically that the profile of the load or demand for energy will come down across the board. On the other hand, we can also do things after the commissioning of the buildings and systems to further save energy, but also to do things that are generally covered under the term of ‘demand side management’, namely load shifting or peak shaving, which are not strictly speaking energy conservation, but are very significant for the grid and for the utilities. If you can shave your peak demand, it is usually welcomed by the grid,” says Afshari.

This implies “a lot of emphasis on design-stage efficiency, as we want to conserve energy and reduce water use through standardisation and building codes and appliance labels, for example. We will also try to reduce energy and water consumption through optimal integration of utilities. When the buildings are operational, what then? Then we rely on what is now known as smart grids or smart buildings to continuously commission a building – you keep monitoring a building and its HVAC systems, and intervene as soon as you detect a discrepancy or a loss of efficiency.

Continuous commissioning means you can make a building even more efficient than it was originally due to new technology coming in. For us we will be happy if we can keep the building as efficient as it was during the original commissioning.