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How MEP experts can impact the Middle East's energy usage footprint

by CW Guest Columnist on Mar 6, 2018

Gary Walton, group managing director, JPW.
Gary Walton, group managing director, JPW.

What are we leaving our grandchildren?

This is a question we should all ask ourselves. The planet’s resources are being used at a rate that cannot be sustained. Oil at its current extraction rate is predicted to last for another 38 years, where as natural gas supplies, based on the same criteria, will be available for another 50 years. These depend on the premise that it will remain affordable, and this data is published in BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy.

Buildings are a major consumer of energy as are cars and transportation. Car manufacturers have taken the challenge of sustainability seriously. Electric cars will be the norm by 2030. Truck and aircraft manufacturers have already started to look at electric options for their products.

Non-combusted fossil fuel products such as lubricants have already moved to produce synthetic lubricants.

This leaves buildings and industries as the major users of liquid fossil fuels/electricity. The move towards sustainable electrical supplies is reliant on a reduction in consumption.

The electricity and water consumption in the Middle East is among the highest per capita in the world.  Here, in the UAE, we are sixth in the world of electrical usage per capita. The USA is 11th and the UK is 60th.  The UAE uses 338% more electricity per person than the UK and 134% more of the electricity that is used per capita in the USA. The USA is the second largest electricity consumer globally.

The world’s largest power consumer is China; however, its per capita power usage is 26.6% of the UAE.

Both USA and China are industrial power houses with the production of cars, electronics and a multitude of consumable goods, and this contributes to and increases the countries’ overall consumption of electricity.

In defence of this region, the UAE’s electrical consumption is negatively affected by the extensive use of air conditioning, which is a requirement in this climate, much as heating is a requirement in northern European countries. However, the USA also has a substantial air conditioning requirement, and as mentioned previously, it has extensive industrial capacity.

One conclusion to the huge power usage is that there are extensive inefficiencies in the design and construction of buildings, and these are a major electrical power consumer.

This enormous electrical power usage is being highlighted to building operators and owners by the recent increase in the electrical and water tariffs.  This will, at last, drive owners and developers to include technologies within the MEP systems that will reduce the day-to-day costs of operation.

Designers will be required to undertake much fuller analysis of the requirements for cooling and water usage. The days of “you can never have too much cooling” are gone.

The responsibility of reducing the electrical consumption footprint of a building is with the entire design team, and not just with the architect or MEP engineers. The type of cladding materials, roofing systems, glazing systems, shading systems, doors and glazing seals are all architectural but they affect the internal environment and the workings of the MEP designer.

The collaborative approach rarely happens at this level. Architects typically select materials that integrate with their concept and receive little or no support from the MEP designer.

There are volumes of publications and recommendations describing and specifying how we can reduce the electrical consumption of buildings. There are numerous ‘smart’ products that will also reduce our electrical consumption.

MEP engineers have the opportunity to impact this region’s energy usage footprint, by the extensive analysis of energy required and employ technologies that are proven and available.  Too many buildings are “cookie cut” and statements like “That’s how we do it” are heard way too often.

This is our time, the time for the MEP engineer to take the lead. If we miss our opportunity, we will have failed every generation after the next.

Thomas Edison, the inventor of the electric light bulb, made this statement in 1931: “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

Why have we waited until 2018, 87 years later?

None of us want a dystopian world for our grandchildren. Even if you don’t have children, we each have a responsibility to the generations that follow us, many of our ancestors have laid down their life for future generations, all we are being asked to do is be smart.