Switch on the right light
How energy efficiency has paved its way in the industry as 'green' movement has come to the fore.
With the UAE currently having the largest ecological footprint in the world, energy efficiency and sustainability is becoming a priority for the government.
And this can be seen with the introduction of the Emirates Energy Awards, which will be held in September 2007, under the patronage of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Construction Week has learned that companies who win an award will be preferred by the government to take on future projects.
Dr Abdalla Mohamed Al Amiri, associate professor at the College of Engineering, UAE University and chairman of the awards, said: "The reason for the introduction of this award by HH Sheikh Mohammed is to promote the preservation of energy resources and build sustainable developments, so we will be closely watching companies that promote this."
Countries all over the world are stepping up efforts to become more ecologically friendly. Australia intends to phase out incandescent light bulbs and replace them with more energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs within the next three years.
India may soon ban incandescent bulbs and replace them with compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) due to a Greenpeace demonstration urging people to phase out the common light bulb in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change.
The European Lamp Companies Federation has also said it will push consumers to switch to energy-saving bulbs in a bid to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
Regional energy consumption, mostly driven by the exploding construction sector, has escalated dramatically in the past few years making some of the countries in the region the highest energy consumers per capita in the world.
Not convinced that the situation will change unless a monetary incentive is presented, Amiri said: "I don't think construction companies here understand that using energy efficient products will save them a lot of money in the long run, as maintaining their buildings will cost them less.
"For instance, the total installed capacity in power plants in the UAE has increased from 500MW in 1971 to 16,500MW in 2006, which means that the installed capacity has increased 33-fold in 35 years. This increase is extremely high if we understand that it takes most countries in the world at least 10 years to double their power capacity."
It is worth noting that the world average increase in the amount of energy consumption is about 4%, while it topped 10% in the UAE alone last year.
Amiri added: "If we use more efficient air conditioning systems, which consume 1kW/tonne, for example, instead of 1.5kW/tonne, we estimate that in the three summer months in the UAE alone, the saved electricity consumption cost could be US $209 million (AED768 million), with the current peaking load of 16,500MW."
Amiri also said that the replacement of the standard incandescent light bulbs with energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs would save the government about $85 million a year, along with saving enough energy that could be reinvested in sustainable energy and sustainable development.
But with the region having an 80% expatriate population and being an international hub for business, would long-term developments appeal to capital-intensive investors who come here in search of quick money?
"In a place where most developers are building for the sole purpose of making profits with a view to sell, measures to sustain long-term developments have to be taken by the top players, such as the master developers and the government, in order to protect the country's interests," said Ani Ray, country director, Simplex Infrastructures.
"At the moment, air conditioning is the main problem, with the concept of district cooling not catching on as fast as it should. The biggest reason for the country's highest ecological footprint is due to energy consumed by air conditioning units."
Foreign developers may only be concerned with their returns and would try and keep construction costs to a minimum, which is not often possible if energy efficient products and methods are used.
"The master developer needs to lay down the terms and conditions which the developers, contractors and consultants then have to follow," said Matt Plumbridge, project manager, Dubai Waterfront.
"District cooling, for example, can be very energy efficient and cost effective in the long run if the plants are installed properly, but that's a benchmark that has to be set by the master developer. The sub-developer is not going to be bothered because he's just going to sell the building after it's complete and then the operation and maintenance costs will be passed on to the end-users."
Amiri added that the electricity and water boards should introduce fines and penalties for over and under-usage of electricity and water.
"In countries that have sophisticated energy preservation systems, if a developer has a building that is using more electricity than it initially asked for, or less for that matter, they are fined per kilowatt and that guarantees that no resources are wasted."