A green gulf
Kurt Parry investigates the green movement across the Middle East and asks if the green word is actually spreading.
When it comes to landmark projects, big may be good, but environmentally sound is even better. An increasing number of developers, architects and clients in the Gulf are discovering that 'green projects' can have significant economic benefits as well as environmental advantages.
Recently, Dubai declared its intention to become the first Middle East city to ensure buildings comply with a set of global environmental standards. The declaration is in line with the massive international shift towards sustainability in construction and follows Dubai's Strategic Plan 2015.
According to a resolution issued by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, from January next year (2008) all new buildings must meet strict international guidelines for construction.
Although the new standards will mean changes in practice for some developers, for others it will be business as usual. Energy Management Services (EMS) has bases in Jordan and the UAE, but operates throughout the Middle East. Founded in 1991, it specialises in cost effective energy.
According to Samuel Keehn, environment and sustainability manager at EMS, the new legislation is revolutionary. "To introduce such a mandate in Dubai really is huge. To be honest even a few months ago, I'm not sure that I would have believed that it could happen. This doesn't just make it one of the leading initiatives in the Middle East, but on a global scale.
Within the region, we've done a couple of projects in Saudi Arabia and there are two initiatives in Beirut, but absolutely nothing on the scale of what's taking place here. The others are far more geared towards energy efficiency than totally green buildings."
Getting the green light
So what constitutes green building? The international benchmark is the LEED standard rating system (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). It began life as an American initiative back in 1994 - since then it has evolved through a wide consensus process, guided by architects, engineers, developers and builders.
A building is rated on six criteria - sustainability of the site, energy and atmosphere considerations, materials and resources, water efficiency, indoor environmental quality and innovation/design. The overall rating can also be varied depending on the type of project - residential, commercial, retail, new or existing buildings etc.
Once the assessment is complete, a building can be classified as certified, silver, gold or the ultimate green credential - platinum. The first Middle East building to achieve this accolade was the Pacific Control Systems building in Dubai.
Its key green features include soil erosion measures, water efficient equipment, solar-thermal air conditioning, high-efficiency chillers, solar lighting, the use of materials with high recycled content, variable speed drives for centrifugal fans and pumps, CO2 monitoring for indoor air quality, low volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in carpets, adhesives, sealants and paints and use of eco-friendly house-keeping chemicals.
It is estimated that the combined measures will result in a 35% energy saving compared with a normal building of a similar type and a 40% saving in water consumption.
Dilip Rahulan, chairman and CEO of Pacific Control Systems says, "we adopted an integrated design to maximise energy efficiency in our green building. We're using solar energy for the building's entire lighting needs and solar-thermal air-conditioning for its fresh air-cooling requirements.
"As part of our corporate social responsibility (CSR), we promote green buildings around the world and our green building initiative shows our commitment to the Dubai government's drive towards achieving sustainable environment protection."
While Dubai is doing its best to take the lead in the environmental race, other Middle Eastern countries are taking up the challenge too.
Qatar's contender is Energy City - the first hydrocarbon industry business cluster in the Gulf. Once again, EMS is behind the project, reviewing design and techniques, optimising system design, introducing energy control systems, analysing energy bills and managing facilities.
According to Energy City Qatar's CEO, Hesham Al Emadi, "the most attractive reasons for many developers to integrate green solutions into their projects are the considerable economic incentives.
"EMS solutions will ensure Energy City Qatar will benefit from reduced operational costs, reduced capital and installation costs, lower maintenance and labour costs, in addition to reduced water costs.
"Furthermore, by improving the operational performance of energy systems, EMS solutions contribute to reduced running costs and energy consumption, potentially saving thousands on utility bills for tenants of Energy City Qatar."
And other exponents of green construction are as keen to emphasise the financial aspect. According to EMS's managing director, Khaled Bushnaq, this is about more than noble environmental sentiments. He believes there are strong economic and social grounds for going green.
"The EMS solutions are guaranteed to increase profitability, increase operational productivity, increase equipment efficiency, increase the life span of the equipment and additionally enhance company image. With these assurances, the question is no longer why build green, but rather, why wouldn't you?" Bushnaq says.
While there is no doubt about the ethic of developments going green, is it something that is being welcomed in general? "The public are interested, but I wouldn't exactly say welcoming. It's the industry itself, which has been much more receptive. It's the latest trend in architecture, building and facilities management, and Dubai loves being at the forefront," says Samuel Keehn.
"The fact that an energy business centre is going green is an unmistakable indication to the world that natural resources must be conserved, especially in the Middle East where fresh water is scarce.
"By incorporating effective green solutions, Energy City Qatar is setting a great example for other Middle Eastern developers to construct sustainable communities that support conservation of energy and water resources."
The green industrial revolution
Jordan and many of the Gulf regions, face tough environmental challenges in the first part of the 21st century. Population growth will inevitably place more demands on very limited water supplies, soil erosion is a problem, as is deforestation. Not surprisingly, it is one of the countries keen to embrace new green standards.
Just a short distance from the Queen Alia Airport and near to Amman and the port city of Aqaba, the Al Mushatta green industrial hub project is well underway. It spans an area of 4.4 million m2 and is using a combination of the latest infrastructure and environmental considerations to attract companies to relocate there.Phase one of the city, approximately 1.3 million m2, is already complete and includes the main management and service buildings.
The 'Green Industrial City' concept is clear evidence of the way industrial zones are heading. Modern companies want green credentials, desire cost saving and need the latest technological infrastructure.
In Al Mushatta's case that means water wells, power transformers, road network accessibility, advanced telecom utilities accommodating networks and digital solutions, voice services and ISDN connections, fire fighting connection and sewage and water treatment systems.
Services such as banks, customs and clearance offices, a supermarket and a permanent exhibition/convention centre are included. The centralisation has the added bonus of cutting transportation needs and energy consumption even further.
Naturally, the green issue is not an "all or nothing" question. Some developments merely seek to augment traditional energy sources.
The Bahrain World Trade Centre is a perfect example - a pair of linked skyscrapers built with three integrated 29-metre diameter wind turbine generators. Each turbine has been installed on its own specially strengthened bridge between the two 50-storey, 240 meter-tall, office towers situated on the Manama waterfront in Bahrain.
The three turbines will generate well over 1000 MWh of electricity a year - but that is only enough to supply 11-15% of the energy requirements of the buildings. The wind turbines will also eliminate 55,000 tons of carbon emissions annually.
Developers and facilities management companies may be understandably wary of the difficulties they may face with a potential lack of equipment, technology and skills, but that may not necessarily be the case.
"It's not so much about a challenge, but more about a change from the standard way of doing things. A great deal more time is spent on the design side of things, but if that is done well, then this is more than made up for later on. There are plenty of new products on offer and an awful lot of innovation," explains Keehn.
Some are not interested in partial measures - perhaps the boldest vision of a green Gulf comes from one man - German architect Eckhard Gerber.
His stated aim is to build three office towers in Riyadh, Dubai and Bahrain which will be totally self sufficient in terms of energy and will create zero emissions.
His design was presented to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce in Bahrain and to the Arriyadh Development Authority in Riyadh in March 2007 as well as to the Dubai Municipality in September 2006. Project developers in all three locations are now preparing the realisation of the project.
The first of the trio has already attracted an international nickname - the "greenscraper". The 322 meter Burj Al Taqa (Energy Tower) in Dubai will use sun, wind and water to create its own energy.
According to Gerber, the building concept of the Energy Tower is based on the analysis of the so-called wind towers - part of the traditional Arabian architecture.
"In a region with temperatures reaching 50°C, wind towers provide entirely ecological ventilation by using the energy of the wind only.
"The wind towers are transforming the hot wind into a cooling breeze inside the houses to maximise indoor comfort.
"The Energy Tower transfers these principles into the modern structure of a 60-story high-rise building by using the energy of the wind for the ventilation of the entire building." explains Gerber.
"This will mean any mechanical ventilation system becomes obsolete. By these and further means, energy consumption is reduced down to 40% of a common high rise."
A newly developed sun protection device - the solar shield - will rotate around the building while tracking the sun and it prevents the interior of the building from being heated up by the sun.
It will incorporate semi transparent photovoltaics to produce solar power, which is augmented by further photovoltaics on the mall at the foot of the building - in total, they will cover an area of 15,000 m2.
Additional energy is provided by an island of solar panels with an area of 17,000 m2, which drifts in the sea within viewing distance of the tower.
A central atrium will channel chilled air into the building that air will be pre-cooled with seawater, dispersed throughout the building and ventilated through a double-skin glass facade. Low temperature water will run through tubes installed into the ceilings to increase the cooling effect.
The whole 68-storey structure is topped with a 60m high wind turbine. Any surplus energy will be stored in hydrogen and hot water tanks. The plan is to extract hydrogen from the sea water using excess electricity gained during the day when the solar panels are most active. The hydrogen will then be used as reserve power at night.
There is no doubt that this is a radical concept, which will test the boundaries of green technology. Gerber himself describes it as "fantastic" and "brilliant".
"There is nothing like this in the whole world - this kind of accomplishment is very rare," he says.
Perhaps there lies the key - the Middle East is famed as a region where economic and social conditions exist which allow the boundaries of design and technology to be pushed in a far more extreme way than in most other parts of the world.
These days, developers seeking international prestige are as likely to find it by green innovation as building taller, bigger and more elaborate structures.
Admittedly, the technology being used here is specifically tailored to the climatic conditions of the Gulf. But there's no doubt that the lessons learned will be watched avidly by a world trying to grapple with a very difficult challenge - how to dramatically cut energy consumption without losing the modern comforts and conveniences many residents and businesses have come to regard as their right.