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Green Mosques

Al Amri and Jomon Thomas tell fmME about the Green Mosques project

The pilot project: The Sultan Bulfara Al Kobaysi Mosque in Madinat Zayed, Abu Dhabi.
The pilot project: The Sultan Bulfara Al Kobaysi Mosque in Madinat Zayed, Abu Dhabi.

Khidmah’s Abdulla Al Amri and Jomon Thomas tell fmME about the Green Mosques project they have been spearheading in Abu Dhabi

Amid the excitement over the construction of the Islamic world’s first eco-friendly mosque in Dubai, another revolutionary “green” project has been quietly taking place at a mosque in Abu Dhabi.

While Dubai may be the first to build a sustainable mosque, it is the UAE’s capital emirate that is making headway on retrofitting an existing mosque to make it greener and more sustainable.

The mosque in question is the Sultan Bulfara Al Kobaysi Mosque in Madinat Zayed, one of 225 mosques located in Abu Dhabi’s Western Region.

Under the purview of Abu Dhabi General Services Company, Musanada, the maintenance of these mosques has been taken care of Abu Dhabi-based FM company Khidmah for the past three years, with the contract recently getting renewed for another three years.

Abdulla Al Amri is the senior services manager for all government projects at Khidmah, and he has been spearheading the sustainability initiative at the Sultan Bulfara Al Kobaysi Mosque.

Aiding him in his efforts in the “Green Mosques” project is Khidmah’s HSQE (Health, Safety, Quality and Environment) manager, Jomon Thomas, a consummate FM professional with more than 17 years of experience in the sector.

Al Amri says Khidmah’s Green Mosques project began not as part of a sustainability drive, but was actually in response to a particular need seen at the Sultan Bulfara Al Kobaysi Mosque.

Last summer, the mosque, which is one of the largest buildings of its kind in Madinat Zayed, had installed more air-conditioners in its interiors in a bid to satisfy its increased cooling requirements at that point of time.

But this move came at a cost—with the mosque’s floor area of approximately 810m2, its air-conditioned volume of approximately 6,900m3, and its operating hours averaging to about 13 hours a day, the increased number of air-conditioners being used at the site began to overload the power that was being supplied to the locality it was in.

This resulted in frequent interruptions to the electricity being provided not just as the mosque, but also its surrounding neighbourhoods.

The problem was brought to the attention of Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority, and given that it’d take time for the utility company to arrange for more power to be supplied at the site, Khidmah made use of generators to fix the issue at the mosque, albeit temporarily.

This is when Al Amri began to think of an alternate solution to the problems they were seeing at the Sultan Bulfara Al Kobaysi Mosque. Instead of looking for ways to supply more energy to the site, Al Amri started wondering if it was possible to cut down on the mosque’s energy demand instead. “We wanted a better solution,” he remembers. “We wanted to make the mosque more sustainable.”

Al Amri went to Thomas with the idea, and the two began brainstorming on sustainable solutions to the problems that they were seeing at Sultan Bulfara Al Kobaysi Mosque.

Thomas—who Al Amri affectionately calls “Khidmah’s sustainability guy”—suggested a phased approach to making the mosque green, envisioning the Sultan Bulfara Al Kobaysi Mosque as a template to follow for other mosques in the Western Region.

With Musanada giving the company the green signal for the Green Mosques project, Khidmah carried out specialized technical feasibility studies to analyse electricity and water consumption through detailed site inspections at three sample mosques, selected to represent a cross-section of the 225 mosques it takes care of in the Western Region.

Armed with the findings they learnt from the above-mentioned study, Al Amri and Thomas decided to initiate the Green Mosques project at the Sultan Bulfara Al Kobaysi Mosque. The process began with the two men overhauling the lighting system being used at the mosque, by replacing its existing lights with energy-efficient LED lights.

“It’s very hard to change an existing mosque to a green one in one go,” Al Amri explains. “So we decided to do it step by step. We started with the lights—we replaced the ones we had with the more energy-efficient LED lights. First, we changed all the internal lights to LED lights. Once we finished that, we went ahead and changed the external lights as well.”

While the amount of energy savings—and not to mention cost savings—that is being projected by changing the lighting system at the Sultan Bulfara Al Kobaysi Mosque (see box-out on page 20: Smarter Lights) is certainly significant, Al Amri and Thomas saw its immediate impact in the diminishing of interruptions to the power supply to the mosque and its surrounding neighbourhoods.

Another effect seen was an increase in the interior thermal comfort of the mosque. “When we started using LED lights, we also saw a reduction in the heat that was being emitted by the 3000+ lights in the structure,” Al Amri says. “People started noticing—they thought we had fixed the AC. But we hadn’t done anything of the sort—we had simply changed the lights.”

“The quality of the indoor environment improved just because of these changes,” Thomas explains. “It has an effect on the thermal envelope of the building. And the indoor comfort is one of the main things that matters in a mosque—as a result of these changes, people who visit the mosque will now want to spend more time in it as well.”

Again, the long-term projected savings in air-conditioning are where the impact of the use of LED lights can be best seen—Thomas notes that the yearly reduction in load comes to a total of 16,607 kWh p.a., which is equivalent to shutting down a seven-tonne air-conditioning unit for a year, resulting in the reduction of 10.48 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

But the replacement of the lights is just one of the improvements that Al Amri and Thomas are planning for the Sultan Bulfara Al Kobaysi Mosque. Al Amri reveals that plans are afoot on making use of a greywater recycling system at the mosque, which will effectively reuse the water being used for the wudu process, the Islamic procedure for washing parts of the body in preparation for prayer.

With an estimated 6,000 people visiting the mosque on a weekly basis (about 1,500 people visit on Friday; an average of 750 visitors per day for the other days of the week), Khidmah has found that about 20 litres of water are being consumed per person for each visit. With this being the scenario, the potential for saving water through recycling and more efficient systems and products is immense.

Another major change Khidmah wants to implement at the mosque is to harness the sun’s energy through solar panels, and use that to power a portion of its energy requirements—Thomas says that the target right now is to use solar energy to drive the lighting at the site. An energy audit has already been conducted as the first step, and Khidmah is now awaiting approvals for the project to move ahead.

“We expect to complete the installations of solar panels by the end of May,” Al Amri reveals, noting that their use would further reduce carbon emissions at the mosque by about 70.53 tons. Al Amri adds that the solar panels they are putting up at the site have attracted a lot of interest from the community as well, with many wanting to make use of such alternative means of energy for their own purposes as well.

While all of these initiatives are currently being implemented at the Sultan Bulfara Al
Kobaysi Mosque, Thomas says that they plan to spread the project to other mosques in the Western Region.

“The plan we have made with Musanada is to have this mosque as our mock or pilot project,” he says. “But the overall strategy is to retrofit another 30 mosques, in phases over the next three years.”

Thomas notes that the impact of the project, if expanded across Abu Dhabi, will be tremendous.

“In Western Region, the electricity is subsidized by the government, maybe up to around 90-95%, or even up to 100%,” he says. “So this kind of innovation which Khidmah is bringing to this field is going to cut down on the energy consumption in a big way. It is going to show our commitment towards ensuring sustainability.”

Al Amri is effusive in his praise of his colleagues and managers at both Musanada and Khidmah for their support in driving the Green Mosques project.

“Musanada is actually pushing this project a lot,” he says. “Their idea is that with initiatives like these, we’ll not only be sustainable, but we’ll also be saving energy, and therefore, the government’s money as well in the long run.”

Thomas, who has been working at Khidmah for about 16 months now, agrees with Al Amri, commending his company for its sustainability agenda. “I’ve been working in this industry for a long time, for different companies,” Thomas says.

“What makes Khidmah different is their vision for a sustainable future. Not only do they have a long-term vision for that, they also have a strategy for achieving it.”

Al Amri adds, “When we file reports as facility managers, Ryan [Ryan Darnell, executive director – services, Khidmah] always asks us to include ideas on how we can save energy, water, etc. at the sites. So, from day 1, such an approach is instilled into our thinking when working at Khidmah. Ryan, Abdulla Al Qamzi [managing director, Khidmah], and the management are always happy to support such initiatives.”

“We consider sustainability in all our operations,” Thomas adds. “The products we use, be it LED lights or biodegradable bags, are in line with Khidmah’s overall policies. People here also have the freedom to express themselves, and bring in new innovations and ideas, which, I think, is very unique for Khidmah. The kind of organization culture which Khidmah has is really quite unique.”

Al Amri says that it is precisely this kind of a work environment that has allowed the fostering and development of an idea like the Green Mosques initiative, with its current investment being born by both Musanada and Khidmah.

“I think, without Jomon, this project would not have been possible,” Al Amri declares. “Without Khidmah, this project wouldn’t have been possible. Without Musanada, this project wouldn’t have possible. All of us in this project played our respective roles well, and we are seeing these good results precisely because of that.”

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