Energy talk

As the company launches its green buildings division, DC Pro Engineering CEO George Berbari talks to Alison Luke about the potential energy solutions that exist in the Middle East and how the battle for sustainable buildings can be won.


As the company launches its green buildings division, DC Pro Engineering CEO George Berbari talks to Alison Luke about the potential energy solutions that exist in the Middle East and how the battle for sustainable buildings can be won.

Already well established in the district cooling sector, consultancy DC Pro Engineering has now made an even more direct move into the sustainable construction market with the launch of its Green Buildings Division.

Intended to enable the firm to provide total building energy solutions to clients, DC Pro CEO George Berbari states that the combined resources of the two divisions can save up to 55% of a building's electrical energy needs.

One of the first contracts won by the new division was to produce a green building standard code and district cooling internal building code for Ras Al Khaimah-based Rakeen.

Intended for use on all future Rakeen projects, and to meet the firm's desire to prove the economic sense of green buildings, the code has shown possible savings in construction costs through the application of sustainable design.

"It is one of the most practical codes written on the subject anywhere in the world," assures Berbari, "we've shown that we can save 3% of construction costs by applying 80% of [the available] building measures," he adds.

"There is cost saving in green building and if someone is saying to a developer that you can save 3% construction costs and 30-40% of your energy and water - who can say no?," he asks.

Structural analysis

In terms of energy, with the region's climate in mind, the most obvious place to begin seeking energy savings is in the air conditioning system.

And as a subject close to Berbari's heart, this is one of the main focuses of the firm's green buildings division.

"When it comes to the cooling system, which [in the Middle East] contributes around 70% of the building energy use, the world has a blurred idea of what to do and this is where we thought we can really contribute in terms of the simple, reliable solutions that have proven themselves in the field,|" explains Berbari.

By reducing the need for air conditioning the overall energy loads of a building can be dramatically reduced and this can be achieved in several ways, starting with the structure itself.

"The role of the MEP professional today is to work with the architect on the [building] working hand-in-hand we can show that if [the architect] can use less glass that has a higher light transmission, not only will this reduce the cooling load but the artificial lighting needs during the day," explains Berbari.

"We are showing that they can use architectural aluminium cladding that is so close in colour to glass that you can barely differentiate them...aluminium cladding costs half that of glass, so you can achieve simultaneous construction cost reductions in addition to energy reductions in both the cooling system and artificial lighting," he adds.

The role of air conditioning

Once the energy savings from the structure are maximised, the next step for the firm is to look at the type of air conditioning system used.

As an expert in district cooling, Berbari stresses the benefits of such systems, but is quick to point out that improvements can also be made in such plants to increase sustainability.

Since its launch in 2007, DC Pro has designed in excess of 600,000TR of district cooling installations. It has a further one million TR lined up for the future, with continual process improvements planned.

"By implementing thermal storage and efficient system and series counterflow, plus TSE (treated sewage effluent) in our plants we reduce by 33% the energy use and cut a lot of water usage," Berbari explains.

He reports that the use of TSE for cooling tower make-up water is expected to be enforced by the end of 2008 under legislation from Dubai Municipality.

District cooling providers are also likely to be required to implement thermal storage on all plants.

The choice made here can make a big difference to the overall sustainability of the district cooling system Berbari states.

"I'm categorically against ice [thermal storage] for the simple reason that it consumes 30% more power [than chilled water versions] and that means more CO2 emissions - it's not an environmentally friendly solution," he explains.

"I don't condemn ice completely as there will still be some applications [where it is more suitable], but 90% of the thermal storage now in the Middle East uses chilled water because its much more efficient, cost-effective and has simpler operation," he adds.

The main benefit of ice thermal storage systems is that they need around one-sixth of the volume of chilled water alternatives. The issue of available land can be overcome however by stacking the water storage tanks assures Berbari.

For internal air conditioning systems Berbari pioneered the use of double fresh air heat recovery systems and maintains that this is among the best solutions available. His focus today, however, is on the volumes of air being used in buildings, citing gross wastage on a widescale basis.

"I'm shifting focus from double heat recovery into the quantity of fresh air and exit used in systems. I'm seeing systems where people are using [double heat recovery units] but they are still specifying five times more exhaust than ASHRAE standards require," he reports.

"People need to get educated on the amount of fresh air that ASHRAE Standard 62: 2007 version says that we need...for example the standard ventilation for a residential toilet [under ASHRAE Standard 62] is 25cfm, but we're stilling seeing 35, 50 and 70 cfm being used widely in the market," he states. Such wastage must be tackled he stresses.

Carbon neutraldevelopments

The primary source of energy for buildings is the third area under Berbari's microscope at DC Pro. "The biggest challenge is to get to most economically feasible and environmentally friendly energy source," he states.

"We would like to approach the carbon neutral solution as much as we can...we are sitting on the best solar belt in the world and we would like to see more investment and more encouragement from the government [to utilise this energy]," he states.

"Instead of subsidising electric power using fossil fuels like they are doing today, we would like them to subsidise a solar plant.

We have the desert, we have land and we have sun," he adds. The difference in cost of solar and natural gas produced electricity would be only around five US cents if open market values were applied to both, Berbari reports.

The most economical and widely used form of solar power in the Middle East is currently thermal systems for domestic hot water supply, however further options are available stresses Berbari.

He is currently pioneering approaches including a centralised solar heating system that operates in a closed cycle, thus saving duplication of metering. In addition, by altering the angle of solar panels to 45 or 50 degrees, the amount of energy derived can be increased.

"This maximises the solar energy gained in winter and minimises it in summer and that's a prime target in this region," he explains.

"Green building is the minimum that we can do...unless we approach carbon neutral we cannot stop global warming and we do not have the energy resources to sustain growth," he concludes.


George Berbari: Up close and personal

George Berbari graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the American University of Beirut, Lebanon in 1985.

An affiliate member of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) he has had several papers published by the Association.

Berbari has more than 20 years' experience in the Middle East heating, ventilation and air conditioning sector, holding positions including operation management in Tecmo Industries Group and sales management with UTS Carrier.

 A pioneer in the region's district cooling sector, he was the engineering manager and one of the founders of district cooling utility Tabreed.

 Electro-mechanical consultancy DC Pro Engineering was founded in the UAE in 2007.

The firm launched a Green Buildings Division in April 2008. This will focus on reducing the energy use in buildings through electro-mechanical design.

Initial contracts for the Green Building Division include the MEP services design for several district cooling plants and the production of a green building standard and district cooling internal building code for Ras Al Khaimah-based Rakeen. 

Through a combination of its district cooling and green buildings division activities the firm estimates that it can reduce a building's total energy demands by up to 55%.

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