Renewed hope

Renewable energy technologies are already being seen on projects in the Middle East, but only sporadically. Peter Ward reports on the current market for such products and the impact that green building legislation is expected to have on their uptake.

ANALYSIS, MEP

Renewable energy technologies are already being seen on projects in the Middle East, but only sporadically. Peter Ward reports on the current market for such products and the impact that green building legislation is expected to have on their uptake.

Green building is currently high on the agenda of most developers, consultants or contractors. One method of achieving sustainability in a project is to ensure that renewable energy technology is used.

There are numerous different technologies available for use in buildings and due to the Middle East climate the most logical and popular type used to date have been solar powered. However there are several other options open to consultants, ranging from wind power to greywater harvesting.
 

Atkins Middle East's regional head of sustainability, Nick Lander comments on the current use of renewable technology in the region: "Renewables are a last resort in green design and we are seeing some use across the Gulf."

Among the examples he lists are the photovoltaic (pv) panels that are being used to provide power within Knowledge Village, Dubai. "Solar hot water and pvs are also being used for remote systems like marine navigation lights and parking meters," he adds.

The use of such products in the Middle East is increasing, as Whitby & Bird's director of sustainability and renewables Heath Andersen reports. "I think there is more of a focus on renewable energy.

It's a combination of things: people are realising that there is so much to be done here and it is an energy resource that we should be harnessing more. I think [clients] are doing that a little bit off their own bat and the authorities are also driving it a little bit."

One of the challenges that the application of renewables faces is that developers and building owners have to wait to see a return on their investment.

Andersen explains: "We do a lot of projects for developers who pass the properties on, so getting them to engage in operational costs is still a bit of a challenge. Sometimes because they are going to develop and then get rid of [the building] they are not too worried about the operational costs over ten years."

Legislative incentives

New legislation and guidelines have gone a long way to promoting the use of renewable technology. Lander states: "The new rules are a good step in the right direction for sustainable design in general and they will encourage designers to stretch themselves to come up with more elegant solutions."

Some legislation such as that dictated by the Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZA) is praised by Andersen for requiring developers to not only abide by the US Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating systems but add a further 2.5% savings on top. He reasons that the guidelines are the main reason owners are installing the green technologies.

"There are some clients taking it up off their own back and doing it because they think it's a good idea, but the green building regulations definitely are the biggest driver," states Anderson.

Viessmann general manager Murat Aydemir is also quick to praise the legislation. "The regulations are very good at making people aware of what they should do and are good guidelines for improving a building's green technology," he states. But warns: "[The legislation] is a starting point, it's not the end."

Mario Seneviratne, director of Green Technologies and secretary to the board of the Emirates Green Building Council agrees, stressing that LEED assessments cannot fully motivate developers to use renewable technologies.

"If you take a subject like LEED, why would you spend a couple of million Dirhams to get one point under renewables when you could use it and get two points under something else?" he questions. "There is a carrot, but I don't think it is a big enough carrot to make people go in that direction solely."

Energy options

Solar energy is the most popular renewable technology in the Middle East and rightly so considering the virtually constant available sunshine in the region. However there are different types of solar technology available and several other technologies that operate independently of the sun.


There are two major technologies that utilise the power of the sun: pvs and solar thermal systems. "There is a big interest in photovoltaic and solar electrical production, but the investment is quite high and the payback is still quite long, so this technology needs some time until the payback period gets shorter," Aydemir explains. "I think solar thermal has a big future.

This technology is used worldwide and it is strange that in the Middle East to date the use of solar thermal has not been too widespread."

The use of solar thermal products does appear to be increasing, mainly due to its relatively short payback period. Seneviratne reports: "Recently I was at a conference and I was pleased to see the numerous projects that have been done with renewable technologies and energy technologies. Most of them appeared to be solar thermal, which we all know has a fairly short payback period."

Other renewable technologies that have been applied in the region include wind turbines, such as those installed on the Bahrain World Trade Centre.

The cost of installing wind turbines on a building can be considerable however, and the amount of energy generated is relatively low. On the Bahrain World Trade Centre a maximum of 15% of the building's energy needs are expected to be generated by the turbines.

However, the premium on the project price by using the wind turbines was less than 3% reports Atkins. This was achieved by adapting standard available wind turbines. Research indicates that using specially designed versions could add a 30% premium to project costs.

Renewable research

Research is continually being carried out on renewable technology worldwide and increasingly within the Middle East region.

Several organisations and firms are currently undertaking such projects or have future plans to do so. One of the largest of these is the Masdar Initiative, which was set up in 2006 by the Abu Dhabi Government with the objective of establishing the use of sustainable and renewable technologies as common practice in the new Masdar City and the Emirate in general.

In May this year the initiative announced that it is initially investing US $2 billion (AED7.4 billion) into pv research; $600 million of these funds are due to be spent on establishing two manufacturing facilities for the technology, one in Germany, the other in Abu Dhabi.

The main project the Masdar Initiative is working on is Masdar City, which has been announced as the first world's first zero carbon and zero waste city. The budget for the project is $22 billion and it will feature a number of renewable energy technologies including photovoltaic cells (see box ‘Renewable energy case studies').

Research into the potential application of renewable technologies is also being carried out by a number of individual firms. MEP consultant Atkins is one such firm that is taking the increased application of renewable resources very seriously. One of the firm's most recent initiatives involves a research project to determine the performance of pv panels for building applications in the region.

Lander explains: "Atkins' team of sustainability experts and architects have set up a solar panel test rig to measure a variety of climatic factors such as extreme temperatures, humidity, dust collection and wind speeds, which cannot be simultaneously assembled via practical lab tests or theoretical satellite readings."

The rig has been placed at height to mimic the range of orientations used in real building applications. The data will be collected and analysed over a 12-month period in co-operation with a number of pv panel technologists and manufacturers. The results will then be ratified and published to enable calculated recommendations to be made to clients.


Electricity price effects

Current rises in electricity prices may boost the use of renewable technologies as the payback periods are cut as a result. Seneviratne explains: "The higher the cost of energy, the more renewable technology becomes financially viable."

If electricity costs are higher then any financially thinking developer will be forced into considering ways to save on power costs. Installing technology to generate energy sustainably is one of the best options available, after reducing the overall power consumption.

There can be no doubt that green building and sustainable methods of construction will feature heavily in the future. The role of renewable energy technology within this is less clear, however there are a number of factors that suggest a positive outlook for renewables.

Government initiatives such as Masdar are leading the way, pumping billions of dollars into research and implementations; individual companies are also continuously working on new products; MEP consultants are looking to use the new technologies where possible; and the rising electricity costs are accelerating the entire process.

All this, together with green building regulations forcing the hand of developers, suggests that renewable technologies have more than a fighting chance of making it big in the Middle East in the near future.

Renewable energy case studies

Bahrain World Trade Centre

The Bahrain World Trade Centre in Manama includes the world's first building integrated wind turbines. The twin office towers feature three 29m-diameter turbines sited on horizontal supports between the buildings. The breeze from the adjacent coastline is funneled by the buildings through the turbines to maiximise the energy produced. The turbines are expected to produce between 11-15% of the total power needs of the building.

Masdar City

Masdar City is a intended to be a zero-carbon, zero-waste city. Being built in conjunction with the Abu Dhabi Government, the total development budget stands at US $22 billion (AED80.8 billion) and the city is expected to save $2 billion in oil costs over the next 25 years. One of the main focuses will on reducing the demand for electricity and water consumption, plus the use of renewable energy technologies to provide the primary energy source.

DIFC Lighthouse

The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Lighthouse is a 400m-tall office tower that is expected to feature three fully-integrated large-scale wind turbines. Through the use of renewable technologies and other sustainable design methods, it is intended that the tower will achieve platinum status under the US Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system.

The project is currently in the detail design stage and MEP consultant Atkins has been commissioned to reduce the total energy consumption by 65% and water use by up to 35% compared to the current Dubai standard design practices. Photovoltaic panels will be incorporated within the facade, as well as passive solar architecture.

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