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Is the scarcity of contractors affecting the MidEast’s retrofit market?

Investment in retrofitting is on the up as building owners cash in on the benefits of eco-friendly properties, but a lack of specialist contractors on the ground threatens to derail development

COMMENT, SPECIAL REPORTS, MEP, Sectors, Construction, Etihad ESCO, Investment in retrofitting, Middle east, Retrofit

It is a fact that the retrofit market is growing in the Middle East. Fuelled by demands for energy efficiency, cost savings, and the mitigation of the effects of climate change, experts say solar-energy technology is gaining popularity in regional retrofitting.

Chief executive officer at Enova, Anne Le Guennec, says the reason solar energy lends itself well to retrofit schemes is down to one primary factor: cost. “The price of solar technology has decreased significantly in the last five years, enough to be competitive compared to the price of electricity,” she says. “The willingness to adopt renewable energy was always there in the market.”

Cash is king in the construction industry, and now that solar energy is more efficient and budget-friendly than ever before, investment and innovation in the Middle East are starting to flow.

When it comes to retrofits, the Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA) does not use the law to coerce building owners into retrofit programmes, even though it needs to slash Sharjah’s energy consumption by 30% by 2020. Instead, the authority runs a series of initiatives highlighting the ways in which customers can benefit from a comprehensive retrofit programme (p30).

SEWA has identified the top 100 energy users in Sharjah and is encouraging all of them to introduce retrofit programmes. This involves helping them to reduce energy consumption and explore fresh ways to boost efficiency.

While SEWA is offering a helping hand with retrofits in the emirate, the lack of specialist contractors in the field – not only in Sharjah but throughout the UAE – threatens to slow down the rate of progress. Etihad Energy Services Company (Etihad ESCO), for instance, has more than 50 retrofit projects in pipeline, yet tells Construction Week it cannot implement any of them because of the shortage of retrofit specialists currently active in the region.

“We have more than 50 projects in the pipeline, but we cannot roll them out because the number of companies working is not enough,” says chief executive officer of Etihad ESCO, Ali Mohd Al Jassim.

Etihad does have a solution to this issue, however; it recently launched what Al Jassim calls a “capacity-building training programme” to boost the number of specialist workers in the public and private sector (p26).

It remains to be seen whether Etihad ESCO’s initiative will help to create the skilled operatives needed to deliver this substantial pipeline. But despite the small talent pool, the appetite to roll out retrofit projects remains strong throughout the Middle East. And one only needs to look at the benefits that were gained by Dubai International Airport from such a project to see that the future for retrofitting in the region is bright (p28).

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Construction Week - Issue 725
Jan 19, 2019