Going green: Sustainable building practices should help to address housing shortages

As Oman’s economy and population continue to grow, developers are interested in more than simply increasing supply quickly. Indeed, a range of factors must be considered as environmental and energy concerns are becoming more important.

Growing Needs

According to recent World Bank data, the sultanate’s economy grew by 53% between 2009 and 2011, from almost $47bn in 2009 to nearly $72bn two years later. Less dramatically, the country’s population increased from around 2.5m in 2006 to over 2.8m in 2011 – a rise of over 14%. A large segment of the population is young, meaning that housing demand should surge over the coming decade.

Rapid economic and population growth are substantially increasing power and water demand. The Oman Water and Power Procurement Company (OPWPC), which releases an annual utilities demand forecast, recently estimated that electricity demand should increase by over 73% between 2011 and 2018 – reaching a projected 7271 MW in 2018. Water demand is growing at a similar pace. While the OPWPC expects water needs in the northern part of Oman to increase by roughly 37% between 2011 and 2018, the procurement body anticipates demand to jump by 50% over the seven-year period in the southern part of Oman.

Solutions

Green construction practices, however, can help the sultanate expand sustainably by reducing power and water needs while mitigating the environmental side effects of rapid construction growth. In addition, buildings constructed with ecology in mind bring benefits, including lower operating, development and maintenance costs, as well as improved durability.

Steps have been taken to encourage the development of green construction practices in Oman. The Oman Green Building Council (OGBC) was set up in 2012 to study, promote and support the sultanate’s nascent eco-construction movement. A non-government organisation (NGO), the OGBC is part of the World Green Building Council, which was set up in the US in 1999 and consists of a coalition of member groups.

The development of the OGBC first came under consideration in 2009. Once the organisation was officially incorporated, the OGBC signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Omani Society of Engineers – a leading NGO working to promote development via the proliferation of engineering best practices.

In 2012 a basic founding team was put in place. The group included environmental consultants, real estate developers, leaders in the power and energy sectors, engineers, architects and other key construction and real estate industry players.

Raising The Stakes

The push for sustainable building practices has been strengthened with efforts by The Research Council (TRC), a local policy-making body and funding organisation set up in 2005. Tasked with the mission of increasing innovation in Oman, TRC is promoting green building research efforts by organising the Oman Eco-House Design Competition, which is open to all higher education institutions that offer programmes such as engineering, design and architecture. Each team will design, build and operate a house that is both cost-effective and energy-efficient.

The competition’s winner will create a home that best balances eco-friendly design principles with consumer appeal. The design and conceptualisation phases of the competition were scheduled to take place over 2011 and 2012, with construction of the homes to begin in 2012 and be finished by July 2013. The judging process should begin in August 2013 and TRC plans to make their final evaluations in September 2013. The three best teams will receive awards.

To help the competition’s participants better understand green building practices, TRC hosted an energy efficiency workshop in October 2011. The three-day event brought engineers and architects from the US and UK to lecture on topics such as climate change, solar heating and cooling technology, and green building rating and certification systems.

The competition has attracted a number of contestants and all five participating teams have qualified to enter the final stage of constructing an eco-home from a previously designed model. These five are: Dhofar University, Sultan Qaboos University, the German University of Technology in Oman (GU tech), the Higher College of Technology and the University of Nizwa.

The teams are employing various strategies to increase energy efficiency. Composed of faculty and students in the Department of Urban Planning and Architectural Design, the GU tech team plans to construct an eco-home out of traditional Omani mud bricks. The house will minimise energy costs by using solar panels and providing natural ventilation. Only in the hottest summer months will the home need air-conditioning and this will be achieved through radiant cooling. The home is designed to further increase energy efficiency by maximising air flow and reducing heat from the sun.

Long-Lasting Benefits

Notably, the TRC-sponsored eco-house competition is intended to do more than provide a challenging academic exercise. Indeed, TRC hopes the contest will lead to better policy-making and increase the country’s capacity to develop sustainable buildings. A number of the buildings currently under construction in Oman do not provide the benefits of a green building. Villas remain the most common residential preference among Omanis, but these homes use up large amounts of land, and often require foreign building materials and wasteful energy products. Creating more mixed-use areas in Oman’s cities, building homes closer together and using local, energy-efficient materials are among the measures that would improve building and city sustainability.

In addition to reducing environmental side effects, following green building practices can also lower both development and operational costs. This could be a significant advantage to the country’s efforts to provide sufficient affordable housing across the sultanate.

According to a report published by the real estate consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), there was a shortage of around 15,000 affordable housing units in Oman in 2011. The consultancy also estimated that around 5% of Oman’s 300,000 low-income households, which are defined as maintaining a monthly income of less than OR450 ($1170), did not include affordable homes.

The Omani government has set up programmes to increase lower-cost housing. The Housing Assistance Programme is one such scheme which works to repair existing units as well as construct new homes.

Implementation

A number of construction projects in Oman are already working to include green building practices. Omran, a government-owned development, investment and asset management company focused on the tourism sector, is currently developing four such projects. The company is following the leadership in energy and environmental design (LEED) building certification system. Developed by the US Green Building Council, LEED is an internationally recognised system that measures the sustainability of a development’s design, which is then further verified by a third party.

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The Report: Oman 2013

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