Dubai targets sustainable development

Faced with rising power consumption and a grid under pressure, Dubai is stepping up its efforts to improve energy efficiency, while boosting the role played by renewable resources in meeting demand. Long term, a broad range of initiatives, supported by a new regulatory framework announced last year, should help bring energy costs under control.

Energy-saving initiatives

Dubai has teamed up with the Environmental Centre for Arab Towns, a research institute, in a bid to drive down energy usage by 20% over the next three years. Its efforts also include a plan to cut CO2 emissions by 6200 tonnes annually. The move to reduce consumption will bring environmental benefits, while also easing some of the strain on the power grid.

Among its first initiatives, the Dubai Municipality will target the methods used to light parks, roads and public areas. Road, path and park lights will be converted from traditional, grid-fuelled set-ups to solar-powered LED units during the coming years, in a change which should immediately reduce the lighting system’s power usage by up to 55%, while bringing down costs longer term. The energy captured from the solar panels could be used to help power the irrigation and water systems needed for maintaining green spaces, which are expected to feature in future projects planned by the municipality.

The government has also targeted public transport in its efforts to tackle energy costs. In an initiative which started out as a pilot programme over a year ago, the Roads and Transportation Authority (RTA) recently added ten new biodiesel buses to its fleet and now plans to increase the number by 60. Officials estimate that the buses will reduce energy costs by 7%, with CO2 emissions expected to fall by as much as 34%.

The authority has adopted several smaller energy-saving initiatives, which are already cutting costs and benefitting the environment. Omar Bin Haider, director of maintenance at RTA’s Public Transport Agency, recently explained, “The green bus is an eco-friendly package that has various ingredients working towards reducing Dubai’s ecological footprint. It’s not just about fuel but it is combination of several items like solar power, using retreaded tyres and using material inside the bus that are not harmful to nature.” The strategy has helped the RTA reduce its annual costs by 11%, while revenue is up 17%.

New regulatory framework

Longer term, the new green building code introduced last year will become the linchpin of the emirate’s plans to make development more sustainable, while signalling where the bulk of the investment is needed. The regulations will require input from experts at each phase of a project, with the aim of raising standards in all new buildings.

Abdulla Rafia, the assistant director-general of engineering at the Dubai Municipality, said in September that the authorities were focused on ensuring industry representatives were fully informed on the changes and their implications ahead of the implementation date this year.

“We are ready, our testing and certification centres are ready,” he explained. “We want to ensure that the industry is also ready and has access to the relevant training and information they require in advance of the launch.”

The timing of Dubai’s new building code, coming as the emirate begins its Expo 2020 preparations, suggests that government support for its implementation will be strong. In an early show of commitment, the new regulations were applied to 40 state-owned buildings in 2013 and were adopted universally on January 1 this year.

Dubai’s plans to make sustainable development a priority should set the scene for an influx of investment and innovation in the lead-up to Expo 2020. For some businesses, this could spell an increase in short-term costs. However, investors will find plenty of opportunities in clean energy initiatives, supported by a new regulatory framework and the chance to showcase their work to the world in six years time.

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