Although Dubai’s bright-lights, big-city image is seemingly at odds with an energy-saving agenda, a target of the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy 2030 (DIES) is to reduce energy consumption by 30% by 2030. It may seem like an ambitious target but the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy (DSCE) believes it can be achieved if the smart use of electricity and water becomes a priority for architects, planners, workers and residents. In April 2014, the first World Green Economy Summit took place in Dubai, leading to the Dubai Declaration, a pledge to develop the emirate into the world’s green economy capital. Starting in 2015, a new body, the Dubai Energy Agency (DEA), will champion efficiency by advising government, industry and consumers.

Green Buildings

High on the DEA’s list of priorities will be building construction in Dubai. In March 2014, new green building regulations were put in place, a move welcomed by Abdullah Rafia, assistant director-general and chairman of the Sustainability Committee at Dubai Municipality. Rafia told a seminar on sustainability initiatives for Dubai 2020, in May 2014, that 80-90% of DIES efficiency savings could be achieved simply by following the new green building regulations. Currently, 70% of the energy produced in Dubai is consumed in buildings and of that, 80-85% is used for air conditioning. The regulations cover the life of the building and stipulate that 50% of external glazing must be north-facing, 5% of construction materials should be recycled, walls should be light reflective, smart meters should be used for water and electricity, and escalators should be fitted with speed controls and traffic detection devices. The regulations were introduced for government buildings before they became mandatory for all construction in March 2014, and by then builders had finished 40 municipal projects.

Rafia said that of the 130,000 buildings standing in Dubai, 50,000 would be retrofitted to reduce energy consumption. DSCE has estimated this to cost Dh3bn ($816.6m). In 2014, DSCE began the process of accrediting firms to carry out the work. The first firm to receive its accreditation as an energy services company in April 2014 was MAF Dalika Middle East. Full accreditation was also given to Energy Management Services and Johnson Controls Air Conditioning and Refrigeration, and provisional accreditation was granted to Al Arsh Facilities Management and Green Technologies in 2014.

District Cooling

Air conditioning accounts for a huge proportion of the UAE’s energy consumption; however, by building air conditioning systems to service several buildings at once, significant savings in consumption can be achieved. This district cooling system, which distributes chilled water from a central cooling plant to several buildings at the same time, is offered by several companies in Dubai.

Empower Energy Solutions was founded as a joint venture between DEWA and TECOM Investments in 2003, and in January 2014 acquired another provider, Palm Utilities and Palm District Cooling, giving it a 70% market share in the UAE. With an estimated 1m refrigeration tonnes of cooling capacity, Empower has grown into the world’s largest district cooling services provider. Ahmad bin Shafar, the CEO of Empower, explained how district cooling can revolutionise air conditioning: “When you use it in the traditional way, you need to generate 1.68 KW to 1.86 KW per tonne; with district cooling, it is less than 1 KW, a savings of approximately 50% of the power that you need to generate to achieve the same results. When you think you are saving 50% of the 70% of power usage, you are talking about an overall saving for Dubai of 35% and so it benefits society.” Empower serves many large-scale sites in Dubai including Dubai International Financial Centre, Business Bay and Jumeirah Lake Towers. District cooling is covered by Dubai’s new green building regulations. New systems must include a thermal energy storage equivalent to 20% of total capacity for the site, and that all individual customers must be given meters to measure usage.

At a district cooling summit in Dubai in May 2014, DEWA’s CEO and managing director, Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, said that Dubai wanted to see district cooling supplying 40% of the emirate’s needs by 2030, and that a new regulatory framework would be drawn up. Al Tayer said, “Dubai is in the process of developing a world-class regulatory framework for district cooling that aims to protect the rights of all stakeholders, fostering growth of the district cooling industry and finally contributing to the energy efficiency drive.” He added that district cooling should be designed to serve the long-term interests of society, rather than the short-term business interests of suppliers.

New Standards

Adib Moudabber, CEO of Emicool, another of the emirate’s district cooling companies, echoed these sentiments.

He told OBG, “Formulating the legislation for Dubai’s new district cooling regulation is a mandatory requirement in such a real estate-driven market, as the framework must offer parity amongst operators while also protecting the interests of end-users.” Moudabber also said that he felt developers should have some choice in implementing district cooling, particularly in smaller projects, and said he hoped the new regulatory framework might address costs for consumers. “Dubai’s water and electricity tariffs have to be revisited according to peak and off-peak slabs, and hopefully such a revision will include a special category of price segmentation for the district cooling industry. Tariff adjustments combined with a new district cooling regulatory framework could in turn give end-users the value for money they expect to see,” Moudabber told OBG.

Ashish Saraf, editor of BG reen Magazine, believes the introduction of individual meters could encourage residents and workers to reduce their bills by using their air conditioning more sensibly.

“If you keep the temperature at 24 degrees Celsius, it keeps the consumption at a stable level, but if you reduce the temperature to 18 or 19 degrees Celsius, which many people tend to do, then the energy consumption really goes up,” he said, adding that DEWA had run publicity campaigns about the issue. “It’s more about the mind-set. A resident in Dubai consumes more than 8000 kg of oil-equivalent energy, which is very high if you compare it to UK, where a resident consumes just over 3000 kg, or India, where a resident consumes just about 500 kg.” Residents have also been given other tips, such as drawing the curtains during the day.

Wastewater Reuse

District cooling companies have also found another way to save on consumption by treating and reusing wastewater, or treated sewage effluent (TSE), in their cooling systems. Empower’s development of this technology, which uses reverse osmosis, was applied to the cooling system at Dubai Healthcare City and was recognised with an Innovation Award from the International District Energy Association. Shafar told OBG, “Originally, our equipment was using expensive drinking water, but then we said, ‘why not use the cheaper wastewater?’ We installed the equipment, and using reverse osmosis, we filter and clean the water and then use it in our equipment.”