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Opportunities to impact climate change through energy-efficient buildings

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Opportunities to impact climate change through energy-efficient buildings

Bart Holsters

General Manager UAE, ENGIE Solutions

The potential of the building and construction sector to play a role as a catalyst for global decarbonization efforts is yet to be fully explored, even though the built environment is responsible for almost one-third of total global energy consumption and nearly 15 percent of direct CO2 emissions, according to IEA estimates. Therefore, any high-impact actions targeted at the industry could yield significant sustainability and financial gains.

With the Middle East region joining global efforts to cut carbon emissions drastically and fight climate change, a sustainable building sector will play a vital role in helping reach these objectives. Apart from greenfield real estate projects in the Middle East, massive sustainability gains also exist in greening existing property stock.

Retrofits generate efficiencies by optimizing energy use in air conditioning, ventilation, and other mechanical and electrical systems. HVAC systems, in particular, are a rich target for energy savings; heating and cooling easily account for 40 to 60% percent of a commercial building’s total energy costs. In a revamp, switching to variable speed drives (VSDs) and intelligent control strategies on HVAC systems delivers significant savings in energy costs and reduces carbon emissions. VSDs electronically optimize wind flow by matching the speed of the motors that drive fans and pumps to process requirements. The Affinity Laws of such centrifugal pumps or fans indicates the influence on volume capacity, head and/or power consumption of a pump or fan due to change in speed of wheel revolutions per minute, reducing electricity consumption.

Some recent use cases in the region demonstrate how retrofitting can drive sustainability gains. In 2022, Abu Dhabi-headquartered developer Aldar awarded a portfolio-wide energy management project to four Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) including ENGIE Solutions, seeking to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent and potentially generate AED 40 million per year in savings. The extensive project covered lighting retrofits, a switch to variable speed drive (VSD) technology in HVAC and pumping systems, heat recovery units and building controls solutions (BMS/EMS/IoT). Upon completion, Aldar aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 80,000 tons, electricity consumption by 110 GWh, water consumption by 886,000m3, chilled water consumption by 23,000,000 TRH and gas consumption by 726,000m3 on a yearly basis.

At the public level, governments are exploring retrofit in a bid to drive the national sustainability agenda. In Abu Dhabi, the development of a building retrofit program as part of Abu Dhabi’s Demand Side Management and Energy Rationalization Strategy (DSM) 2030 aims to reduce electricity consumption by 22% and water consumption by 32% by 2030. Dubai has initiated similar Demand Side Management initiatives, such as starting a giant project to retrofit 30,000 buildings by 2030. These initiatives will significantly contribute to the UAE’s ambition to reduce energy demand by 30 percent by 2030.

Digital technology is a powerful sustainability multiplier. Everyday building operations generate loads of data. Today, readily accessible digital tools such as Fault Detection and Diagnostics (FDD), Machine Learning (ML), or Artificial Intelligence (AI) extract impactful insights from this data, allowing operators to make proactive decisions regarding operations and the maintenance of assets and effectively maintain equipment. This substantially reduces operating costs by optimizing energy, extending asset life and the more efficient use of resources. In addition, energy service providers can add more value by increasing the system reliability by close monitoring of the health status of the asset and the ability to act based on actual asset condition and prediction algorithms.

Secondly, EMaaS-tools (Energy Management as a Service) integrate software, hardware, ICT technologies and services to monitor, control and automate lighting and HVAC functions and generate energy efficiency in buildings. Applied at scale, these advanced digital technologies can provide visibility to an entire real estate portfolio, amplifying its impact.

Bart Holsters, General Manager UAE, ENGIE Solutions

Cost has traditionally been a barrier to extensive sustainability-focused upgrades. But today, developers can tap into innovative financing models, such as “Energy Performance Contracting”, “Shared Savings Agreements” or “Build-Own-Operate-Transfer” (BOOT), that turn heavy upfront CAPEX into spread-monthly OPEX with 100% guaranteed performance as a bonus to the client. By passing the financial risk to Energy Performance Management Companies/Energy Service Companies (ESCOs), building owners benefit from more comfortable surroundings while contributing to corporate and national sustainability goals without incurring capital investments.

Of course, retrofit is one cog in a much larger sustainability wheel. Combined with the region’s ongoing clean energy investments, sustainable buildings can accelerate the region’s sustainability aims. The Dubai Clean Energy Strategy aims to produce 75% of the emirate’s energy requirements from clean energy sources by 2050. The strategy also aims to make Dubai a global center of clean energy and a green economy. In KSA, ​the Saudi Energy Efficiency Center was launched to rationalize and increase energy efficiency to preserve the Kingdom’s natural resources and enhance socioeconomic welfare.

The above examples demonstrate that energy performance management is a powerful contributor to cutting carbon emissions. Use cases such as Aldar’s buildings retrofit project prove that greening existing buildings is a highly effective model to address climate change while reducing energy waste, saving money, and affordably expanding renewable energy resources.

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