ABU DHABI // Out with the old, in with the insulation. From next year, building designs in Abu Dhabi must incorporate energy-efficient measures to combat thermal losses in one of the harshest climates in the world. The emirate's new energy codes will result in lower power bills for residents and extended life for buildings, experts say.
Eric Makela, an American energy consultant who introduced the Energy Conservation Code to officials at the Department of Municipal Affairs (DMA) last week , said the measures would drastically reduce the emirate's overall power consumption. "What's being discussed now is, even the concrete walls that are going to be built will be insulated," he said. "You'll see cooling systems become smaller and reduce the overall load of those buildings."
Poor insulation is a major drain on power in the emirate, reducing the effectiveness of cooling systems. Many existing buildings lack proper insulation, said Kai Schlenther, the managing director of Dar Al Estidama, an Abu Dhabi-based engineering and consulting services provider. The country's cooling requirements are so large that the national power demand in winter when most cooling units are switched off is only 30 per cent of the summer peak.
There are currently few regulatory requirements for developers, Mr Schlenther said. Achieving up to 60 per cent reductions in electricity use would not require expensive or highly advanced insulating products, he added. Matthew Plumbridge, an environmental consultant for the DMA, said the benefits of the new energy codes would be reflected in residents' power bills. With reasonable use, they could reduce their annual household energy costs by 70 per cent. Besides electricity savings, insulation could extend the life of buildings. "The average life cycle of buildings in the UAE is 25 to 30 years," Mr Schlenther said. "If they are improved with proper protection against the humidity and heat, they will be able to exist for more than a hundred years."
Engineers use a measurement called the "u-value" to gauge how easily a building transfers outside heat to the inside. A lower u-value is better. If materials with low u-values are used in a building, it will require less electricity to cool it in the summer. Although different parts of the building walls, windows and roofs have different u-values, Mr Schlenther has calculated the overall average u-value for structures in the UAE.
Buildings here had ratings several times worse than those in Mr Schlenther's native Germany, he said. Germany has been pushing developers to adopt insulating materials since 1977, and introduced even stricter requirements this year. In 2003, Dubai Municipality put out a resolution setting out requirements for the insulation of roofs, windows and walls. Mr Schlenther has calculated that the overall average u-value of buildings following the resolution's provisions is still several times higher than the German standard. A new proposal which is currently being discussed here will reduce it, but only a little.
So why the discrepancy? "In Germany, we do have another political situation," he said. "In the UAE in the last few decades, energy was not an issue. Due to the climatic conditions and the aim to develop the UAE, the Government wanted to subsidise investment, but in the end they subsidised the use of electricity." Mr Schlenther calculated that in Abu Dhabi city, the subsidies for electricity and water last year were US$5 billion (Dh18.36bn). He recommended that in addition to drafting requirements for new buildings, the Government should encourage retrofits to insulate the existing stock.
"If we improve all fašades of all buildings in Abu Dhabi and we improve their cooling systems, it will cost $15bn," he said. "That will reduce electricity consumption down to 40 to 45 per cent." "If we take into account, the scale of subsidies - we have a payback rate of less than five years." Ali Bukair, a policies consultant with the DMA who helped develop the building codes, stressed that they would not be retroactive at least for now.