x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Cheap energy limits our green buildings

Green building design is still lagging in the UAE, through subsidised energy and a lack of industrial knowledge, experts say.

Mirdif City Centre shopping mall in Dubai, which opened in March last year, has received the second-highest rating for green design.
Mirdif City Centre shopping mall in Dubai, which opened in March last year, has received the second-highest rating for green design.

The UAE may have the world's tallest tower, but when it comes to green building design it is overshadowed by the rest of the world, experts say.

Although the situation has improved since the Dubai property boom, subsidised energy and water and a lack of industrial knowledge mean green buildings are far from mainstream.

Green designs mean companies pay less for utilities, which is less important when they are subsidised.

"Our success rate is not very good when it comes to comparing with the rest of the world," Mario Seneviratne, the director of the Dubai engineering consultancy Green Technologies, said at the Green Middle East conference in Dubai last week.

Worldwide, 22,892 buildings have been certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (Leed) standard, one of the most widely used rating systems in the world, Mr Seneviratne said.

Only 40 of those buildings are in the UAE.

Among recent UAE projects is Mirdif City Centre, which this summer was certified as Leed gold, the second-highest ranking.

A recent Green Technologies survey of 65 industry experts showed more than three quarters believed the biggest obstacle to green design being commonly adopted was a lack of knowledge among developers and consultants.

"In most buildings, people think of green when construction work has already started," Mr Seneviratne said. "Clients do not understand this has to happen right at the beginning of the process."

But he said developers were starting to consider the costs of operating a building, not just the cost of construction. That was where green buildings had the edge, Mr Seneviratne said.

Best practices in building design could reduce a building's energy and water use by about 20 per cent, while innovations and technology could bring further savings, he said.

"We are getting enquiries from many people who are thinking about operational costs," said Mr Seneviratne. "In 2008, 2009, 2010, nobody cared for this."

Dr Ahmad Okeil, the chairman of the department of architecture and design at Abu Dhabi University, said that if the Government continued to subsidise energy and water green design would be a tough sell.

"Things moved a little bit but not as fast as we like," Dr Okeil said. "I have been here for quite a few years now and I have experienced the boom and the downturn. Before, designers were saying there was no time; now, that there is no money.

"If we do not build green when the market is up and we don't build green when the market is down, then it means something else needs fixing.

"One of the big reasons why we don't design green in the UAE is that energy is very cheap."

Mike Barns, the director of sustainability at Hyder Consulting, agreed.

Despite schemes such as Estidama in Abu Dhabi, which required developers to adhere to some performance standards, there were "disincentives through subsidies" for green design, Mr Barns said.

"The general population here are not as well informed about sustainability because they do not need to be," he said.

And environmental performance requirements of new buildings were still relatively easy to achieve compared with those of the rest of the world, Mr Barns said. "The statutory and regulatory bodies are not yet requesting high standards in this part of the world."

vtodorova@thenational.ae