x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Task force plans huge savings on energy bill

If given the go-ahead, proposal would make old buildings in Abu Dhabi more energy efficient and free up government subsidies.

ABU DHABI // A government task force is working on a plan that would dramatically reduce power consumption by modifying old buildings to make them more energy-efficient.

If the group’s proposal is approved, the Abu Dhabi Government would reap enormous savings because of the extent to which it subsidises the price of electricity.

“This money saved will go back into the community,” said Edwin Young, an adviser for Estidama, the Urban Planning Council’s sustainability initiative.

The Executive Affairs Authority gathered officials from the Urban Planning Council and other agencies to develop the Comprehensive Cooling Plan, focused on the massive amount of energy used by air conditioning in the emirate’s 200,000 buildings.

“Most of our energy profile runs in parallel with temperature,” said Mr Young. “All the infrastructure is under strain during the summer.”

Some experts estimate that 60 to 70 per cent of energy usage in local buildings is related to air conditioning, said SimonClouston, director of sustainability and energy at WSP Middle East, an engineering consultancy.

Last year, a utility company official estimated that Abu Dhabi’s demand for electricity would rise by an average of almost 13 per cent a year during this decade.

The cost to the government is “enormous,” said Holley Chant, the director of sustainability at KEO International Consultants.
“Even though we pay next to nothing compared to the rest of the world for energy and water, the government is footing the bill for the entire thing,” Ms Chant said. “The sooner they stop wasting money on energy in whatever way they can, the more they can continue to build their social infrastructure for their people.”

Officials at the Executive Affairs Authority have not yet announced the initiative, which still must be approved by the leadership.

They could not be reached for comment yesterday. Other agencies involved with the plan include the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi and the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (Adwea).

Mr Young said the task force, which was set up last April, has nearly finished analysing data from Adwea that describes the energy usage of every building in the emirate. By linking that data to information about the buildings, the task force will be able to set a standard for what the energy usage should be in a particular structure.

The task force members plan to present what they have learned to the Executive Affairs Authority soon. Afterwards, officials might begin several pilot projects.

For example, they could choose a group of buildings across the emirate, conduct “energy audits” and then reduce usage by modifying the buildings – and educating owners and occupants.

The task force could use data from the pilots to “make a business case” for requiring or encouraging owners to retrofit buildings, Mr Young said.

“We’re still looking at ways of addressing how this would be paid for, whether it would be grant-based or loan-based, but there’s various options.

“It’s about social responsibility as well. And that is one thing that has been made very clear. Money that can be saved through the subsidy can then be readdressed into community facilities.”

Similar programmes exist in other countries, many of them based on tax incentives. In the United Kingdom, every building must have an energy performance certificate before the owner can sell or lease the property.

The Comprehensive Cooling Plan is unique because it is specially designed to reduce energy used for air conditioning in a desert climate, Mr Young said.

Any plan to modify buildings would probably start with government facilities. A high percentage of buildings here are government-owned, simplifying the project.

In the future, officials would need to decide how to approach energy usage in private buildings – a more challenging task.

Gaining access to audit or retrofit a residential tower would be very difficult to coordinate, Mr Young said.

“We’ve then got to consider people’s rights as well.”

vnereim@thenational.ae