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‘Operational Data is here but is not made available’

Saeed Alabbar, Director of Alabbar Energy & Sustainability Group, expands on the status of the Green Building movement in the GCC

| | Apr 13, 2013 | 3:58 pm
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Saeed Alabbar, the Director of Alabbar Energy & Sustainability Group (AESG), is renowned for speaking his mind out. Here, in a face to face with B Surendar of Climate Control Middle East, he expands on the status of the Green Building movement in the GCC and itemises the opportunities that lie ahead for those that are earnest about pursuing sustainable development.

april2013-intvw01What is the true picture of the Green Building movement in the GCC? In 2006, we heard and saw a lot of talk and passion. In 2008, the downturn put a lot of projects on hold, though. Is there a revival? Do you sense a build-up in momentum?

Speaking for the UAE, the talk has been translated into action. The leadership is driven by the federal umbrella and a push for green economy. In Estidama, Dubai Municipality and JAFZA, we have green building standards. So from a leadership point of view, there is a lot of action.

The drivers are the carbon footprint, energy and water conservation, because energy and water constitute a huge financial burden. For instance, if you take water, the amount of money that goes into upgrading the desalination infrastructure and subsidies is huge. From a building point of view, a Green Building increases the value of the property. You have better indoor environmental quality (IEQ) and you spend less on energy and water.

We have a large number of existing buildings in the country. Particularly in the downturn, a lot of organisations need to have a handle on the utility costs, and greening them can help.

Do you sense a lot of green washing in the region?

Ultimately, tenants will be driven by the economics of it. The industry needs greater accountability. There are a lot of valid claims of green buildings, but at the same time, you have the not-so-substantiated claims, so you need accountability. We have to evaluate the energy consumption per square metre or the water consumption per square metre to arrive at a conclusion as to whether a building is green or not. Most developers for the most part are approaching it in the right manner. Operational data is not easy to come by, though, and it should be produced in a standardised form. The data is there, but it is not something that is made available.

You earlier spoke of Estidama and Dubai Municipality’s Green Building initiative. And then you have different GCC entities with their own Green Building rating systems. The questions being raised in some quarters are that, considering the ambient is similar in the GCC, why do we need so many rating systems? Do they not pose an administrative nightmare for companies and building owners aiming to pursue green?

I feel this talk of a union gets blown out of proportion. There is not much complexity in having different standards. Yes, it will be nice to have everything streamlined across the region, but there is complexity in different jurisdictions that are governed differently. So codes have to fit into that. In the US, there is a federal code, but each state has different codes. There is still lot of coordination that’s taking place. ESMA is working to coordinate efforts. So dialogue is taking place, and it is improving.

Where are the opportunities for businesses like yours?

From a retrofit angle, we do a lot of work. On energy auditing, we do see a lot of opportunity. There is also a lot of opportunity in incorporating the low-hanging fruit. Even before we consider chillers, we ought to address aspects and features like commissioning, sensors, BMS, VSDs on the pumps, and making the buildings airtight. We need to look at the capex of chiller retrofits – they are a feasibile option, but the payback could be a bit long.

In the case of commissioning, in the case of Green Buildings, an independent commissioning agency is needed to make sure the process is done properly. We are called in to do a lot of work on these, and it is a service we offer. We can identify areas where we can save millions of dirhams. So having that sort of independent decision adds a lot of value, making sure everything is being installed properly. Through the testing and commissioning phase, we are very hands-on to make sure the building’s systems are calibrated in the right manner and that the building is fully functional. It is important, however, that this process does not stop once the building is handed over and that the operations staff members understand their responsibilities and receive training. At the same time, there could be high turnover of the trained staff. So it should be people-driven and process-driven. That way, if people leave, there is no skills gap or knowledge gap. So process is important.

We do a lot of analysis work in guiding the design. We work closely with the architects and do day-lighting simulation and energy simulation to find the peak load to invest in MEP. We also test out different ideas of HVAC. For instance, we try to ascertain what happens when you go from District Cooling to VRVs and give guidance.

We also take steps to effectively track the energy usage of buildings. We set up the reporting measure and continuous improvement measures.

We also do a lot of legionella analysis. Legionella risk has to be included in management plans. We institute measures to minimise risk.

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