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‘Possible is the language here in the UAE’

Eng Anwaar Al Shimmari, the Director of the Projects Planning Department at the UAE Ministry of Public Works, speaks about the UAE National Vision 2021 and the Ministry’s retrofitting programme, among other topics. Excerpts…

| | Sep 6, 2015 | 12:20 pm
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When we spoke at the 8th edition of The Climate Control Conference (15-16 June 2015), you mentioned the Ministry of Public Works has started a programme to promote the concept of sustainability within the Ministry itself. It is a part of the programme, called Ruwad, isn’t it?

Engr Anwaar Al Shimmari

Eng Anwaar Al Shimmari, the Director of the Projects Planning Department at the UAE Ministry of Public Works

Yes, the Ministry has introduced Ruwad. It’s a programme for project managers, or senior engineers currently holding projects, to encourage them to specialise in a field required in the Ministry, in the country or in the region. One of those specialties is sustainability.

We have project managers who recently graduated from this programme. They received their certificate on sustainability, which adds to their qualifications. The programme also supports the Ministry’s mission of ensuring that sustainability, which is part of the UAE National Vision 2021, is incorporated into all our projects in the future. And to achieve that mission, we are educating our engineers and creating awareness among them to ensure that they will support sustainability through their projects.

Sustainability is broader and much deeper than what we expect. The more time passes, the more complicated it gets. It’s not only about the economy and the climate. It also has another dimension, which is related to culture, because our culture can either inspire or derail sustainability.

Could you elaborate on that? What do you mean by culture affecting sustainability?

We have been, and still are, raised based on the concept of welfare, and this gives us the impression that everything is okay; that we can use and have whatever we want, whenever we want.

Are you talking about subsidies?

Not only about subsidies. I’m talking about our consumption of electricity and water, of green materials, because the market, so far, is affordable, especially compared to other countries that have an issue with sustainability and carbon footprint. So, people have this kind of welfare attitude and seem to have the impression that they can go ahead and do whatever they want.

Even if there are subsidies or government support, we as a people should not wait for the time when the government will be forced to take action, like removing subsidies, for us to become aware and start saving energy. It is this kind of awareness that we as government hope to achieve by making sure that people are educated.

Sustainability has several pillars. Everyone talks about green, energy and materials, but there are elements that are hidden or have an indirect impact. For example, culture as I’ve mentioned. Another is ensuring that existing buildings are being taken care of, and that’s why the UAE government, particularly the Ministry of Public Works, is working with the Emirates Green Building Council and the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy to develop technical guidelines for retrofitting. Actually, we already have the first version of the guidelines. We recently launched it, and we will see how it goes from there.

What kind of milestone map do you have for the retrofitting project? What targets have you set?

I can’t go into details right now, but I can say that things will evolve in the next few months. There will definitely be a closer engagement between the Ministry and the Emirates Green Building Council. The plan is to train engineers from the Ministry through the Council, to make them ready for the retrofitting guidelines. There definitely will be a roadmap for this.

The Emirates Green Building Council is relatively new compared to other international green schemes. I think that for its efforts to be better recognised and appreciated there must be collaboration with the different entities in the UAE, and not only in the federal level but also with the local governments.

You also mentioned at the conference that though you admire Abu Dhabi’s Pearl Rating System, you feel the country would benefit more if all the standards and rating systems were brought under one umbrella. Could you please elaborate?

This is my personal opinion and not intended to represent the views of the Ministry… I think that with the UAE being a small country, in terms of size and not achievement, having standards under one umbrella or classification would be advantageous and would help in achieving international recognition. Systems like LEED and Pearl are similar in the sense that they allow the classification of buildings.

I am, of course, aware that there are existing differences. For example, some emirates use British standards, while others use American [standards]. But if the emirates were to collaborate, a unified set of standards could be created based on those two. And since we already have existing infrastructure, we can just mention or highlight which standards were used. In the end, they’re two sides belonging to the same coin. The same thing can be said about rating systems. It would be very interesting if rating systems were unified.

I remember I was one of those who tried to establish the Architectural Association of the UAE. We spent time on meetings and all, but in the end it became clear to us that the UAE Engineering Society was better suited to take the lead on what we wanted to do, so we decided against the planned architectural association. I totally respected this, because having one umbrella or having a unified approach gives people clarity and lets them know the proper channels to reach. Having several channels could make them lose their way.

Speaking of the different emirates, one of the big topics discussed at The Climate Control Conference was District Cooling, which the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy has identified as one of the strategies for reducing power consumption in the emirate by 30% by 2030. Northern emirates, like Sharjah, don’t have District Cooling, though, and are primarily relying on split and window ACs. Are there plans of establishing District Cooling in those parts of the UAE?

SEWA would be able to discuss this better than me. But as an urban and infrastructure planner, and as someone who has worked on projects in all the emirates of the UAE, I can say that we have to respect how hard it can be to establish an infrastructure network of something new within an existing crowded urban fabric. District Cooling would work well in high-density areas, but those areas have zero available infrastructure corridors to provide or introduce something new like District Cooling. And it would involve a big cost. Can we do it? There’s no way to say that it’s impossible. Possible is the language here in the UAE, but there will definitely be major cost implications. Maybe SEWA has plans to introduce District Cooling once it has established a full-fledged electrical network, as there were some struggles with electricity in the past.

Whatever SEWA’s plans are, though, it’s important we ask ourselves: Did District Cooling work well and achieve the goals in Abu Dhabi and Dubai? We have to consider previous cases to determine if something will be successful or if it will produce negative consequences. I’m not saying that District Cooling is not a success story; but as far as I could tell from my previous experience in the private sector, it has implications on the end-users, in terms of the fees they need to pay and the efficiency of the system. And so, we have to consider the whole story and do a cost-benefit analysis.

What is your opinion on public-private partnerships (PPPs)? Is it something that the Ministry is, or may consider, looking into?

As I always say, we don’t reinvent the wheel. We always learn from case studies, and there are many stories of successful PPPs worldwide. Still, we need to be aware of all the details, to be fully educated about PPPs and, if we do decide on going ahead with a PPP project, we must see to it that the contract paints a win-win situation, with no side being disadvantaged by it.

PPPs have worked in projects involving housing, energy and roads, among others. And in many cases, PPP has worked either as a preventive system – that is, to avoid the situation of having governments pull out of financing projects – or as a form of support, because it wasn’t feasible for governments to finance the projects themselves.

Part of the welfare plans of the UAE is to go ahead with letting the government finance projects on its own. There is, of course, a possibility that PPP will be introduced, but it will most likely be done in a small scale, so it can be studied. We cannot just bring a system from other countries and implement it here. There are different factors to consider: the targeted segment is different, and people’s reactions will be different.

But, yes, PPP is something that we already considered. And we are expanding this to study it further and see about doing a pilot project, and if it works and if the market is ready… I personally think PPP is a great concept, but I have to highlight that the UAE government will definitely not allow any harm to come to the end-users, to the citizens.

Earlier, you talked about culture and the UAE National Vision 2021. In your opinion, how does having an expatriate-heavy population affect the achievement of the National Vision?

I just see everything in harmony, because in the end, everyone – expatriates and locals alike – benefit from the country and the country benefits from them. If we put together all our efforts, if we collaborate with one another, we will reach a better place and the country will achieve even more success.

The UAE is one of the safest and most secure countries in the region, which makes people really keen on being and staying here. I’m really happy with the kind of mature and harmonious relationship the different nationalities in the UAE have with one another. It’s what makes this a really peaceful place. And I feel gratified whenever I travel abroad, and I hear from people that they are happy to meet someone from the UAE, because we are kind and collaborative. Small things like being friendly and saying “hi” or being generous with a smile can elevate the UAE.

I don’t want to segregate non-locals from locals, because in the end, we all play a part in shaping the identity of the UAE.

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