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Reaching for the stars

How are UAE-based manufacturers responding to trends triggered by national targets, and capitalising on the country’s reputation for incorporating high-quality products across its landscape, owing to stringent regulations? Is the emphasis on high quality paving the way for them to offer their HVACR equipment, accessories and services abroad?

| | Dec 17, 2017 | 12:09 am
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The world has stood witness to the UAE’s meteoric acceleration as a country in a short span of time. Beyond the iconic developments that decorate its popular skylines, however, is a more significant attraction – a people collectively determined to advance the international reputation of a nation in the realms of renewable energy, green buildings and other virtues.

Marwan Abdulaziz Janahi, Executive Director, Dubai Science Park and Chairing Member, Pharmaceutical and Medical Equipment Taskforce, Dubai Industrial Strategy 2030, describes the country’s move to diversify energy sources, as a journey – one that is going in the right direction. “They are ambitious,” he says, referring to the many targets the government has set. “But it’s not only ambition, it’s also about determination.”

Saeed Al Abbar, Chairman, Emirates Green Building Council, provides a background of the early government initiatives that have reverberated to this day. In 2007, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President & Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, announced a decree that mandated all new urban structures to conform to environment-friendly green building standards. It was at the same time, Al Abbar says, the Emirates Green Building Council was established as an independent forum aimed at conserving the environment by strengthening and promoting green building practices.

“In this relatively short span of time, we have witnessed transformational progress in driving green buildings in the UAE,” he says. “This is particularly steered by a strong governmental resolve and the support of both public and private sector entities, who are increasingly and voluntarily investing in a sustainable built environment.”

Al Abbar adds that several factors contributed to this, namely the launch of the Pearl Rating System by Estidama in 2010, as part of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030; and Dubai Municipality launched the Dubai Green Building Regulations in 2011, which was initially mandatory for government buildings, before it became mandatory for all buildings in 2014.

Another defining aspect of this transformation, Al Abbar says, is the UAE Energy Plan for 2050, and the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050, which have demonstrated the nation’s focus on securing a greener future with clearly defined goals.

Al Abbar provides a background: The UAE Energy Plan 2050 aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 70%, increase clean energy use by 50% and improve energy efficiency by 40% by the middle of the century, resulting in savings worth AED 700 billion. “The policy’s targets for the source of energy for local consumption by 2050 have been set at 44% from renewable energy, 38% from Gas, 12% from clean fossil and 6% nuclear energy.” To provide a perspective, he says, at the moment, more than 90% of UAE’s energy needs are met by Natural Gas.

Ambitious targets, by all accounts. However, Janahi believes that the faster pace in the move towards renewables is owing to the big learning curve. “Initially, the uptake of renewable was not so clear,” he says. “Prices were much higher, and technology adoption was much more difficult. Since it’s been in the [market] for more than 10 years, people have learned about it. Universities now have degrees specifically for renewable energy, and legislation has supported [its cause]. Everything has come together in a nice way from that level, so I’m quite confident.”

The move to meet the environmental objectives has driven a number of initiatives, an example of which is the ‘Benchmarking Project’ to assess the building efficiency and energy performance of hotels, malls and schools. The project, developed by EmiratesGBC, in partnership with the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy, in 2016, to support the Building Efficiency Accelerator (BEA), is an initiative under the ‘Sustainable Energy for All’ (SE4All), led by the United Nations Secretary-General, and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). “Under BEA, Green Building Councils are engaging with leading cities to ramp up the energy efficiency of buildings in an initiative led by the World Resources Institute, and in partnership with the World Green Building Council,” Al Abbar says.

As the first BEA demonstration project in Dubai, Al Abbar believes it will serve as a referral point in driving forward the energy efficiency of buildings in the city, and double the rate of efficiency by 2030. “The findings will not only help in undertaking relevant retrofitting measures but will also support policy making in relation to sustainable buildings,” he says. “I strongly believe that the Benchmarking Project has set a referral point for the region in driving green buildings, and we already see strong interest from across MENA to undertake similar exercises.”

While the government has made major strides to move the country in the right direction, engaging stakeholders is another matter. “The challenges obviously relate to the investment involved and in the need for greater awareness – community-wide – to engage the industry and the people in sustainable practices,” Al Abbar says. “Fortunately, with a clear direction and roadmap set by the government, these have well been addressed.”

“The government is leading by example,” Janahi adds, admitting that what he is interested in seeing is a more proactive move to “encourage the private sector to lead the change”.

What does this mean for the HVACR industry?

The national ambition has, indeed, impacted the private sector. “The construction market in the UAE is a key driver of the nation’s economy,” says Muzamil Shaikhani, Managing Director, Rubberworld. “Today, the UAE is home to some of the most ambitious mega projects adopting green building strategies to improve the performance of buildings by implementing regulations and standards, certified and specified by Estidama and Dubai Central Laboratory, to ensure the quality and safety of products. The market is encouraging the local players to align with international standards and to respond to requirements for safety, sustainability and energy efficiency.”

Additionally, Shaikhani says, with buildings being the largest energy consuming sector, HVAC is being looked at as a significant opportunity for energy saving through efficient, integrated design in the building. “Sustainability, safety and IEQ are top considerations in the construction industry and should have sustainability features,” he says.

Ali Al Jassim, CEO of Etihad ESCO, touches on the HVACR industry’s role in this regard. “We aim to reduce energy consumption by 30%,” he says. “Seventy per cent of the energy bill is for air conditioners, so if we target air conditioners it means we are targeting 70% of that 30%. The major chunk of energy consumption is in HVAC, so when we enter any building and we go to an existing building the first thing we target is air conditioning, and then we go to lighting and then we go to other energy-conservation methods, because air conditioning and lighting are more than 80%.”

UAE-based HVACR manufacturers and suppliers are not isolated from the collective move in this regard, and most have implemented their own strategy to cope with emerging trends. However compliance, for local manufacturers, means two things. The first is compliance with their own respective facilities and operations. Pramodh Idicheria, Executive Director, Clima Uno, says: “We adhered to the UAE’s green building regulation during the construction phase of our new factory in Dubai Investment Park. The factory has provisions for reuse of condensate drain and wastewater recirculation. It uses energy-saving lamps, allows for natural light inside the factory and has insulated panels on the factory roof to reduce air conditioning load.”

Samee Patel, Chief Operating Officer, RSA Cold Chain and RSA Logistics, provides a perspective on the same with regard to its cold chain operations and facility, which he says, features an ammonia chiller for lower energy consumption. The facility, he says, has also been insulated to minimise air loss with isothermal inflatable dock shelters at the loading bay. “The storage area has been designed based on a giant insulated box created within the main warehouse building to avoid direct exposure to external walls and ceilings, resulting in zero exposure to outside temperature,” he says. “Small details, such as LED lights, have also been used throughout the facility to ensure no unnecessary thermal energy is generated.”

For its part, KAD Air conditioning is manufacturing all its air conditioning products in its facility in Dubai Investment Park as per International standards, such as UL555, UL555S, DW-144 and BS476. “We make them available to local contractors and manufacturers to reduce the need of importing the material from outside the UAE and GCC region, thus lowering the carbon foot print,” says Javed Tejani, the company’s General Manager. The decision to do so, he says, was taken also in an effort to help the local economy grow and facilitate local synergy among manufacturers.

The second manner in which UAE-based manufacturers cope with the trends blowing through the region is by optimising the quality of products they will be supplying to the market. “There is a positive momentum among local producers in adopting regulations and standards set by the government,” Shaikhani says.

Adds Umesh Unni, Regional Commercial Manager (Insulation), Hira Industries: “The UAE has a lot of regulations. Manufacturers of insulation need to have green building certificate to control technical properties, including fire properties. All manufacturers should have it, if you want to do any project.” Stringent regulations, he says, was borne from the proactive move to control material to avoid fire-related incidents.

To adapt to such regulations as well as local conditions, companies have often been forced to undertake R&D. Idicheria says: “All our products, including air-handling units (AHUs), fan-coil units (FCUs) and energy-recovery ventilation (ERVs) meet Estidama and Trakhees standards. In addition, we are constantly engaged in R&D to continuously improve the performance of these products.”

Shpak Kostya, Marketing Manager, Aldes Middle East, echoes the importance of innovation and speaks on the advantages of having a local factory that has a local R&D to address particular demands. “HVAC projects call for lots of customisation, and we are able to react fast on it and deliver the products the customer wants,” he says.

Kostya provides a manufacturer’s perspective on getting people to accept green and innovative products, lamenting that more often than not, contractors want to finish the job at the lowest initial cost and move on to the next project. “As usual, we have lots of resistance to new changes,” he says. “But some of the clients are ready to increase capital investment now and save money later by saving energy, time and human resources.”

Janahi shares his experience in terms of encouraging sustainable practises within Dubai Science Park. “For a lot of companies, this is something new, there’s always a fear of the unknown,” he says. “We like to do it first and show people. This does two things – it proves to companies it’s doable and whatever learning we have, we pass it on to the other countries.”

For Janahi, this mind-set led to the construction of the laboratory building in Dubai Science Park, which is a LEED Silver-certified building. “There was a lot of us doing things for the first time,” he says, “but when we finished the building and it was handed over, now we operate it and we can really compare it [and see] it was designed for sustainability.”

Janahi draws comparisons from his work with TECOM, which has previously built developments that were not designed to be sustainable. “The natural shading does actually reduce electricity and also cooling load,” he says. “There’s a lot of numbers we can talk about and it actually makes a lot of sense.” Janahi, providing a non-technical perspective, believes that there should be more engagement among companies to share knowledge and showcase what can be done to reduce long-term cost and lessen the impact on the environment.

With such movements from various stakeholders, it would seem that there is a slow and steady move towards development of green buildings. “A tangible change is in the offing,” Al Abbar says, adding that this positive momentum is only further set to continue with Dubai Municipality’s Al Saafat building rating system, set to be in effect the beginning of 2018, which will mandate that every building must adhere to the minimum silver category requirements. “Further, I believe that a voluntary change is already happening,” Al Abbar says. “Building owners, irrespective of whether they exit the project at a later stage, have come to realise the long-term value of their investment in energy-efficient and sustainable solutions, and are increasingly being responsible in their contribution to the green vision of the nation.”

The key, says Al Abbar, is to ensure energy-efficient buildings will continue to command a premium over others, so it would make financial sense to invest in them. “This is driven by an increasingly environment-conscious community that prefers ‘green buildings’ over energy-efficient structures, as they know the value the buildings brings to them – from utility bills to the quality of life,” he says. The EmiratesGBC, Al Abbar says, has been working extensively with all stakeholders in the construction value chain through its year-round initiatives to highlight the value that investing in green technologies brings.

For Janahi, the answer is communication. “It was more expensive for us,” Janahi admits, referring to the construction of DSP’s LEED Silver-certified building, “but we were convinced it was the right thing to do. [In the] long term, it is showing us that it is less expensive. [But] it is difficult for people to have long-term views. [For example, if an item is] AED 20 and another is AED 40, most only want to pay AED 20, when the fact remains that in five years you will change the AED 20 item two or three times. It is really being able to convince [the public that while] it is more expensive, [it is] cheaper in the long term. I think that [what] people are lacking is how to validate that.”

In order to validate, Janahi says, people should report and provide examples of best practices, highlighting consumption of power by air conditioners to encourage sustainable design practises to lower energy consumption. “At the end of the day, we’re going to use the power,” he says. “Even if your power source is renewable we need to be conscious how to use it. We live in the desert, and we are energy scarce. We have to use it in the best possible way, because we don’t have an abundance of energy or water. It’s both the supply and demand side, the supply needs to be clean. We also need to have the right mechanisms from a behavioural point of view and a building management point of view.”

In talking about the efficient use of power, the issue of indoor environmental quality (IEQ) inevitably joins the fray. For Al Abbar, the clean energy strategies in the region are an ideal complement to improving IEQ while not compromising on the development’s energy consumption. “The World Green Building Council sets a clear definition and guideline for IEQ, which covers all the conditions inside a building, including air quality, lighting, thermal conditions, ergonomics and acoustics, and their impact on the residents,” he says. “What is important is to achieve a balanced selection of strategies that will promote efficiency and conservation while addressing the needs of the occupants.”

Providing an example, Al Abbar points to the use of solar panels on rooftops, which he says, do not impact either. “Approaches such as the use of daylighting; installing operable windows; giving occupants temperature, ventilation and lighting control; and including an appropriate acoustic design all contribute to enhanced IEQ,” he says.

Abbar also touches on other factors that impact IEQ, chief being building materials such as paints, coatings, adhesive and sealants, combustion processes in the HVAC equipment, mould, cleaning materials, and pollutants. “The green building strategies of the region already factor in these, and we see incredible innovation in this space – such as in the development of green building materials – that contribute to improve IEQ,” he says.

Manufacturers’ response to demand

HVACR manufacturers and suppliers, on their part, have reported a slight change in consciousness among users based on demand. “There is a greater awareness among clients, and enquiries do tend to address energy-efficiency needs,” Idicheria says. “We have also noticed that increasingly, consultants and contractors are using Horseshoe heat pipe for pre-cooling and reheating of the hot and humid air outside, heat-recovery wheels (HRWs) for recovering the energy from the exhaust stream and variable frequency drives (VFDs) to save energy.

Tejani says: “There is awareness among contractors for a product that consumes less electricity, such as a variable air volume unit.”

Thierry Chamayou, Schneider Electric’s Regional Vice President EMEA South, IT Business, says he sees a similar trend with regard to data centre cooling. “In the last period, we are seeing more demand for energy saving and more integrated products and monitoring control,” he says. “We are seeing this not only in the UAE but also in Middle East and Africa.” The market, he says, is growing due to awareness and has prompted the company to work with stakeholders to replicate case studies and showcase different applications.

Rosy Salameh, Assistant Managing Director, Tiger Profiles and Insulations, is of the same opinion, saying that demand has increased since the building code came out with requirements for insulated products. “There is a higher demand for insulated panels now due to the green building code and due to the requirement to maintain thermal comfort in different buildings, and more energy efficiency, as well,” she says.

The demand, however, is not only driven by regulations, but also an increase in efforts to lower capital and operational cost. Dr Talat K Haffar, XX, Everest Commercial Refrigerators, a UAE-based company specialising in beverage coolers, says that since electricity and energy become more expensive in the Middle East, especially in the GCC region, the company has been forced to innovate and has, thus, been implementing new controllers, so it can control the cooling inside the cooler at night and day that will reduce energy consumption.

Patel is of the same opinion. “Operational costs, in general, have risen in the UAE,” he says.
“Consequently, organisations are looking for ways to reduce expenditure, which involves turning to sustainable alternatives. Especially in the cold chain, high costs are involved to maintain temperatures. The solution is to design the facility to ensure no temperature loss.

Patel also points out to energy-efficient machines with smart batteries for retaining energy in cold stores. This line of thinking has encouraged the company to implement solar power. Following RSA’s decision to employ ammonia in its chiller system, which he says, is more energy efficient and better for the environment than Freon, Patel believes that ammonia will gain popularity. He quickly adds that it remains an expensive solution, though, encouraging the exploration for an alternative gas.

What of existing buildings?

To continue in this positive movement towards energy efficiency and successfully achieve such national targets, attention is also being placed on retrofit initiatives, which are crucial to reducing overall efficiency, as the country features a significant number of existing building stock that do not meet emerging standards.

Al Abbar is optimistic in this regard, noting that there has been considerable progress in retrofitting buildings with the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy (DIES) 2030 offering a comprehensive policy framework that includes a robust Demand Side Management (DSM) strategy. “As part of the strategy, some 30,000 buildings have been identified as to benefit from retrofitting by reducing their energy consumption by 30% before 2030,” he says.

Al Abbar also speaks on the great value of Etihad Esco’s building-retrofit programme, in Dubai, which he points out, last year reportedly helped conserve over 54gWh of energy with the retrofit projects implemented for DEWA, JAFZA, Dubai International Financial Centre and the Mohammed bin Rashid Housing Establishment, across 2,178 buildings. Similarly, Abu Dhabi has launched the Tarsheed programme to help reduce energy and water consumption of up to 3,000 non-residential buildings over the next five years.

Al Jassim, however, believes there is a strong need for people with the proper knowledge, expertise and skill-set to implement best practices and further innovation. “Capacity building is a challenge,” he says. “There are only a group of people who know this technology who know about energy-efficiency retrofitting.” He says there is an urgent need to expand, to train people and to build the capacity of everybody, be they professionals or students, by looking at the curriculum being taught in the universities. “It has to spread more than what it is now,”  Al Jassim says. “Technology is moving fast, and projects are coming in the pipeline. The region is moving, and we need more people. We need resources.”

Al Abbar agrees with this, when he says: “Through a consistent focus on enhancing awareness on the need to retrofit buildings for efficiency, we see greater awareness among consultants and contractors. However, we understand the need for providing them best practices that help them to focus on retrofitting efficiently by using the right tools and practices.”

In line with this, Abbar says, EmiratesGBC launched the Technical Guidelines for Retrofitting Existing Buildings, a handbook providing viable retrofit methods and the ‘Energy Efficiency Programme’, which brings together several stakeholders in a comprehensive publicly accessible online database. This year, he says, Emirates GBC also launched a Building Retrofit Training (BRT) course in partnership with the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy and Masdar (Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company). The course, he says, aims to “bridge the knowledge-gap regarding best practices for retrofitting and building sector efficiency among all stakeholders in the industry”.

The move towards capacity building is also being taken up by other stakeholders to provide a broad perspective on how sustainability is applicable. Jahani points to the Green Leadership Series launched in DSP, as an example. “It has been an amazing platform,” he says. “We are able to engage different levels of stakeholders. It is a very effective stakeholder engagement tool. It’s been really around making sure you have the right dialogue.”

By way of example, he speaks of the outcome of a recent event under the Series, involving industry and academia, that reached the conclusion that while there is a host of engineers, there is a need for more lawyers to help consolidate the language and streamline the process within the industry. “It’s important to have this kind of [a discussion],” Janahi says. “People avoid it, think there are no solutions or that it is tough to find a solution.”

Beyond the borders

While the UAE continues in its positive trajectory, many manufacturers are leveraging their experience complying with the increasingly stringent regulations in the UAE, as well as the high standards associated with the country, as a means to gain a competitive advantage while looking to move beyond borders.

Idicheria says: “Manufacturing is critical to the UAE’s diversification drive. The government is taking all the right measures, such as enacting business-friendly industrial policies and creating a highly efficient trade, transport and logistics infrastructure to attract investors. In the long run, this will help build UAE’s reputation as a manufacturing hub.”

Shpak says: “Having a local ISO-certified factory with European standards of manufacturing allows us to support our clients and get prestigious references in Middle East. If we speak for the GCC [region] and Middle East countries, it is still much easier and cheaper to deliver products from the UAE than from Europe or the United States.”

Haffar says that Everest has spread out to open and operate factories across the GCC region and some parts of North Africa and is looking into possibly entering the market in North America. “If we started from a different place other than the UAE, we will not have the same success,” he says. “Being a UAE company and being in the UAE, we were exposed to harsh [ambient] conditions. When people know we are from the UAE they do regard us as having high standard.”

Idicheria believes UAE-based manufacturers are also slowly making a name for themselves. “The progress of businesses, such as ours, is a testimony to that,” he says. “In the HVAC market, which has many global players, we have been able to gain greater ground through tailor-made, quality solutions, ensuring faster delivery and savings on transportation. We are definitely giving the international players a run for their money in these markets.” With exports mainly focused on the GCC region, Idicheria says, with new factory going online, the company is looking to tap into new markets.

Idicheria takes a realistic view of progress in this regard. “It will, of course, take time for local brands to build up their reputation locally and globally. With the right facility and quality-control measures, we don’t see why it cannot be done. Fortunately, consultants and contractors are also encouraging locally made products due to their cost-effectiveness, faster delivery, easy maintenance and ability to deliver tailor-made solutions.”

Tejani advocates more concerted efforts: “Regulators, consultants and contractors can play a major role to encourage the local manufacturer. A consultant should always give preference to locally manufactured products, tested and certificated by international standards.”

Salameh, based in Sharjah, believes that in addition to the quality of products, the UAE’s position as a hub also provides a significant advantage to supply to the region, due to easy accessibility and also recognition from the international community with regard to the strict regulations in the country with regard to quality.

For many people, the UAE may seem as though it is reaching for the stars. However, the success the country has achieved over the years has given it the confidence to do so. As stakeholders navigate the economic, regulatory and market conditions, the experience and expertise gained from triumphs and failures have helped fashion a more resilient industry that is helping position the country as a hub and thought leader.

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