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Writing its own chapter

Similar to its neighbours in the GCC region, Kuwait is exhibiting a growing
consciousness towards the finite nature of its resources. What are the main drivers moving Kuwait out of its comfort zone, as it writes its chapter on energy efficiency and indoor air quality, in the context of the growth of the GCC region? Hannah Jo Uy has the story…

| | Apr 16, 2018 | 11:58 pm
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Change, for Kuwait, is no longer an option but, rather, a necessity, owing to pressing economic, social and environmental concerns, urging the country and its people out of its comfort zone. “According to the Ministry of Electricity and Water (MEW),” says Dr Adel Abdulmajeed Husain, Operations Director, Energy and Building Research Center, Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR), “by 2030, Kuwait’s energy demand will triple. Such demand will pose a great challenge to the energy generation sector’s capacity, in terms of fuel and infrastructure.” In order to diversify its energy mix, Dr Husain says, Kuwait aims to increase the share of renewable energy generation to 15% by 2030.

Meeting this goal requires a careful look at the biggest culprits of energy usage along with potential areas of improvement. In Kuwait, Dr Husain says, buildings, refineries, industries, and transportation account for nearly 90% of primary energy consumption, 70% of which is used to operate air conditioning systems. Currently, Dr Husain adds, the country faces significant challenges on domestic energy prices, consumption and production. Energy prices, he says, are low, when compared to international and regional benchmarks. This, he says, represents a significant cost for the economy, stressing that cheap energy has contributed to per capita energy consumption in Kuwait that is reportedly among the highest in the world.

Edmundo Gabriel, R&D Manager, Coolex, a Kuwait-based manufacturer of AHUs, packaged units and fan-coil units, says that the public and private sectors are pushing manufacturers of air conditioning equipment to bring down the kilowatt consumption of the equipment to reduce power consumption and lessen the need to develop new power plants. In Kuwait, Gabriel says, manufacturers are following such standards as EER, referred to in the country as kilowatt per tonne, to determine the consumption of the machine to produce one tonne of cooling capacity, and whether it is as per the limits. “If you do not comply, you cannot sell in the Kuwait market,” he says. It has become customary, Gabriel says, to send complete reports of equipment tested by third-party laboratories. If a unit has been found to comply with specific requirements, he says, the documents and testing reports are submitted; they can be sold in the market, only when approved.

However, Kuwait’s reliance on finite resources is not an issue only in terms of the burning of fossil fuels for energy generation and water desalination; Dr Husain also points to the country’s economic dependence on oil, which “exposes it to the volatility of global oil prices, thus impacting the revenue collected by the government on an annual basis”.

“Kuwait,” Dr Husain says, “recognises the need to diversify its energy sources to address the issue of potential future energy requirement and the cyclic revenue from oil sector due to global oil price volatility.” The urgent need to reduce energy consumption, he says, must be done without compromising the standard of living in Kuwait and its economic growth, and the government is aiming to do so through policy changes, regulation and incentives. Additionally, Dr Husain adds, there are plans to reduce greenhouse gases, mainly produced by the energy sector.

All these, Dr Husain says, provide a platform for an integrated approach to combining renewable energy technologies with fossil fuels as well as an initiative to reduce energy consumption per capita in the built-environment, starting with government buildings and schools. Additionally, Dr Husain says, there are plans to develop a large renewable energy plant at Shagaya Area, west of Kuwait City, as a pilot project for investors to utilise, monitor and assess relevant technology.

Implementation of these targets is reflected in renewable energy projects in Kuwait, Dr Husain says, which include 10 MW of photovoltaics, 50 MW of concentrated solar power and 10 MW of wind to help alleviate overloading of electricity during the summer by shaving the load during the peak times, which starts from noon to 6pm, and reducing it by 500MW. Citing other projects in this regard, Dr Husain points to Kuwait Oil Company’s (KOC) USD 27 million Sedra 500 solar plant, which was launched in 2013, with a total estimated energy-yield of 10 MW per day, and which is part of plans to supply power to 27 oil wells. There is a target, Dr Husain says, for Sedra 1000 MW, “with an overall cost of KWD 30 million (USD 100 million). The solar plant has a production capacity of 10 MW, which will save 20% of KOC’s power needs”. Dr Husain says that there is also an ongoing renewable energy initiative to produce 70 MW, which KISR is currently overseeing.

Kuwait recognises that such projects cannot succeed in a vacuum, and in line with this Dr Husain says the country has developed human resource infrastructure to increase awareness of renewable energy production and consumption, in general. “The State has also established a national environmental education programme to highlight its commitment to increase awareness of energy challenges,” he says. “This is expected to foster a sense of responsibility among the [people of the] nation.”

An issue of equal importance

Undoubtedly, excessive temperatures, humidity and dust concentration levels impose the biggest challenges for HVAC systems, and by extension on energy consumption, in Kuwait. However, Dr Husain says that in addition to concerns related to energy efficiency, KISR is proactive in further investigating indoor air quality (IAQ) and thermal comfort, especially in government buildings and schools. “Correlating better air quality and enhanced educational outcomes for students is [an] interesting area within our scope of research,” he says.

Gabriel believes there is a gap of knowledge in the local market in this regard, gleaning from the demand he has observed in the market. “The main concern” he says, “is on the efficiency of the power consumption of the unit because of the many developments and new cities.” In terms of IEQ, Gabriel says that he believes that local stakeholders are still in the process of learning about its importance.

Dr Iyad Al-Attar, independent air filtration consultant, provides a perspective for the GCC region in this regard. “It comes to me as a surprise,” he says, “when the Green Building concept is widely addressed whilst dust and other contaminants easily invade our indoor space using the HVAC system as a vehicle. LEED certification and Green Building concept are entwined with enhanced indoor environmental quality.”

Human nature is as much to blame for the lack of recognition on IEQ, with few trying to employ effective filtration systems to tackle the air quality problems that could have been avoided in the first place.. “Let’s admit it,” Dr Al-Attar says, “the first and the only complaint that would make us call the maintenance team is when our thermal comfort is compromised. We even exonerate our HVAC systems, if we are inhaling existing contaminations in the indoor air, as long as they don’t trigger a cough or an asthma attack.”

A capex-driven market and current design practices are also not helping, Dr Al-Attar says. “When a filtration budget is allocated,” he says, “it is usually set annually without a well-established method to evaluate its benefits. Therefore, there is a tremendous lack of appreciation shown to the role of air filters in the HVAC system.” This, he says, is usually viewed as an accessory with the thinking that eliminating it will not affect the heat-transfer process, and thermal comfort will not be compromised. “This is not true,” he stresses. “Further, who would like to drink a cold glass of water that is contaminated. Why not, it is cold!”

While there is no shortage of available technology in the market, Dr Al-Attar says, especially with air-handling units that have advanced features, specifications do not bring these innovations to light, and conventional air filters are still installed and sometimes washed, although they are disposable. Dr Al-Attar says that what is most striking is that regenerating a disposable filter by washing is still widely considered “a maintenance measure rather than a mistake”. He likens it to buying a sports car and installing wooden tyres on it.

Dr Al-Attar believes that the status quo must be challenged, as industry stakeholders are getting too comfortable with maintenance practices that provide the bare minimum – thermal comfort – despite exposing inhabitants to degraded air quality and making them vulnerable to micro-organisms and illnesses. “When I hear a facility manager say, ‘This is a mall, not a hospital, clean air is not a priority’, surely visiting such a property would never be on my priority list. Why expose my children to such air quality?” Dr Al-Attar says. “If purchasing filters revolves around merely saving cost instead of saving lives and protecting the facility at hand and extending its lifetime, the worst is to be expected in terms of degraded air quality, illnesses and facility deterioration.”

Dr Husain says that this is of deep concern in Kuwait, adding that KISR is investigating bio-contamination and its effect on HVAC systems and air filter performance. Ducting material, installation and correction, he says, are factors that would fall under the scope of research of KISR. “Air filter performance is of paramount importance to Kuwait,” Dr Husain says, “as premature filter clogging represents the greatest challenge in maintenance as far as air conditioning is concerned, and reduced filter permeability when gas turbine filtration performance is addressed.”

Dr Al-Attar adds that improving IAQ does not mean having to disregard energy efficiency. “Frankly, I think this aspect is not granted the due attention in the filter-selection process,” he says. “Implementing energy-saving in HVAC operations is essential, and smart filter designs can contribute substantially in that regard. A better indoor air quality can be achieved through low-pressure drop air filters with enhanced efficiencies, which consequently influence air changes per hour and the energy usage of air-handling units.”

A customised approach

Filtration, Dr Al-Attar emphasises, is a multi-disciplinary process, and its performance prediction, while critical to select filter appropriately, has multiple challenges. “Relying on merely ‘increasing awareness’ will not get everyone excited to exert an effort to source the latest and best filtration technologies,” he says. Dr Al-Attar believes more emphasis should be placed on analysis of aerosol filtration and that solutions must include non-solid particles and investigate whether or not filter media characteristics can play a role on the oxidation rate of contaminants.

Also weighing in on how current practices in filtration could be improved, Dr Husain questions the suitability of existing filtration standards in the context of Kuwait’s climatic conditions, which include frequent sand storms. “A sand storm,” he says, “is capable of elevating the dust concentration to levels beyond that specified in international air filtration testing standards.” Dr Husain believes that government air filtration performance monitoring and assessment is necessary for the ideal realignment of current practices in filter supply, maintenance and replacement.

Dr Al-Attar stresses that highlighting the importance alone will not advance filtration selection unless endorsed by clear and strict specifications, where the individuals involved will have to abide by in order to ensure compliance, adding that leap and upgrade in the specifications of the GCC region can only occur through a multi-stage process.

The first, he says, is the establishment of a modified standard for the GCC region, inspired by international standards, which accommodates the climate conditions in the region. The second stage, Dr Al-Attar says, is subjecting the filters that a specific company wishes to sell in the GCC region
to a performance assessment in a testing facility located in the GCC region. Lastly, he says, is a move to qualify manufacturers’ profiles, facilities and products that apply for GCC approval.

“I wish a “blue book” could be established for air filter selection, performance, installation and disposal,” Dr Al-Attar says, expressing his eagerness to participate in a development of a guide to help users, consultants, contractors and manufacturers to deliver proper IAQ, according to relevant human applications. “The book [would be] directed towards transforming recommendations to requirements, ideas to actions and enhancements to bare-minimums,” he says. Dr Husain echoes the need for informed guidelines to help enhance best practice, saying that KISR could play a role in filter assessment and approval in the near future for filters used and installed in Kuwait.

The success of such regulations for air filtration, however, is underpinned by both compliance and enforcement. “There must be a consistency in all processes and aspects, leading to better air quality,” Dr Al-Attar says. “When filter manufacturers invest in extensive R&D to produce an aerodynamic filter with enhanced efficiency, policy-makers and governments worldwide ought not only to raise the bar but also become the bar for enhancing IEQ.” This, he says, can be done by issuing regulations that designers and consultants comply with as a prerequisite to installing filters in the HVAC equipment.

The second role government can play, Dr Al-Attar says, is in ensuring compliance through professional filtration implementation and monitoring. “In the absence of doing so,” he says, “filtration practices become subjective, as to how every individual involved in the selection assesses performance and determines the importance and the need for high-quality filters with certified performance.” The third role governments can play, Dr Al-Attar says, is in protecting the consumer through strict import and performance rules and regulations to ensure performance compliance and the approving of filter manufacturers in the GCC region.

A regional standard may not only be beneficial towards enhancing best practices and improving quality of the built-environment, it could also ease the burden for manufacturers and help create a more level playing field in the market, as diverse requirements across the GCC region is of concern to manufacturers from a business perspective, says Gabriel, gleaning from the company’s experience selling to Bahrain, Oman, UAE, Iraq, Iran and even to Sudan and Pakistan. “You go to UAE, they have different standards,” Gabriel says. “You go to Bahrain, they require a different certificate, and in Kuwait there are totally different [standards] for compliance. So, if you are a manufacturer in the GCC region, you have to comply with all these different standards, so it’s not like a one-time job that you have a GCC [region] certificate, and it [allows you] to sell to the entire GCC [region market]. It makes it a little bit complicated.”

Kuwait occupies a vital chapter in the chronicle of the GCC region, and as the country navigates through the maze of economic, social and environmental factors to meet its respective targets, the knowledge acquired through issues being addressed could contribute to the collective reservoir of information that will help move the region forward.

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