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Streamlining efficiency

In view of Ras Al Khaimah’s target of ensuring 30% energy savings by 2040, the emirate’s Energy Efficiency and Renewables Office (Reem) believes that through the implementation of simplified regulations, efficiency need not be complicated.

| | Mar 12, 2019 | 11:01 am
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Ras Al Khaimah is undergoing a metamorphosis. As His Excellency Munther Mohammed bin Shaker, Director General, Ras Al Khaimah Municipality Department, puts it, “Ras Al Khaimah is undergoing a phase of significant economic development.”

The changes are not merely confined to the growing number of private-sector residential and commercial developments across the UAE’s northernmost emirate. A massive shift in mindset is apparent in the public sector, as well, largely driven by RAK’s sustainability agenda. Elaborating on the agenda, Bin Shaker says, “The RAK Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Strategy 2040 stems from the vision of His Highness Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, to have sustainability as a source of competitiveness for RAK. The Strategy supports the positioning of our emirate as a destination for investments and people, by lowering the cost of energy and water and by creating new markets for energy efficient products and services.” The emirate’s sustainability agenda lies at the heart of the programmes developed by the Municipality’s Energy Efficiency and Renewables Office (Reem), which has been at the forefront of efforts in creating a more resilient energy landscape through the coordination of the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Strategy 2040.

H.E. Munther Mohammed bin Shaker, Director General, Ras Al Khaimah Municipality Department

Streamlined approach

The launch of Barjeel, RAK’s new Green Building regulations, on January 29, is largely considered the most significant milestone under the strategy. Andrea Di Gregorio, Director, Reem, explains that the motivation behind the introduction of a Green Building code in Ras Al Khaimah is to capture the opportunity for energy savings in the rapidly growing emirate, where every year over 2,000 new buildings are added to the existing building stock of approximately 65,000. And the decision was to take an uncomplicated approach to meet the goals. “We studied other existing codes in the UAE in detail,” he says. “We learnt international standards, as well, such as BREEAM and LEED. We captured a lot of learnings from our consultation panel, comprising over 70 organisations, including regulators previously involved in similar efforts. In comparison to other regional codes, we decided to go for a simplified approach.”

Di Gregorio says that RAK’s code comprises only 50-55% of the items in Estidama’s scope of requirements and only 25-40% of Al Safat’s scope of requirements, depending on the type of building. “The requirements are more focused on design and construction stages, which are easily controllable and enforceable, as opposed to the operations stage” he says, adding that RAK Municipality worked towards a code that can be applied in a straightforward manner, to avoid complexity and reduce paperwork – all of which make compliance relatively cost-effective.

Di Gregorio explains that a simplified and cost-effective approach allowed to select and go deeper on some requirements, which entail clear benefits over the lifecycle of a building. In addition, the code embeds degrees of flexibility, allowing the developer to comply with some items of the code in different ways. For private villas, he says, the requirements are few and expressed, where possible with a prescriptive approach which limits the design burden. He adds: “For example, for the wall insulation requirements, instead of undergoing a U-Value calculation, the building owner can comply with Barjeel by just adopting 200-millimeter thermal blocks.”

Di Gregorio adds that the Municipality is ensuring that everybody who participates in the Barjeel requirements be knowledgeable and ready for implementation. Consultants are being trained on the Barjeel requirements and are subject to an exam. “This is in line with our objective of promoting best practices for sustainability,” he says.

The move towards nZEBs

Di Gregorio says that Barjeel is currently in its voluntary phase, until next year, when it will be mandatory for all buildings, with minor exceptions, for example, temporary buildings. “The main reason for the voluntary phase is that we want to avoid a situation where the code requires modifications on a design work that has already started under the previous regulatory regime,” he says. “We don’t want to add complexity to the market.”

Already, Di Gregorio says, there have been several developers who showed interest in Barjeel as early adopters. He adds that during the voluntary phase, there is an incentive scheme from the government to encourage adoption, in the form of reduced final building permit fees, and that buildings that are compliant will receive a Barjeel plaque, to support developers in marketing them as high-quality buildings.

On whether the new regulations can pave the way for net- or near-zero-energy buildings, Di Gregorio says that while nZEBs are technically feasible, especially for low-rise buildings, the payback for such projects are still typically quite long. “While the Municipality does overall encourage the move towards nZEBs, a gradual approach will be followed,” he says. “We will support developers in adopting levels of energy efficiency beyond the minimum requirements, in different ways. We will be available in providing advisory, and in the longer run we plan to introduce a rating scheme based on some forms of energy-intensity indicators. The system would also work as a market awareness tool.”

Andrea Di Gregorio, Director, Energy Efficiency and Renewables Office (Reem), Ras Al Khaimah Municipality, UAE

Tackling the existing building stock

While Barjeel aims to address the energy efficiency of new buildings, RAK Municipality has also put the spotlight on existing building stock through its retrofit programme. An incentive scheme has also been introduced to encourage ESCOs (Energy Services Companies) and EACOs (Energy Auditing Companies) to set up activity in RAK (see related interview, on page 14). As for how building and villa owners will be encouraged to undergo an energy retrofit, Di Gregorio stresses that the approach varies according to the different segments of buildings. While in certain situations, direct government intervention can be implemented under a push model he says that in certain segments, for example small residential units, a “pull model” is ideal, where the government sets the framework, and owners opt to participate.

As Ras Al Khaimah positions itself to take on a stronger leadership role in the field of sustainability, the emirate is emerging as an attractive destination for local stakeholders owing to its growing demand for energy-efficient products, services and solutions, fuelled by government support and incentives.

Hannah Jo Uy is Assistant Editor at Climate Control Middle East magazine. She may be contacted at hannah@cpi-industry.com

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