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Mandatory inspections could spur uptake of better equipment

Markus Lattner, Director, Eurovent Middle East, elaborates on a position paper he authored, which details out how systematic building inspection, combined with general market surveillance activities, can positively contribute to socio-economic and sustainable development. Excerpts from an interview he gave to Hannah Jo Uy of Climate Control Middle East…

| | Sep 18, 2019 | 9:17 am
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Markus Lattner

The position paper you authored opens up an interesting debate on closer monitoring and enforcement for improving building performance in terms of energy efficiency and indoor environmental quality and for strengthening food safety measures. What progress have you been able to make in capturing the attention of authority bodies concerned and persuading them to consider the stated points for discussion and possible implementation?

At the current stage, we are engaged in talks with various authorities, and we are also sharing our thoughts with other organisations, like the facility management association MEFMA as well as other interested persons, in order to get feedback. So far, we have had motivating feedback from various sites, such as the Ministry of Energy, the Department of Energy in Abu Dhabi and ESMA.

We hope that soon we will be able to coordinate a discussion among interested stakeholders and government bodies.

The UAE has embarked on a blockchain strategy and, not to forget, the use of artificial intelligence. These are being spoken of as effective monitoring tools. The Dubai Water & Electricity Authority (DEWA) is implementing a smart meter regime to harness more data. Would these not be more effective and quicker in monitoring building performance, say, and offering enforcement support, given the vast stock of existing buildings. Dubai, for instance, has a stock of over 120,000 existing buildings?

I’m pretty sure these technologies will be of valuable help in such work and such assessments in the future. At the moment, I don’t see
the feasibility yet, because this would also require smart equipment – equipment that is IOT-ready – which, in the existing building stock,
is not available. I believe we are still rather far away from having a physical or personal inspection replaced by pure technical solutions. But inspections would lead to faster retrofits and, thus, a faster rise of smart equipment. It would surely speed up the transition to intelligent monitoring.

But, wouldn’t it be best to begin integrating such equipment in new buildings to ensure a ‘smarter’ building stock?

It should definitely be considered, but it would require a regulatory framework to mandate smart metering and smart monitoring of equipment. I don’t see it being done anywhere else in the world on a mandatory basis. The industry would first need to agree on certain standards for that to enable a central monitoring framework.

One of the highlights of the paper is the collateral benefit of providing employment opportunities to Emiratis as monitoring and enforcement agents. What is the roadmap you are proposing to successfully implement the model?

Given the huge dependence of the whole region on cooling and refrigeration, we believe it is an absolute necessity that the local community develops its own expertise on cooling and refrigeration technologies. If my information is correct, there was a vocational school that had a chapter for HVACR training but that it was stopped a couple of years ago. We are talking now with Actvet, a vocational training centre for young Emiratis, to restart a department for HVACR.

They are now considering to reintroduce such a programme. We are really glad our honorary member, Roudah Bin Bahr, is with us, because she is putting us in touch with the educational side. She is very active in promoting to educational organisations to rethink HVACR facilities. One of the side-effects of having a building inspection regime would be that it offers a lot of job opportunities for Emiratis, who are specifically trained in HVACR. It would be just one step, but a very major one, towards a centre of excellence, which comes directly out of the local community.

Do you see this as a way for Eurovent Middle East to align itself with the Emiratisation goal of the country, given that it is a core part of the national agenda?

We definitely support that, because you cannot always depend on expertise from outside. Thus, we see the necessity for the local community to build up its own expertise and we, as a local and regional association, totally support the development of it. After all, our industry is in need of qualified and capable people.

What is your proposal on the most optimal approach to providing training and empowering them with the technical nous needed for comprehensively evaluating a building or a transport refrigeration reefer trailer?

Comprehensive training and education would be sufficient to assess basic aspects of the condition of a building’s HVACR installation. Such
a programme has to be also seen over the span of several years. The experience made in the beginning have to be channelled back into the education, so that such programmes grow over time. At the moment, the market is relying on labour from outside, which, in many cases, is not even specifically trained for what would be required [in the context of the region].

Is training adequate, or does the assignment require years of experience and aggregated expertise to accurately assess a building or cold storage facility?
On every side, there is a lack of skilled personnel. Building inspections would stimulate the need in the market for higher qualified people. As long as we don’t see mandatory inspections being carried out, we won’t see the motivation to properly care for HVACR installations. This is one of the major points. We are losing most of the energy by neglect of maintenance, improper operations and flaws in the installations. This goes for any country in the world, of course, but high energy costs along with requirements for certified personnel, liability reasons and regulatory frameworks have forced a better energy conservation regime elsewhere.

What is a mandatory inspection programme bringing to the market? It would motivate building owners to be more aware of their responsibility for energy conservation. We do see the energy cost here is quite low, so you don’t have this stimulant through the price of energy yet, but a mandatory regime would definitely create a higher alert to the needs of your HVAC installation. Starting from that idea, it would immediately increase the demand for better maintenance, which, in turn, would lead to owners and operators requesting skilled labour when contracting maintenance services, thus improving the quality of the maintenance cycles. This reduces the energy consumption as a well-maintained HVAC installation always needs less energy to run. So, it would have an immediate effect on the overall energy consumption of the country.

Higher maintenance costs will also raise awareness of lifecycle costs, as owners and operators would see the benefit of investing in better products from the beginning to save on operational costs in the long run. This would push the market finally to higher quality, which already is available in the market, just not made full use of yet.

Which will drive people towards better practices?

It drives everything towards better practices, to more awareness, to better education, to better training, to more efficient equipment and better systems. It creates more jobs and also, quite important, improves the health of people, be it fire safety-wise or indoor air quality related. And not to forget, it provides a notable stimulus to the nation’s economy.

And since you are in the middle of speaking to different entities about the value offered by such an inspection framework, is the holistic benefit a key point you would want to highlight, given that these points are not only related to energy efficiency but are also economic and social in nature?
An industry has more aspects to think about than just its technical side. If you consider the amount of employment our industry provides to the local community and, generally, to the market, we are looking at a much wider responsibility. It also has to be clear and very well understood that we, as an association, do not want to go to the market to inspect. This is clearly the responsibility of the authorities. As we see a wider benefit, not only for our own industry, but also for a wide range of businesses, people and organisations, we are happy to bring this topic up for discussion. Our main advantage is that we understand best about HVACR systems, because we are the ones producing them. It is our responsibility towards society.


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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