Leed enhances government's green initiative

Dr Sadek Owainati says the EGBC aims to begin a pilot programme in October. (PATRICK CASTILLO)

The UAE is developing at a phenomenal pace in its bid to put itself on the global map and become a tourism hub. However, development brings its own problems, and the UAE is no exception. Add to this the fact the harsh desert climate of the country necessitates high levels of energy consumption for cooling and water production, and you have a host of environmental issues to deal with.

According to a study undertaken by Dubai-based facilities management company Farnek Avireal, five-star hotels in Dubai produce 6,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually and on average consume between 275 to 325kwh of power per guest. A 2006 report by Living Planet puts the UAE's ecological footprint at 11.9 global hectares per person against the global average of 1.8 global hectares per person.

Fortunately these are things that can be brought under control with the use of energy-efficient technology, and constructing green buildings is one of them. This is because, globally, buildings are recognised to be major contributors to the emission of gases that cause global warming due to their greenhouse effect. On the other hand, green buildings are known to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by about 40 per cent. This is due to their reduced demand on energy, water and natural resources.

This is because they are designed to conserve energy and may use renewable energy sources, incorporate recycling systems and controlling devices that will enhance their water efficiency and reduce the impact on natural resources and landfills due to the use of recycled material.

And the good news is that the UAE is already taking steps in the right direction if the initiatives being taken by the government are anything to go by. The Abu Dhabi Government launched Masdar City – the world's first zero-carbon, zero-waste, car-free city. Once complete, it is expected to increase Abu Dhabi's GDP by two per cent and save Dh7.3 billion worth of oil over the next 25 years.

Recently, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, issued a directive that all new buildings must meet green standards. This was followed by the Emirates Green Building Council (EGBC) launching an internationally recognised Leadership of Energy and Environmental Design (Leed) rating system for the UAE. A number of assessment methods were considered for the basis of the new rating system and finally Leed was selected because of its international recognition. Significantly, the system refers to standards that are already being used in the UAE and several Leed-accredited buildings exist in the country. This shows the model is achievable in the current construction sector and things can only get better.

Emirates Business spoke to experts on the sidelines of the recently-concluded Facilities Management Expo held in Dubai, where conferences on property and facilities management were also held to discuss issues such as green buildings, energy saving techniques, the latest green possibilities and their long-term affects on the environment and the bottom line.

Industry conservation expert Dr Sadek Owainati, who is the founder and chairman of the EGBC, told Emirates Business the ongoing government initiatives, coupled with its proposed new rating system, will help place a huge emphasis on green buildings, sustainability and energy saving solutions in future developments.

Giving an insight into the government's initiatives, Owainati said: "The regulations relating to designing green buildings were issued by the authorities within each emirate, such as the municipalities who are responsible for issuing building permits and certificates for occupation.

"Obviously each emirate has its own rules and regulations that satisfy the laws enforced within each emirate, and the same applies to green buildings. Designers of green buildings are being encouraged to incorporate recycled material and introduce innovation in their designs and the same applies for the method of construction and operation of green buildings. With effect from January 1, 2008, the Government of Dubai has instructed designers to abide by these principles while designing new buildings and the authorities are introducing the requirements in the regulations."

The government's initiatives are being complemented by the EGBC's rating system Leed. The term Leed refers to "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design" which is a tool devised by the USGBC as a rating system for assessing building performance with a set of principles to be incorporated in its design, construction and operation.

The EGBC intends to begin a pilot programme in October to try out the use of the rating system and have the Leed ratified by September 2008. The aim is to apply the system to 25 new buildings throughout the UAE that are currently in the design phase. The feedback from the pilot scheme will be used to update the rating system.

Owainati explained: "Leed does not represent specifications, as it is a voluntary tool employed to measure the extent of sustainability of a building with reference to a defined base for each of the specific aspects, that are identified under the following six main categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor air quality and innovations and design process. Each of these main categories is split into groups of specific subjects giving a total of 69 points.

"There are various rating systems used by countries, such as Breeam, Green Star, Kasbee, and others that are devised to suit their regions. The EGBC has reviewed these rating systems and has proposed a revision that would suit the prevailing conditions and climate of the UAE, with more weight given for water efficiency. This proposal is under review to issue a final version within 2008."

Explaining how the new rating system would help in developing and maintaining green buildings, Owainati said: "A rating system is a tool to define the level of sustainability of a building. In principle higher rating implies to a more efficient building with all the inherent benefits associated with conserving energy and water efficiency during the operation of the building. This will result in a more cost-effective operation as the monthly bill for utilities would be reduced due to the efficiency incorporated in the design and eventually during operation throughout the life cycle of the building.

"A further major advantage will be the positive impact on the infrastructure as the load is reduced due to incorporating green building principles with all associated cost savings, in addition to all the associated favourable effects on the environment."

Markus Oberlin, General Manager, Farnek Avireal, a facilities management company, said: "Leed or other rating systems will guide designers to quantify green designs and arrive at a suitable rating system for buildings."

Speaking of the cost factor, Oberlin said: "Green building technology does not necessarily bring up the cost of construction and maintenance at the entry level. However, the cost may be higher by around 10 per cent should one desire to achieve a very high level of certification. This cost is normally recovered from the savings in operating cost in a very short period of time.

"Also the cost of maintenance could be lower as there are lots of systems introduced at the time of design, which will ensure smooth and efficient operation of all electro mechanical systems, making maintenance a much easier and less expensive job. Green buildings are cost effective in the long run as the operating cost is much lower than conventional buildings and the productivity of people inside a green building is much higher than conventional buildings."

Energy saving steps

Green building designs emphasise enhanced insulation of its exterior envelope (be it walls or curtain walls and glazing) as this implies a better-controlled environment with lesser heat loss or gain.

Appropriate orientation of the building to suit the sun direction, proper selection of material of the façade – using double glazing and glass with UV protection – and enhanced insulation are basic features of green buildings that contribute to reducing energy demand. Better insulation of the roof is another way to save energy and help rooftop gardens by reusing water and reducing reflection from the roof.

Selection of lighting system in green buildings takes into account the introduction of natural light into sections of the building, in addition to utilising lights that do not produce excessive heat, such as Tungsten lamps and Halogen lights and those that have less power demand, such as compact fluorescent lights, LEDs and other technologies. This also effects the size of air-conditioning equipment that would be reduced in green buildings.

Other solutions encouraged to be incorporated in green buildings include utilising solar energy, which is abundantly available in this region, through thermal solar panels or photovoltaic elements.

Further, some green buildings use other renewable energy sources, such as wind and geo-thermal, which can be transferred through invertors to provide electricity for buildings. In these cases, the utility providers need to allow consumers to join the electrical grid in order to allow more flexibility and encourage consumers to tap into renewable sources.

The usage of water and energy is designed in such as a way whereby there is no wastage of either in green buildings. Also, steps to recycle water is adopted.