Despite the Dubai government’s efforts to drive the retrofit of 30,000 existing buildings by 2030, there is still a sense of resistance from clients to adopt retrofit projects. Omnia Halawani, director at Griffin Consultants, feels that if a project does not make financial sense, it will not be sustainable. She does admit that the government’s backing of retrofits is a great and a crucial step that gave retrofitting a needed push. However, she says: “The energy auditor needs to be capable of demonstrating the financial benefits of retrofits to the building’s owner for the project to be successful and for the model to be sustainable in the long run. This is where experience matters. Poorly done energy audits, over-promised savings, and poor delivery of retrofits are driving promising clients away from retrofits.”
Halawani believes that the UAE has companies and resources with technical capabilities to carry out successful retrofits. She says: “There are several stock of buildings that are eligible for energy savings. The market can be estimated at around $1.6bn.” However, MEP contractors tend to refrain from taking part in retrofit projects as they view “the project value to be much less than new construction projects and they do not want to get into the hassle of financing”.
Everything has to make sense financially. Some developers are reluctant to invest in energy efficiency projects in the fear of missing out on other more straightforward growth opportunities. However, Halawani says that investment cycles and payback periods for such retrofit projects are extremely short, with operational measures offering immediate payback and savings figures of 10-15% .
Moving on to the technical aspects of retrofitting, particularly when refurbishing a live environment, Halawani says that one of the main concerns in any retrofit project is the level of disturbance to occupants be it residents, employees, or customers. She asks: “How can you replace the chillers without affecting the thermal comfort? How can lights be retrofitted with minimal inconvenience? How can one upgrade a Building Management System without having a major effect on systems’ operations?” Her solution is that there ought to be collaborative efforts with the building’s facility management and the building owner/operator. She says: “Retrofits can happen during nights or weekends, or they can be phased. Also, a temporary system may be erected to enable dismantling the old and assembling the new system.”
When it comes to the extent to which a building should be retrofitted, Halawani lists down ASHRAE’s three levels of energy audits in the Procedures for Commercial Building Energy Audits handbook.
A Level 1 audit or a walkthrough audit can provide valuable insights into the plausibility of achieving savings. She says: “We normally advise our clients to go with a Level 1 audit if they have a large portfolio of buildings and there is a need to benchmark them to prioritise the buildings for more in-depth audits and retrofits.” But a Level 1 audit is ideally complimented by a Level 2 or 3 audit for an in-depth study.
Audits of Level 2 and 3 are needed when the building is to undergo a retrofit, especially a capital intensive one. When CAPEX is involved, it is vital to get an accurate estimation of the savings to assess the feasibility of the retrofit. A Level 1 audit does not result in a savings estimate that can provide the required level of assurance. A Level 2 audit requires conducting in-situ measurements of parameters deemed influential in the determination of the savings.
Level 3 involves more measurements as well as energy modelling or simulation. By building a calibrated energy model of the building, one can test the proposed energy conservation measures and accurately predict the savings.
Innovations and projects
Griffin Consultants look for innovative measures to provide its clients with better outcomes and improved payback periods. Halawani adds: “Traditional measures work and are, in many times, the way to go. But we were involved in a few projects in which our innovative solutions won us the project as they provided our clients with measures that were easier to implement, was less costly, took less time to install, and provided optimum operations.
“We have also promoted the use of Building Information Modelling, central control and monitoring, and occupant user interfaces to aid the better implementation, monitoring, and results of retrofit projects.”
The firm is currently involved in several retrofit projects across the GCC with multiple governmental entities, such as Abu Dhabi’s Department of Energy (DoE), where the firm is involved in the first governmental Energy Performance project in Abu Dhabi. The project targets to retrofit eight DoE-owned buildings in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain and targets 30% reduction in energy through innovative energy management solutions. The project is in line with the strategic objectives of the DoE and supports the Abu Dhabi 2030 Vision. Griffin Consultants is the energy efficiency consultant on the project overseeing the selection of the bids, implementation of the retrofits, and the yearly measurement and verification over the performance period.
In Dubai, the firm is involved in the monitoring and enhancement of the Dubai Demand Side Management (DSM) Strategy, which is one of the three pillars of The Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy (DIES 2030). DIES 2030 was developed by the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy (DSCE) to support the vision of the Emirate to “become a role model to the world in energy security and efficiency” and stems from the nationwide vision for the UAE “to be among the best countries in the world by 2021”.
The DSM Strategy 2030 targets a 30% reduction in electricity and water by 2030 which corresponds to 19TWh reduction in electricity and 46 BIG (Billion Imperial Gallons) in water reductions. It aims to achieve that through the eight core programmes, one of which is “buildings retrofits”. She says: “One of the objectives of the project we’re involved in is to update of the savings estimations methodology and results. It is such a stimulating task which involves quite a lot of data collection, energy simulation, and complex analyses.”
Besides this, Saudi has also initiated its energy efficiency program. The Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) has set up a super ESCO, NESCO (The National Energy Services Company). A royal decree mandates all governmental entities to contract NESCO exclusively for retrofitting of all buildings in Saudi. She concludes: “We are providing consultancy services to NESCO in these exciting projects.”