Retrofitting for energy efficiency

The UAE has noticed a growing demand for retrofits, writes A.R. Suresh Kumar, general manager, corporate business development & projects, Voltas

A.R. Suresh Kumar, general manager, corporate business development & projects, Voltas.
A.R. Suresh Kumar, general manager, corporate business development & projects, Voltas.

In the UAE, the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy has set the goal of reducing energy demand by a whopping 30% before the end of 2030. To achieve this mammoth task, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) has begun the process of retrofitting 30,000 buildings at a current project investment value of over $8bn.
Generally retrofitting of MEP systems happens on account of the following:

  • Modification or alteration of interiors/architecture.
  • Requirement of enhanced capacity.
  • Changes due to worn out parts of equipment or replacements.
  • Changes demanded by emergency agencies requirements.
  • Requirements on energy efficiency of the asset.

The UAE, with its more than 40 years of MEP construction market, is experiencing a very high level of retrofitting requirement on account of all the above reasons, but in the near future, energy efficiency will be one of the main drivers for pushing retrofitting of the building MEP assets.
One of the most common change happening today is the change in electric lights to LEDs to reduce utilities cost. Compared to other parts of the world, electricity tariff is still fairly low in the UAE with no major changes over the last two decades. Most of the builders and building owners continue with existing lighting, ignoring operational expenses.
When it comes to air-conditioning, fan coil units (FCU) are known for its lower life efficiency with poor or average maintenance. FCUs are likely to be corroded and with the fan motor burn out, maintenance expenditures goes up. This leads to many building owners going for replacement with new FCUs, which are quieter and slimmer.
Whilst we appreciate various government initiatives in the form of ESCO, UAE Green Building Initiative, Estidama, etc., the need is not being felt by the real estate industry to look for energy savings. The fact remains that energy audits or operational efficiency studies are still in a premature state where most of the operational expenses are borne directly by the tenants rather than by the owner.
Retrofitting of MEP equipment and services can be divided into:
Partial replacement of parts:  Apart from LED lighting, water saving faucets, leak free valves, efficient fans, and motors are the possible retrofitting options for energy saving.
Full replacement:  In many cases, existing equipment like pumps, air handling units etc., does not produce efficient output levels by merely changing the parts, in which case, the replacement of the whole equipment might make more economical sense. For example, today we get chillers that have very low IKW per tonne, which can possibly make a pay back within 3-4 years.


Gaps in the retrofit industry
There are several gaps in the retrofit industry, such as:
Lack of consultants and energy audit agencies: There are only a few energy audit consultants available in the market who have the ability to do a total energy modelling, come out with workable and economically viable solution.
Product manufacturers and traders:  Most of the product manufacturers and traders are busy with new products and existing business, and they do not have a specific focus on retrofit opportunity. The fact remains that retrofit does not give that kind of revenue (thereby, profit) that a project can bring, which is voluminous. It is time for these organisations to think setting up either channel partners or specific departments to cater to retrofit market.
Hard FM: Facilities management is one of the most abused segments.  There are plenty of companies who focus on the softer side of FM whilst the technical maintenance on hard FM loses its importance. This leads to systematic deterioration of MEP equipment and services. 
Skills: The region predominantly is known for large construction projects, and still lacks focus on the skill of MEP technicians for maintenance/retrofits.
Lack of awareness: There is a lack of awareness when it comes to the cost benefit analysis by retrofitting/refurbishing the existing systems.
Unfortunately, most of the FM and MEP companies do not have skilled technicians who have the ability to think and decide the probable improvements rather than merely to replace.
It is time for a common agency to upscale the MEP technicians and get into accreditation or certification of MEP technicians and FM companies.

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