Interview: The RAK Way

Ras Al Khaimah is aiming for an energy-efficient future, says HE Munther Mohammed bin Shekar, Director General, Ras Al Khaimah Municipality

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HE Munther Mohammed bin Shekar, Director General, Ras Al Khaimah Municipality.
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HE Munther Mohammed bin Shekar, Director General, Ras Al Khaimah Municipality.

Ras Al Khaimah has joined the league of green building regulations by launching its own programme called Barjeel. HE Munther Mohammed bin Shekar, Director General, Ras Al Khaimah Municipality sat down with MEP Middle East to explain the new regulation that was approved by the Executive Council of Ras Al Khaimah, with a one-year voluntary phase that started on 29 January 2019, post which it becomes mandatory. Shekar says: “Buildings in line with Barjeel [guidelines] are expected to consume 30% less energy and water with minimal impact on construction costs. Barjeel expresses minimum requirements across five categories, namely, energy efficiency, water efficiency, renewable energy, material & resources, and comfort & well-being. There are two types of regulations in Barjeel: fundamental and comprehensive. The fundamental regulations have few and simple requirements which are applicable for small buildings. The comprehensive regulations have additional requirements for larger and more complex buildings.”

When it comes specifically to the MEP sector, Shekar says that Barjeel promotes more efficient and better sized cooling systems. For example, it specifies the Emirates Authority for Standardization and Metrology (ESMA) 2-star rating or equivalent as a minimum for unitary ACs and for chillers it specifies American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) standards 90.1-2013 (path 2010). For larger buildings, it requires heat recovery and ventilation calculation as per ASHRAE standards 62.1-2013. The code standardises cooling load calculations by providing indoor and outdoor conditions specific to the Emirate.

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Talking extensively on the process of developing the guidelines for Barjeel, Shekar says: “We aimed to develop a simple and practical regulation, adapted to the size and maturity of the real estate market in Ras Al Khaimah. We achieved this by focusing on key energy and water efficiency measures with a strong economic rationale, while minimising requirements in other areas.” He mentions that RAK Municipality did study exiting building regulations across the UAE in order to formulate Barjeel. “When developing Barjeel, we carefully studied other established codes in the UAE along with international standards, such as BREEAM and LEED. In addition, we benefitted largely from an extensive consultation process, involving a panel of stakeholders and experts from over 70 organisations, including from the government, academia, and private sector across the region,” he says.

Giving a breakdown, Barjeel comprises 50-55% of the items in Estidama’s 1 pearl scope of requirements and 25-40% of Al-Safat’s scope of requirements, depending on the type of building. Barjeel’s requirements are more focused on the design and construction stages, which are easily controllable and enforceable, as opposed to the building operations stage.

Energy efficiency is a key term that has been driving the entire agenda in Ras Al Khaimah. Shekar says: “Ras Al Khaimah, today, is witnessing remarkable growth across multiple sectors of the economy. The Ras Al Khaimah Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy Strategy 2040 stems from the vision of HH Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, to have sustainability as a source of competitiveness for the Emirate. The strategy aims to fulfil his vision and support the economic growth of Ras Al Khaimah by reducing the cost of energy and water for consumers. This will be achieved by targeting at least 30% savings in electricity consumption, 20% savings in water consumption, and 20% contribution from renewable energy in the supply mix, when compared to a business-as-usual scenario.”


Energy efficiency is a key term that has been driving the entire agenda in Ras Al Khaimah.

The strategy is driven by Ras Al Khaimah Municipality in collaboration with a committee of key government entities at local and federal levels, and it promotes participation of the private sector through multiple programs and initiatives.

It should be noted that the Energy Efficiency & Renewables Administration of Ras Al Khaimah Municipality or Reem is the government office dedicated to driving and reporting on the implementation and continuous update of the Energy Efficiency & Renewable (EE&R) Strategy 2040.

The strategy comprises nine programmes, addressing the main energy users and different sources of renewable energy, with primary focus on solar. Shekar adds: “Reem’s focus is to ensure successful and timely implementation of the nine programmes comprising the strategy over the long run. Each of the programmes is driven by a dedicated government entity operating as programme owner. Reem, while operating as programme owner for some of the programmes, is also supporting other programme owners to ensure the strategy remains on track. All programmes have been activated, some of them through large-scale implementation, such as Barjeel, while others have started through pilot projects, such as solar rooftop implementations.”

Challenges

The RAK Municipality did foresee some challenges in implementing such new green building codes in the region, and took steps to ease stakeholders into the process. Shekar adds: “We realised the importance of giving the construction industry time to adapt to the new regulations. For this reason, we have launched a one-year voluntary phase of Barjeel, when developers can decide whether to apply Barjeel standards to their projects, based on their level of readiness. Incentives are being provided in this voluntary period for early adopters. Training on the requirements of Barjeel is also being provided to consultants and contractors, and we are rolling out an online training platform that will expand the reach to more consultants and contractors all over UAE. With these measures, we expect a smooth adoption of Barjeel, for the benefit of Ras Al Khaimah and the real-estate industry.”

Shekar explains that the main reason for the voluntary phase is to avoid a situation where the code requires modifications on a design work that has already begun under the previous regulatory regime. “We don’t want to add complexity to the market. There will be a very minimal impact on construction cost for Barjeel-compliant buildings.”

Enunciating more on the incentivisation programme, Shekar says that during the pilot period, compliance with Barjeel is voluntary and Ras Al Khaimah Municipality provides incentives, in the form of reduced building permit fees, to encourage voluntary participants. The first five Barjeel compliant building permits are completely exempt from the final building permit fees, and a staggered discount is provided thereafter. All buildings compliant with Barjeel will also receive a Barjeel plaque, to support developers in marketing them as high-quality buildings. The incentives are applicable to projects within the jurisdiction of Ras Al Khaimah Municipality, Shekar says.

Giving an idea on the building landscape of RAK, Shekar says: “The building stock of Ras Al Khaimah comprises about 65,000 buildings, with close to 2,000 new buildings being added every year. The type of building construction, quality of commissioning and level of maintenance differ greatly within this building stock, since it has been developed before the introduction of Barjeel without specific requirements addressing energy performance. This creates a significant opportunity for energy efficiency improvements in the existing building stock, as well as for building commissioning services for new buildings.”

Ras Al Khaimah Municipality has taken the initiative to develop the energy efficiency retrofit market for existing buildings through its Building Retrofit Program. Building commissioning and air leakage testing services for new buildings are also being promoted as part of Barjeel.

Retrofit market

Talking about the building retrofit market, Shekar says that there has been “a very positive response”. He says: “Since the Building Retrofit Program was launched in October 2018, we have contracted one retrofit project and we are completing the contracting of another one. There are four active tenders in the market and we expect to launch a few more by the end of this year. In one-year period, these show the dynamics of the markets and receptiveness the programme has been having so far in the Emirate.”

Ras Al Khaimah Municipality has put the spotlight on the existing building stock through this Building Retrofit Program. The programme has a target of retrofitting 3,000 buildings by the end of 2040. The program framework is already established, and it comprises several elements.

A super-ESCO role has been assigned to Reem of the Municipality, who will support the adoption of retrofit projects, primarily in the government and commercial sectors. Contract standards have been developed, in harmony with other standards in the UAE, for instance, the ones established by RSB Dubai.

An ESCO accreditation scheme is in place, ensuring that the ESCOs that are selected for the projects have the right capabilities, both from a technical and financial standpoint. All technically capable and experienced companies are encouraged to seek accreditation with the Municipality. Incentives have been introduced to promote the establishment in Ras Al Khaimah of capable ESCOs and energy auditors. Ras Al Khaimah Municipality has already developed a pipeline of more than 100 government and commercial buildings that are being audited for possible retrofits in the near future. Some of these retrofit projects have already been tendered out to accredited ESCOs.

In addition, the government is taking the first steps in the implementation, following the directions of Resolution no. 15 of 2018 from His Highness the Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah. He says: “Pilot projects have already been started. The first being retrofitting four of the municipality buildings, through a guaranteed savings contract which will bring 31% savings on energy and water consumption.”

ESCO model

Ras Al Khaimah is adopting two different standards for energy performance contacting. One is the guaranteed savings model, where the owner invests and the ESCO guarantees minimum savings. The other is the shared savings model, where the ESCO invests and the owner shares part of the savings. Shekar says: “When possible, we encourage the guaranteed savings model, as we feel that the market is more mature for that model, but we are capable and available to support participants in Ras Al Khaimah in both models.”

An incentive scheme has been introduced to encourage ESCOs and energy auditors to set up activity in Ras Al Khaimah. Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone (RAKEZ) and Department of Economic Development (DED) are providing extremely advantageous commercial conditions for establishment of a local company or a branch. He says: “RAKEZ decided to provide a discount equivalent to about 60% of the total local set-up fees, while DED applied a 100% cut, so they are completely waiving local fees. ESCOs and energy auditors can benefit of the incentivised fees for a period of three years from the date of approval.”

The main objective for these incentives is to create a market for building retrofits in Ras Al Khaimah, by promoting favorable conditions for these companies. Currently, the new incentivised fees are the lowest in UAE for companies of this type. Shekar concludes: “This is an additional opportunity for early movers to take advantage of a growing energy efficiency market in Ras Al Khaimah. We count today more than 15 ESCOs accredited with Ras Al Khaimah Municipality.”

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