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Cities of the future: How MENA region is driving the demand for green buildings

Stephane_le_Gentil
COO and Acting CEO of Abu Dhabi Energy Services (ADES), Stephane le Gentil spoke to Cityscape Intelligence about the region’s energy efficiency challenge, and how opportunities such as smart, sustainable buildings, and retrofitting programmes can help.

Considering the growing energy needs of the MENA region, what opportunity do green buildings represent? How much of that focus will be on new infrastructure, versus retrofit programmes?

Green buildings will represent an important part of our energy savings future. It does not make sense to build the way we did in the past without consideration for consumption or maximising efficiency. I see this as a huge opportunity to do this more.

Green buildings represent the opportunity to rethink how we build our homes and cities for the future. At the same time, we need to be realistic. It isn’t feasible to replace every building, so this is where retrofit programs come into play. Retrofitting allows individuals and commercial customers to maximise efficiency and realise energy savings in existing infrastructure.

This region alone has one of the highest demand rates for energy, and with a growing population, that demand will continue to grow. This is why retrofitting is critical. The UAE Energy Strategy 2050 sets out to increase energy efficiency by 40%. In addition, the IEA has just released A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector that showed energy efficiency is essential with the annual rate of energy intensity improvements averaging 4% to 2030. That’s about three times the average rate achieved over the past 20 years.

This can’t be done without retrofitting. We must address the issue of retrofitting existing infrastructures to realise these objectives. 

Masdar city - green buildings

What relevance do smart buildings and building automation systems have for the MENA region, and for its energy efficiency challenge?

It fits with the current climate and the attitude towards sustainability and the energy transition. Governments and corporations around the world are taking climate change seriously. We have COP26 coming up and the UAE has put its hand up to host COP28. 

In the region, the UAE has been a leader to bring about the energy transition — which is impressive given the country’s history with hydrocarbons. The demand for smart buildings and automation systems is just another avenue to create further opportunities.

We will see more efficiency in the construction industry, including in the designs, as these elements become mandatory. But also, what that means is that there will be additional supply chains and new areas for job opportunities such as green construction and building materials, heating and cooling equipment and lighting and appliances.

In the US alone, more than 2.3 million people work on products and projects that cut energy waste. To put this into perspective, a study by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy said that there were nearly as many Americans working on energy efficiency as in oil drilling and refining in Texas. I think that’s a good indicator as to what we can see replicated elsewhere.

What is your outlook on investor and occupier interest in smart sustainable buildings over the next five years in the MENA region?

I think this will be an avenue of growth and interest. Speaking from ADES’s experience, we are seeing a lot of interest in the market here to explore retrofitting opportunities from major players. To date, we are partnering with organisations such as Abu Dhabi’s Department of Tourism, the United Arab Emirates University and Abu Dhabi Health Services Company. We also have a solid pipeline of interest and activity with others.

The intent is clear, commercial and government entities are serious about contributing to efficiency in Abu Dhabi and they also want to realise the economic and social benefits. It illustrates the appetite for sustainable operations and practices over the whole value chain and I think this is a representation of the wider region.

What sustainable building technologies are you currently most excited about? Which of these do you think are likely to have the most impact on MENA energy consumption patterns?

One of the most interesting areas that I believe will have a significant impact is the work around software, particularly applications that aim to optimise and predict building consumption. In the MENA region, cooling is one of the biggest drivers of high consumption rates. Air conditioning alone is expected to triple over the next 30 years.

The IEA projects that there will be an 80% increase in cooling efficiency by 2030, but we have to take into account that the global cooling demand is also going to significantly increase. This requires further measures and software that can address this will play a major role in this region.

Going forward, what role do you think ESCOs will play in the drive towards smart, sustainable and energy efficient buildings in the MENA region?

It’s important to understand the difference between an ESCO and a Super ESCO. ADES is a Super ESCO, meaning we’re here to help create a market and grow the energy services sector in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. We act as the bridge between our clients and the ESCOs.

For ADES, it’s important that we help Abu Dhabi reach its demand side management objectives including reducing electricity consumption by 22% and water consumption by 32% by 2030. This aligns with the Energy Rationalisation Strategy 2030.

The next five to 10 years will be focused on meeting those targets, helping to retrofit a number of buildings. We are a one-stop-shop business model: handling everything from start to finish — from the comprehensive assessment to procurement and tendering and financing for entities. We enable customers to this service through convenience, and offering our expertise is what will increase the popularity and understanding of ESCOs. What really excites me about this journey is being able to not only help create a market for ESCOs, but also to shape the future to be more sustainable.

 

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