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Green builds take on an urgency in the UAE

Posted On November 13, 2013

By Robin Teh, Special to Gulf News

Operating costs for buildings in Dubai have escalated over the past few years and have been source of much discontent between landlords and tenants. It is estimated that on an average building owners spend 22 per cent of their operating costs on energy and water while corporate facilities typically spend slightly more on utilities.

Globally, green buildings have been introduced as a solution to control operating costs. Green buildings have been shown to save money through reduced energy and water consumption and lower long-term operations and maintenance costs. The energy savings alone typically exceed any cost premiums associated with their design and construction within a reasonable payback period.

Sustainable buildings have reduced risk factors that lead to higher rental income and the future value of real estate assets, in turn having a bearing on their return on investment. Compliance of regulatory frameworks has also forced developers to adopt these practices.

Conducting detailed energy audits of facilities has shown that buildings can save approximately 20 per cent of their energy bill through low to no-cost measures alone, that all pay back within 12 to 18 months with an internal rate of return (IRR) upwards of 40 per cent.

Better awareness has led to higher adoption of these codes internationally. According to a consumer survey, it was revealed that tenants are prepared to pay 23 per cent more in rent to locate to more environmentally-friendly office blocks.

In Britain environmentally-friendly blocks attract a premium of about 18 per cent. And in the US tenants pay between 2.5-17 per cent more to rent space in a green building. Investing 2 per cent of a building’s cost in green design equals a 20 per cent lifecycle savings, and the UAE government’s goal is to reduce its carbon footprint by 20 per cent by 2015, according to the report.

Dubai has passed a law that makes green building practices mandatory in the construction industry, and certain products, including solar water heaters, will be required for all buildings. The law goes into effect starting 2014 and the Building Department has launched training programmes to assist implementation.

Many government buildings have already started implementing the code. Dubai Electricity and Water Authority’s new property in the Al Quoz area is the largest government building in the world to secure the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum rating. The building has become an international showcase for sustainable building practices, using technologies such as low-power LED lights and automatic lighting control systems with occupancy sensors, an on-site 660-KW solar power plant and a grey-water treatment plant and sewage treatment plant facility, to drastically reduce electricity and water consumption.

Dubai is also home to the ‘most sustainable’ commercial buildings in the world — The Change Initiative (TCI) located on Shaikh Zayed Road. This is a 4,000 square metre shop that provides sustainable solutions. It has secured the highest LEED Platinum rating from the US Green Building Council.

The practices are to be adopted across the country. Abu Dhabi Municipality has rolled out its own green building code in September, under which all new public buildings must achieve at least one ‘pearl’ rating while government buildings should achieve two out of five possible pearls under the Pearl Building Rating System (PBRS) for Estidama, the capital’s building methodology for constructing and operating buildings and communities more sustainably.

Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Institute of Science and Technology and eco-friendly schools built by the Abu Dhabi Educational Council, such as Mubarak bin Mohammed School, which use photovoltaic panels to produce electricity are also excellent examples of the implementation of sustainability codes to reduce consumption expenditures.

In compliance with international standards, Dubai is targeting a 30 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, according to its Integrated Energy Strategy. The plan says solar will contribute 1 per cent of Dubai’s power by 2020, when it reaches 1 Giga Watt of capacity, and 5 per cent by 2030.

Implementation of the codes has been a challenge since the initial costs of making a green building are comparatively higher and private developers are unwilling to comply. However, these issues can be dealt with better awareness amongst the community.

Special incentives by the government can also be provided for developers who are willing to comply with government regulations. A combination of monetary incentives such as rebates and non-monetary incentives such as special permits can be utilized to achieve compliance.

Construction law should have the basic requirements to integrate environment issues as the global trend. Planning must be introduced at the designing stage and the developer should select an experienced project team with the green experience focusing on the long term returns.

The writer is the country manager for the UAE at Chesterton International.


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