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Sat 10 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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Education is not enough

DC PRO Engineering CEO George Berbari talks about green buildings and how they could be destined for failure unless strict regulations are quickly enforced by the local authorities.

DC PRO Engineering CEO George Berbari talks about green buildings and how they could be destined for failure unless strict regulations are quickly enforced by the local authorities.

Has the natural environment dropped on the construction agenda in light of the financial crisis?

The biggest failure we see today is not that of our financial systems, but of our effect on the natural environment. The financial crisis will pass in a year, but it won't be so easy to reverse global warming, so the focus on green should not be removed because of the financial crisis.

Only strict regulations and long term planning by the government and local authorities can put green in its rightful place. Education is important, but not sufficient to enforce green regulations. I don't believe in voluntary action; rules have to be enforced.

How would you rate the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (Leed) certification system?

The Leed standard for energy efficient building does not give credit for using less glass. The system penalises you if you use more than 40% glass-to-wall ratio in a building. Less glass is the way to save energy and construction cost.

The current Leed standards and the Ashrae standard 90 for energy efficient buildings that is used by Leed need to be developed and modified and the air-conditioning equipment efficiency needs correction as the correction polynomial is out of range when we apply the Gulf weather conditions.

So there are problems with the Leed system at present?

Some research in the US published in Ashrae Journal in November 2008 has shown that green buildings do not conclusively save energy compared to regular buildings. Why does the Leed system give one additional credit point if we ventilate buildings 30% higher than the Ashrae standard 62? Why is less glass with higher light transmission not credited with higher points rather than penalised by both Leed and Ashrae Std. 90?

Leed-accredited professionals have mentioned the virtues of district cooling. How does that fit in to green building?

If district cooling is designed and used properly integrating thermal storage and the use of treated sewage effluent (TSE) to make up water for cooling towers, and chilled water plants are well designed and operated, power demand can be reduced by 50% to 55% and energy consumption by 35% to 40%.

When a building is connected to district cooling it may achieve up to three additional Leed points.

How is this so? Can you elaborate?

In district cooling, thermal energy storage reduces construction cost by 15% and energy cost by 1%. Yet less than 10% of district cooling plants use thermal energy storage.

Also, if TSE is used in district cooling, costs are reduced from 46 fils per tonne-hour to 39 fils per tonne-hour in Dubai, which is close to a saving of 15%. Yet only one plant out of 20 uses TSE. There is a regulation from Dubai Municipality that will enforce the use of TSE and thermal storage as of next year for the common benefit of all.

A further improvement to district cooling is when it starts to utilise green energy sources such as power generated by concentrated solar power plants in the desert. The UAE may opt to subsidise renewable energy and to eliminate all subsidies related to the current electric and water utility rates.

The slab rate (the higher the volume of water that is used, the steeper the charge rises) needs to be revised as it penalises district cooling and all central chilled water systems. The UAE needs to invest in research in relation to renewable energy and conservation techniques.

So is the common conception that green buildings cost more to build incorrect?

I stress that 80% of green measures reduce capital costs. Examples of cost reduction include wall insulation, less and better glazing, the right amount of fresh air with heat recovery, energy efficient lighting, low flow faucets, solar water heating, and so on. Enforcing these basic engineering measures that reduce construction costs and energy cost is basic engineering.

The balance 20% of green building measures that have incremental construction costs include photo-voltaic power generation, solar air-conditioning, daylight harvesting, and grey water recycling which requires detailed and careful feasibility study prior to implementation.

How should adoption of the 20% balance be encouraged?

In the developed world these measures receive government or utilities incentives to encourage implementation. Maybe the UAE should follow suit?

Masdar has already awarded a 10MW concentrated solar power plant and the RAK government is building an experimental 1MW solar plant. A solar power plant costs around US $12,000/kW (AED44,000/kW) of electricity generated which is the capital cost, comparable to $1000 for a normal thermal power plant. The payback can run into tens of years with a subsidised electricity rate.

Electric power costs about 70 fils/kW and is being sold at an average of 21 fils/kW. Our recommendation is for the government to remove subsidies and spend that money on research, renewable energy production and incentives for developers who implement selective green measures.

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Stanley 11 years ago

We seriously need to get on with the business of becoming energy independent. It would cost the equivalent of 60 cents per gallon to charge and drive an electric car. If all gasoline cars, trucks, and suv's instead had plug-in electric drive trains, the amount of electricity needed to replace gasoline is about equal to the estimated wind energy potential of the state of North Dakota.WE must move forward with energy independence. We have the knowledge, we have the technology, what America lacks is a plan. Jeff Wilson has a new book out that is beyond awesome. The Manhattan Project of 2009 Energy Independence NOW. He walks you through every aspect of oil, what it is used for besides gas, our depletion of it. The worlds increased need ie 3rd world countries becoming more modernized and consuming more. He explains alternative energy source and what role they can play to replace oil. His research is backed up with hard data and even includes a time frame and proposed legislative agendas to wean America off oil. Oil is finite. We are using oil globally at the rate of 2X faster than new oil is being discovered. http://www.themanhattanprojectof2009.com