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Fri 13 Jun 2008 04:00 AM

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Winds of change

How environmental initiatives and technologies across the region are moving from rhetoric to reality.

Green technologies are being developed across the region. Tamara Walid reports on how environmental initiatives are moving from rhetoric to reality.

As the price of crude smashes through increasing price barriers, energy-saving technologies are being adopted in the design of everything from airplanes to buildings.

Oil rich Gulf states have long been the laggards in driving environmentally-friendly policy.

But now that is changing as a raft of new green building codes and sustainability initiatives emerge from both the private and public sectors that include multi-billion dollar zero-carbon cities, environmental clusters and hybrid cars.

Developers are incorporating green benchmarks such as the LEED rating into their projects.

Most have been launched in the UAE as the Gulf state with one of the world's largest carbon footprints aims to reinvent itself as a ‘low carbon economy'.

"The energy markets in the world have been most diverse in oil and gas for the past decade however this is changing.

Abu Dhabi's share in the energy market has been growing until recently and to maintain its position in the energy market it must develop new forms of energy," says Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of Masdar - an initiative launched by the Abu Dhabi government to develop renewable and sustainable energy projects.

As the second-largest carbon-emitting country per capita in the world, after Qatar and followed by Bahrain and Kuwait, the UAE has a clear incentive to clean up its environmental act.

Abu Dhabi's Urban Planning Council has become the latest government organisation to announce a new green initiative with plans to introduce new building codes aimed at reducing emissions.

Sanctions may be enforced developers who fail to comply with the new regulations, which are still in development, and the council would refuse to give planning to permission to any new buildings that do not comply with the green standard.

Owners of existing buildings will also ultimately have to apply the regulations in order to make them more environmentally-friendly according to the plan.

The Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and the UAE, which hold 40% of the world's oil reserves, plan to spend US$25bn to add 45,000 megawatts of grid capacity to help keep pace with growth, Dubai is coming under increased pressure to conserve energy as the electricity grid struggles to cope with demand created by the ongoing construction boom.

Electricity consumption in Dubai rose 30% last year as projects to build offshore cities and the world's tallest tower sapped capacity. Dubai and neighbouring Sharjah are buying power from Abu Dhabi to meet summer demand.

Burj Dubai, the world's tallest building, is expected to consume 150 megawatts of power, equivalent to about 10% of the power produced by a new-generation nuclear reactor.

The emirate's power consumption is predicted to quadruple to 21,000 megawatts, equivalent to half of Florida's, over the next 12 years if growth doesn't slow down dramatically.

The regional energy crisis is most severe in Kuwait, which holds 8.4% of the world's oil but faces a 5000 megawatt electricity shortage by 2010, according to Paris-based Alstom SA, the world's third-biggest maker of power plants. It is enough to power 25 million homes.George Berbari is CEO of UAE-based DC PRO Engineering, a company that installs green technology in buildings.

Berbari attributes most of the power consumption in cities such as Dubai and Doha to the construction industry.

"The construction boom is unprecedented. Dubai is planning to build four times what is being built today. It's the same with Abu Dhabi - what they're planning to build far exceeds the existing city," he says.

People will need to accept the concept of walking to buy their groceries and not using cars.

For their part, some real estate developers are also incorporating green benchmarks such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating, into their developments.

ETA Star, which is developing properties across the Middle East, is aiming to achieve the top LEED rating for its latest project being built at Dubai Maritime City.

The project will have a district cooling system using wind turbines, photovoltaic solar hot water, energy efficient lighting equipment and a grey water system.

Abu Dhabi is aiming to transform itself into an ecological emirate with municipal authorities aiming to start issuing green licences to developers and inspecting all buildings to ensure they reach required standards.

Abu Dhabi's 2030 plan aims to create a sustainable and environmentally-friendly city, an initiative supported by the Abu Dhabi Municipality, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and Masdar.

Masdar last year pledged to invest as much as US$15bn into renewable energy and clean technology. Aiming for global recognition as a centre for future energy, Masdar intends to become the world's first zero-carbon, zero-waste car-free city.

The city will be completed over a period of eight years and will become home to 50,000 people and 1500 businesses. Generating much of its power from solar energy, the city's residents will commute in travel pods running on magnetic tracks.

Masdar, however, is yet to prove the practicality of such projects, as many critics have expressed concerns over issues such as living expenses.

"Masdar City obviously has a long list of challenges, some technical, some operational, some to do with design, some social because it takes a certain way of thinking and a certain lifestyle to be able to adapt to the city," says Ziad Tassabehji, director of innovation and investment at Masdar.

He adds: "People will need to accept the concept of walking to buy their groceries and not using cars. They need to get around the fact that they cannot bring in just any appliance and plug it into the wall, and your toilet may not have water when you flush it. It's going to be a different technology.

Five Masdar projects in the oil and gas sector are awaiting UN approval. The projects include energy efficiency, industrial process improvement, flare gas recovery and power plant upgrades.

Masdar and Hydrogen Energy, the joint venture between BP Alternative Energy and Rio Tinto, will be working together on the front-end engineering design of an industrial-scale hydrogen-fired power generation project with technology to capture carbon dioxide (CO2), which will then be available for transportation and storage.

Natural gas will be processed to create hydrogen and CO2.

The hydrogen fuel will generate low-carbon electricity. Rather than being emitted to the atmosphere, the CO2 will be captured, ready for transportation and injection into a producing oil field where it could replace natural gas currently being injected into the field to maintain pressure.The injected CO2 also has the potential to increase the proportion of Abu Dhabi's oil.

The project will utilise a number of technologies already operating at scale successfully around the world. Work has already commenced and the front-end engineering and design of the project are planned to be completed by the end of 2008, at a cost of approximately US$45m.

At the heart of the plant will be a natural gas reformer and carbon capture facility where 100 million cu ft of natural gas per day will be transformed into hydrogen and CO2 gases.

The hydrogen gas will be used to fuel gas turbines and generate around 420 MW of low-carbon electricity, with water vapour being the main emission. This will be enough to provide more than 5% of all Abu Dhabi's current power generation capacity.

The project will limit greenhouse gas emissions by capturing some 90% of the CO2 generated, and safely and permanently storing up to 1.7 million tonnes of CO2 per year - the equivalent of decarbonising Abu Dhabi's entire domestic transport sector.

The CO2 will replace the natural gas currently being injected into oil fields, allowing the gas to be used to fuel Abu Dhabi's continued growth. If this process was deployed at scale it will potentially release a significant amount of additional natural gas for Abu Dhabi and the UAE.

The CO2 injected into the oil fields could also potentially enable previously unrecoverable oil to be produced. If deployed widely, this enhanced oil recovery process could boost Abu Dhabi's oil production significantly.

The CO2 will remain stored securely and permanently in the oil field beneath its natural impervious seal.

The overall project will require total capital investment (excluding the investment in CO2 transportation and sequestration) of about US$2bn.

Subject to the completion of the engineering design and agreement on an enabling commercial structure, the partners hope to proceed with construction by early 2009. This should allow the plant to come into commercial operation in 2012.

At its peak, about 1000 jobs will be created during construction of the onshore facilities, with up to 100 permanent jobs when the plant is operational.

Masdar has also struck a deal with Abu Dhabi Ports Co to explore carbon capture and greenhouse gas-reduction initiatives.

Dubai also plans to make all of its nine free zones in the emirate carbon neutral. After the environmental advisory company EcoVentures calculates the greenhouse gas emissions of the free zones, Tecom will decide on the necessary measures and over what period it plans to become carbon neutral.

Berbari believes even more needs to be done to reduce the carbon emissions of the region through more nuclear plants, renewable solar, wind and ocean energy, and clean carbon initiatives where CO2 is stored underground.

"District cooling saves 33% of the city's energy and green buildings save more than 20%, so between these two initiatives we are saving up to 50% of the required electricity," he says.

He points out that the cost of power in Dubai should be realistically set at 66 fils per kilowatt hour rather than the existing 33 fils. Ultimately Gulf consumers may have to get used to the fact that living in a country where temperatures can soar to as high as 50 degrees centigrade, makes for higher utility bills.

The development and use of green building technologies will reduce power consumption across the region, but a new era of energy costs is dawning - and the effects are already being felt. Ecologically sound stays Ecologically sound stays

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) is developing a plan to build what could be the world's first 100% ecologically-friendly hotels.

The group has drawn up concept designs for what it calls the 'Innovation Hotel' - a solar powered vision of the hospitality industry of the future.

People who do their bit for the environment when they're at home are likely to be interested in doing the same when they're staying in a hotel," said David Jerome of IHG.

Features of the futuristic building include forwarding of all unused non-perishable food to charities or food banks, solar panels on the roof to heat water, a rainwater harvesting system to supply water to toilets, a roof garden rich in shrubbery to provide extra insulation, wind power to generate electricity, recycled glass windows, furniture and fittings made entirely from recycled materials, and household waste to provide heat and power.

According to the group's top executives, the Innovation Hotel's features could be earmarked as standard across all IHG brands within the next few years. In the meantime, the hotel is present in its virtual from on the company's website to get guests views on its features.

"Responsible tourism is about growing in a way that makes sense for business while managing our impact on the environment and community. We want to know what ‘green' features are important to guests before making them part of brand standards," said Jerome.

IHG, owner of Holiday Inn, has 200 new build Holiday Inn prototypes open or under construction, which use 30% fewer materials to build and requires 20% less energy to run.

Green grand designs

Hotels in Dubai are responding to demand for a ‘greener' environment from their guest by introducing energy-saving features in their properties.

Grand Hyatt Dubai has decided to convert its main water heating system from diesel oil-fired to solar powered in a bid to reduce climate change and running costs.

"This is the first commercial installation of its kind in the UAE, and probably the largest in the whole of Europe, the Middle East and Africa," said Phil Barnett, Grand Hyatt Dubai's director of Engineering.

The solar panels are installed on the roof of the Grand Cineplex, with each solar panel producing up to a kilowatt of energy each per hour. The plant as a whole will produce 800 to 1000 kilowatts of energy per hour.

"The spiralling cost of diesel - which has doubled in price in two years - was another factor in our decision to install the plant," added Barnett. "We expect the plant to pay for itself in just three years.

Hyatt and Hyatt International have taken on a worldwide initiative to install environmentally friendly equipment and resource saving energy conservation.

After installation, the hotel's water consumption dropped 120,000 gallons a day. Sewage effluent from the hotel goes through a purification system, and is in turn utilised as water for the hotel's cooling towers.

"We used to put drinking water in our cooling towers as a cost of 35 fils per gallon. The cost of using treated sewage effluent for the purpose has reduced the cost to 10 fils per gallon, but more importantly has saved more than 800,000 gallons of drinking water a week," said Barnett.

Dubai Taxi trials for hybrid cars

Dubai plans to extend its green agenda to the transport industry with the trial to introduce hybrid fuel taxis - the first initiative of its kind in the Middle East.

Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority intends to operate a fleet of hybrid vehicles with engines that rely on fuel and electricity, to limit vehicle emissions and to improve the quality of fuel used by public transportation buses.

The authority has teamed up with General Motors to start a one-year trial for 10 Chevrolet vehicles that operate on fuel and electricity.

The low emission vehicles' fuel efficiency reaches 50% reduction over its gasoline-powered equivalents. The Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid is the first full-size SUV to be powered by a hybrid engine.

The trial period will provide ample time to judge the hybrid batteries' performance in the harsh weather conditions of the Middle East, setting an expectation for the batteries' lifespan in such conditions, in addition to measuring fuel savings, operational costs, and the expected reduction in emissions.

The RTA has presented the UAE National Transport Authority with two draft laws that have been approved by the ministerial service council. The first one addresses lowering vehicle CO2 emissions from 4.5% to 2.5%, and lowering the rate of hydrocarbons from 800 parts per million to 300 parts per million.

The second prohibits registering or renewing the registration of light vehicles that are more than 20 years old.

The RTA wants to replace its current fleet of taxis and buses used for public transportation with environment-friendly vehicles by using hybrids that operate on fuel and electricity, and replacing the engines of the current ‘Abra' water taxis with natural gas-powered engines.

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