Green building is the future of profitable development in Gulf

With its year-round sunshine, the Gulf is ideally placed to harness the benefits of solar power, but for years this was overlooked as the energy derived from oil was more cost effective. However, the recent leap in oil prices means the cost of energy has become a real concern for markets worldwide. Efforts are now underway in the Gulf to ‘go green’ and use solar power, from Dubai’s parking meters through to the automated controls of pipeline installations. CW reports.

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By  Colin Foreman Published  July 23, 2005

Green building is the future of profitable development in Gulf|~|solar-body.jpg|~||~|With oil prices just shy of US $60 a barrel, the cost of energy is now a real concern for markets in the Gulf, where fuel prices were traditionally very cheap. This has radically changed the mindset of a region where just a few years ago energy was regarded as a ubiquitous commodity. “There has been a major mind shift, and people in this region are beginning to accept the fact that energy must be conserved,” says Dilip Rahulan, chairman and CEO of Pacific Control Systems. A second less significant reason has been popular concern about global warming and other associated environmental issues. Although oil is the region’s greatest natural resource, its most obvious one is the sun. With close to 365 days of sunshine every year, the Gulf is an ideal location for solar power, but in the past it was overlooked, as energy derived from oil was ultimately more cost effective. But rising oil prices means that this economic rationale no longer applies and solar power is now used in a number of applications. “Today there are major efforts being made in the region to deploy solar power,” says Rahulan. Perhaps the most high profile example of solar energy being used in the region is by Dubai Municipality’s parking meters. Other less visible services are also driven by solar power, like the automated controls of pipeline installations. Albeit on a much larger scale, solar energy could also be harnessed by buildings to power services such as lighting and air conditioning. When it comes to buildings and construction, the use of alternative energy sources like solar power enhance the environmental performance of a building, and make it more ‘green’. The concept of green buildings is not a new one, but it has gained popularity in recent times with many developments claiming to be green, environmentally aware or conscious. There is no straightforward definition of what a green building is, but it is generally regarded as a building that does all it can to avoid harming the environment. This usually means it uses energy and water efficiently; is built from sustainable materials that are from renewable resources that can be reused or have been recycled; and creates a healthy indoor environment. To facilitate the construction of green buildings, the US Green Building Council (USGBC) created its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system, which rates a building’s environmental performance. Assuming the building’s performance is acceptable it can be given a bronze, silver, gold or platinum rating, depending on how well it performs. Since its introduction, the LEED rating system has become the recognised authority on green buildings both in the US and the rest of the world. To date, the only LEED-rated building in the UAE is the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi, which was given a silver rating. Achieving a LEED rating is not easy as there are some severe economic constraints that have to be overcome. For a platinum-rated building certain benchmarks must be satisfied, all of which incur additional costs. Indeed, many of the items required to meet these benchmarks are between 30 and 40% more expensive, and for items that are not available locally and have to be imported, the increase in cost can be even greater. Although this can impact on the cost of developing a property on a square foot basis, there are benefits. Green buildings are more efficient than conventional buildings and that means they cost the owner less to maintain, which over the long term leads to greater returns. A typical payback time in the Gulf is somewhere in the region of five years. Development has been undertaken with short payback times because high rentals and fast construction times have allowed developers the luxury of doing so, but in other parts of the world this is not possible and longer payback times exist. As the region develops it is likely that this will become the case in the Gulf. And if it does, then green buildings and green building principles will become even more popular as property developers who wish to remain profitable will be forced to think about the long term performance of their buildings.||**||

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