7 ways to build a more energy-efficient neighbourhood in Dubai
September 15, 2019
Dubai is a Emirate in the United Arab Emirates with a population of about 3 million. The discovery of oil in the 1960’s transformed Dubai from a sleepy port town to the global metropolis it is recognized as today. The recent shift to address environmental sustainability in Dubai draws attention to energy issues in the city.
As per Dubai’s Integrated Energy Strategy, the Emirate aims to increase renewable energy production to 44% by 2050. This will help to reduce the dependence on natural gas for electricity production and reduce fossil fuel based greenhouse gas emissions. Further, this will be supported with a goal to reduce energy demand by 30% in the next 20 years.
The urban area of Dubai has grown by almost 24 times in the last 44 years. This makes the pattern of urban development central to discussing energy efficiency in Dubai. The way our neighbourhoods are designed can have an impact on energy efficiency. As residents, we can contribute to this goal is by reducing the amount of energy and water we consume in our homes. But a bigger responsibility is in the hands of urban designers, planners and architects.
Often we turn to technological solutions to address the energy question such as installing more solar panels, implementing district energy systems or upgrading to a smart gird. These solutions overshadow urban design solutions that can help reduce our energy needs to begin with.
To be more successful at achieving an energy-efficient neighbourhood, technological solutions should complement urban design solutions. Here are some of the ways in which we should rethink architectural or urban design solutions.
1 - Improve pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure
More neighbourhoods in Dubai need to have continuous pavements and cycling lanes to support pedestrians and cyclists. This will help to encourage residents to change their travel choices and reduce the number of trips made through mechanical means of transport resulting in energy savings and its related carbon emissions.
But we should be mindful of the extreme desert climate in the city. Dubai experiences a tropical desert climate with temperatures reaching an average of 45℃ for many days. It is unrealistic to expect people to cycle and walk in the extreme heat without implementing design solutions to provide relief from the heat such as shading and street orientation. We need to turn to more climate appropriate urban design solutions like retractable ground floor (image 1) or narrow and shaded pedestrian areas.
Residential neighbourhoods should be within walking distance of a public transit stop to encourage the use of public transport and reduce car-based travel. Ridership of Dubai Metro has increased from 6% in 2006 to 15% in 2015, which is remarkable. The Dubai Metro has about 329,365 daily commuters which is just about 10% of the city’s population. This is low as compared to other cities like Hong Kong or Vancouver where about 90% and 20% of the population are daily commuters on public transport. Though Dubai is taking steps in the right direction many areas still remain disconnected from access to convenient public transport. The map shows the connectivity of Dubai Metro.
Dubai Metro Connectivity. Image Credit: Karishma Asarpota.
3 - Design climate responsive buildings
The way buildings are designed can have a significant impact on indoor and outdoor thermal comfort. This has a direct impact on the amount of energy that is needed to maintain a comfortable indoor climate. Buildings should be designed to respond to the micro-climate of a place to avoid heat gain.
Dubai Sustainable City is an example of a project that considered energy demand in the architectural and urban design. Decisions such as orientation and density helped reduce energy demand with little financial investment. Villas in Dubai Sustainable City use 42% less electricity as compared to traditional villas in Dubai.
Dubai Sustainable City. Image credit: Luca Locatelli from Institute of the National Geographic.
4 - Build a more compact development
Promoting compact and denser development can reduce transport demand and its associated energy use and emissions and will increase land use efficiency in urban areas. Moreover, less resources are needed to meet infrastructural need such as transport or utility networks. As Dubai has grown, the city has spread along the coast increasing the distance between neighbourhoods and making the city dependant on car transport.
Increasing energy supply in neighbourhoods using renewable sources of energy like solar or geothermal can help diversify fuel sources and move away from carbon based fuels which have a high carbon emission rate. The Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park currently has an installed capacity of 200 MW and is planned to expand to 5,000 MW by 2030. Al Shams is the new initiative by DEWA aimed at promoting decentralized solar power production within individual buildings. Though Al Shams is a step in the right direction, incentives to make solar power more widespread are lacking.
Solar panels on a residence. Image credit: Beacon Energy Solutions, Dubai
6 - Implement district cooling systems
In Dubai, district cooling systems increase the efficiency of cooling networks as chilled water is produced at a central point and then distributed to individual buildings to be utilized in individual AC (air-conditioning) systems. AC systems generate warmer water which is sent back to the district cooling plant for chilling. District cooling plants can increase their efficiency by installing a thermal storage unit. A thermal storage unit helps to manage demand better as it is capable to store chilled and warm water. This helps to reduce the size of the cooling plant as added storage means that the plant can produce chilled water at night when ambient temperature is low and chiller efficiency is high. This way the plant needs to be designed as per average demand and not peak demand. New neighbourhoods should be built using a district energy system as it can increase energy efficiency by about 40%.
District cooling system schematic. Image credit: Karishma Asarpota.
7- Conserve water
Water is a precious resource which should not be misused especially in the Gulf region as it is water stressed. Moreover, water in Dubai is produced through desalination which is an energy intensive process. Conserve indoor and outdoor water use and avoid wasting water. Indoor water fixtures should be upgraded to more efficient fixtures where feasible. Outdoor landscaping should employ only native species and use treated sewage effluent for maintenance.
Using native species for outdoor landscaping. Image credit: Silvia Razgova, The National, Abu Dhabi.