Masdar News

Retrofitting existing buildings: a crucial step to net zero

25 Sep 2019
Masdar City

A report by The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last year highlighted that drastic and far reaching action is necessary to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius – a threshold to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.


For a prosperous future, we must work towards reducing global emissions of carbon dioxide by 45 per cent by 2030 and reach ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2050. These targets might be daunting but are achievable if we implement immediate changes, especially in industries that are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases.


The building sector consumes a significant amount of energy and is responsible for almost 40 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions.  The World Green Building Council launched a call to action for all new buildings to be built to net zero carbon in operation by 2030 and all existing buildings to operate at net zero carbon by 2050.  This requires accelerated efforts in deep retrofits of the existing building stock.


Retrofitting existing buildings will significantly reduce energy consumption and utility costs related to heating, cooling, and lighting needs, and, most importantly, will help mitigate the building industry’s impact on our environment.


There are some very basic measures that existing buildings can effectively implement little to no cost that can significantly improve efficiency.  These measures would include; improved building management and operation practices, intelligent building controls, lighting retrofits, and equipment upgrades.


Designing major renovations and retrofits for existing buildings also provides an opportunity to enhance the buildings commercial value, as well as improve the building adaptability, durability, and resilience.


In addition to improving energy and water efficiency, building retrofits can improve indoor environmental quality by ensuring that adequate fresh air provision is maintained in all occupied spaces. Considerations for upgrading accessibility, safety and security should also be met, in compliance with local building codes and regulations for the retrofit of older buildings.


Today, there is tremendous support from both the public and private sector in promoting the refurbishment of existing buildings and is one of the priority areas that Emirates Green Building Council advocates.


The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is taking significant steps in this direction. For instance, Tarsheed, the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority’s (ADWEA) Demand Side Management (DSM) programme, was launched in January 2017 to encourage customers to use water and electricity more efficiently. The programme is a part of a strategy aimed at reducing water and electricity consumption by 20 per cent by 2030, which will in turn reduce harmful carbon emissions.


Another example is by the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy, which has set the goal of reducing Dubai’s energy and water consumption by 30 per cent by 2030. Retrofitting existing buildings is one of the key programs that form part of Dubai’s Demand Side Management Strategy.  Through the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) and Etihad Energy Services, Dubai has set a target to retrofit 30,000 buildings in the Emirate, which will require a total investment of over US$8 billion and once complete is anticipated to secure expected monetary savings of over US$22.33 billion as well as total savings of one million tonnes of carbon dioxide, 5.6bn imperial gallons of water and 1.7 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity by end-2030.


To further support the nation in its move towards higher levels of environmental sustainability, EmiratesGBC has launched a certification-based Building Retrofit Training (BRT) programme in partnership with the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy and Masdar. The BRT programme consists of two levels – an introductory course that caters to all levels and an advanced course specifically for industry professionals with prior knowledge and experience of sustainability and retrofit procedures.


The BRT programme is based on EmiratesGBC's Technical Guidelines for Retrofitting Existing Buildings which underlines the sustainable and economic benefits of retrofit in the long run, offering a wide range of best practices to ensure a seamless and more efficient process.


Retrofit may represent an initial financial challenge, but it also brings great opportunities and savings, and most importantly, takes us closer to our goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions.


Saeed Al Abbar Chairman of Emirates Green Building Council