Supersizing Sustainability In Dubai

Dubai is very serious about conserving energy and water. No wonder, as the emirate’s oil production has declined for several years, and may run out in around twenty—certainly sooner than in neighboring Persian Gulf states. (Business and shipping sustain the economy.)

The emirate’s utility, Dubai Energy and Water Authority (DEWA), has set its customers a stellar example with a new headquarters, the DEWA Sustainable Building, which holds the current record as the world’s largest LEED-Platinum government-owned building, at 337,764 square feet. It scored 98 out of the possible 100 LEED points.

DEWA model

Image via Dubai Energy and Water Authority

Solar energy is of course abundant in the desert; photovoltaic panels are placed directly over the green roof gardens, which insulate and evaporatively cool the building, without risk of overly shading the plants. The panels generate 660 kW, and rows of solar water heaters line the gardens. There’s at least one small wind turbine up there as well.

LED lighting throughout is automatically turned off when not needed. Windows and walls are highly insulative. Construction material included sustainably sourced wood and recycled material equal to about 36 percent of the total. Overall Energy Utilization Efficiency (EUI) is rated at 120 kWh/sq.m /year, which is less than one-third the energy use of traditional office buildings in the region.

Green roof under solar panels

Image via Dubai Energy and Water Authority

Those details have perhaps come to be expected in stories like this, but what may be most remarkable in this building is the water conservation. Potable water input is said to have been reduced by 48%. All of the building’s waste water is treated and reused on site. Treated water flushes toilets (though the urinals are waterless) and ultimately all treated water cools the building as it evaporates either in cooling towers or from the plants on the roof.

Stormwater is retained and reused as well, but little of that is expected. Dubai has meager supplies of fresh water, and desalination is expensive.

DEWA also boasts secure bike racks for 50 of the 1,000 employees; it will be interesting so see if those become popular in Dubai’s heavy traffic and summer humidity. If not, the Metro Red Line stops nearby. Premium parking spaces are reserved for the most efficient cars.

Green Technologies FCZO, who served as LEED consultants, emphasize that this is no glamor project but a big, busy, sensible, industrial-zone government office building intended to serve as an example and a benchmark for all similar new buildings in hot parts of the world.

DEWA facade

Image via Dubai Energy and Water Authority

DEWA undertook a major initiative to curtail the emirate’s energy and water consumption in January, 2011, kicking it off with rate hikes as well as broad education campaigns. With this new building, they are clearly matching their words with deeds.

Daniel Mathews writes about plants, animals, geology, and culture—most often writing in book form. (Bible form, if you listen to his fans. And now also in iPhone app form.) But he got his start in green homebuilding. Fresh out of Reed College, he went into the Oregon woods and built himself a tiny house out of timbers he cut and a cedar shakes he bucked and split all within 100 feet of the site. Fortunately he keeps up with the times, and focuses today on high-tech paths to a small carbon footprint. He lives in Portland with his wife, son, daughter, cat, dog, vegetable garden, and lots of music.