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New global study supports healthy buildings as a critical public health strategy

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Florida, 9 September 2021: For the first time on a global scale, new research has found that healthy buildings with enhanced ventilation can improve the cognitive function and health of occupants, suggesting that ventilation and filtration are pre-eminent healthy building strategies, Carrier Global Corporation said through a Press release. Primary support for the study came from Carrier.

The study, COGfx Study 3: Global Buildings, was led by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health as part of the renowned COGfx Study series, which examines the impact of indoor air quality on how people think and feel, Carrier said.

The latest study supports the prior studies’ lab and US findings and further supports that indoor air quality is not only good for people’s health and safety, it’s good for the bottom line, as well – through increased productivity, fewer sick days and better cognitive function, Carrier said.

“As more people move toward returning to offices, schools and recreational activities, the health, safety and intelligence of indoor environments have come into greater focus,” said Dave Gitlin, Chairman & CEO, Carrier. “The COGfx Study continues to demonstrate that proper ventilation and filtration of indoor environments plays an important role across the globe in fostering a proactive health strategy. At Carrier, we are focused on delivering innovative solutions and services that positively impact the health, productivity and cognitive performance of occupants of all buildings.”

The COGfx Study 3: Global Buildings examined the impact of indoor air quality on the cognitive function of office workers across six countries – China, India, Mexico, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States. The research found that cognitive function declines as the levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and carbon dioxide (CO2) increase, Carrier said, referencing the study. Higher CO2 can be an indicator of poor ventilation in buildings, the company added.

Importantly, mechanical ventilation, such as an HVAC system with efficient filtration, can help to protect building occupants from the negative cognitive effects of PM2.5 and CO2, Carrier said. In addition to acute impacts on cognitive function, reducing exposure to PM2.5 is associated with many other health benefits, including reductions in cardiovascular disease, asthma attacks and premature death.

While the research focused on office employees in commercial buildings, the takeaways are applicable for all indoor environments, Carrier said, adding that as a company it offers numerous products and services that optimize indoor air quality, including a suite of advanced solutions through Carrier’s Healthy Buildings Program that serves key verticals including, healthcare, hospitality, education, retail and marine.

This latest research builds on previous COGfx studies that demonstrated better thinking and better health can be found inside healthier buildings. The first study found cognitive function test scores doubled when study participants were in simulated green building environments with enhanced ventilation as opposed to conventional building environments. The COGfx Study 2 examined real-world building environments in the United Stayes and showed that employees in green-certified buildings showed 26% higher cognitive function test scores and 30% fewer sick building symptoms versus buildings that were not green-certified.

According to Carrier, the COGfx Study 3 can be found at www.theCOGfxStudy.com.

ASHRAE opens registration for Building Performance Analysis Conference

ATLANTA, Georgia, 15 July 2021: ASHRAE opened registration for the 2021 ASHRAE Building Performance Analysis Conference, between November 10 and 12 in Denver, Colorado.

Making the announcement through a Press release, ASHRAE said it will be its first ever hybrid conference, where virtual attendees will have access to live sessions, participate in speaker Q&A as well as interact with virtual and in-person conference attendees. The theme of the conference, “Design and Operation for Resilient and Healthy Buildings,” focuses on the practices of energy modeling and building performance simulation using existing simulation tools, software development, and future simulation research and applications, ASHRAE said.

“The past year has brought forward new challenges for the design and operation of new and existing buildings, in particular challenges related to the health and well-being of occupants,” said John Bynum, Conference Chair. “This conference will provide an opportunity for building professionals across disciplines to share and learn about these topics and many others, as we continue to work towards a better built environment.”

According to ASHRAE, conference attendees will learn from more than 60 presentations by leading industry practitioners and academic researchers on topic such as machine learning, exascale computing, data visualization and zero-carbon initiatives, along with advanced techniques, innovative workflows and future trends in building performance modeling.

The conference will also feature the 7th annual ASHRAE LowDown Showdown modeling competition, ASHRAE said, adding that 10 teams, with members from across the globe, have signed on to compete in this year’s competition. Teams comprise building analysts, designers, architects, engineers and other participants. and will be responsible for creating the architectural design and a performance analysis model based on model building data, ASHRAE said. The teams may use any software, or a combination of software, to complete their projects. The 2021 competition will ask teams to expand their comfort zone and take on the challenges of a tropical climate with particular challenges for resiliency and “near net zero” design, ASHRAE said.

ASHRAE urged those interested in attending to visit ashrae.org/BuildPerform2021 and ashrae.org/2021lowdownshowdown.

 

HMS launches new IR-based air conditioning interface

HALMS, Sweden, 17 June 2021: HMS Networks has launched an IR-based Intesis AC interface, which the company said enables integration of any air conditioning unit, regardless of brand, into Modbus or BACnet building automation systems.

Saying that HVAC systems are usually the largest consumers of energy in a building, HMS said it is crucial for building owners to monitor and control these systems to save costs and energy. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it increasingly important to find new ways of installing and using AC units, as ventilation and “clean air” have become a major concern, the company said. The air conditioning market is growing fast with new brands and different types of AC units constantly emerging, the company said. This, it added, makes it challenging for building owners to integrate AC-units into their specific Building Management System (BMS).

The Intesis offering, the company said, includes the most comprehensive portfolio of AC interfaces on the market, enabling monitoring and control of air conditioning units from any home or building automation system. The portfolio, it claimed, is now further strengthened through the launch of a universal IR-based Intesis AC interface for integrating AC units to Modbus- or BACnet-based automation systems. The new interface connects to the AC unit via the IR link, which is already used by most AC units to communicate with their remote control, it said. The Intesis IR-based AC Interface is already compatible with more than 100 IR remote controllers and their associated AC units, it added.

The new AC interface solution, the company said, is configured using the Intesis MAPS tool, which brings many advantages for the system integrator. With a project-based configuration, all the interfaces installed can be configured in a single MAPS template, making it easy to copy device configurations and set up new projects, it said. Thanks to the diagnostics function, it added, the commissioning process and any post-installation assistance is also simplified.

DriSteem to host webinar on humidification systems for laboratories

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minnesota, 16 June 2021: DriSteem said it will be hosting a free webinar, which will focus on humidification systems for laboratories. Making the announcement through a Press release, the company said the webinar is scheduled for June 22 at 10.30 am CST. David Baird, Senior Applications Manager, DriSteem, will make the presentation, it added.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed all working environments, DriSteem said. Maintaining precise conditions in laboratories is crucial in protecting research integrity as well as keeping them clean and safe, and this includes controlling the relative humidity within this complex environment, it said. Properly controlled laboratories will generate more accurate test results, prevent contamination and promote a healthier environment for staff, it said. Studies show that maintaining the indoor relative humidity level between 40% and 60% RH creates a healthier environment, decreasing the amount and infectivity of viruses in the air, resulting in fewer respiratory infections among building occupants, it added.

“Researchers are keenly aware of how critical the temperature and humidification levels are in a laboratory setting,” said Valerie Bradt, Communications Manager, DriSteem. “Too much fluctuation of temperature or humidification in either direction can disrupt critical testing or interfere with results. This webinar is to help facilities directors and laboratory personnel be proactive and educated in their decisions for controlling humidity levels in their labs.”

According to DriSteem, the webinar will address the role of humidity in achieving accurate test results and employing humidification to reduce contamination. Topics that will be covered are:

  • Why humidification is important
  • The role of humidity in reducing airborne contaminants
  • Preserving equipment
  • Promoting wellness of staff
  • Employing humidification in a laboratory
  • Practical considerations for controlling humidity

Registration for the webinar is free of charge, DriSteem said, adding that those interested in attending could register at https://attend.zoho.com/juht 

Camfil donates air purifiers to Pertini

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, 15th June 2021: Camfil Italy in Cinisello Balsamo donated air purifiers to the municipality for the Il Pertini Cultural Center, Camfil said through a Press release, adding that it was a gesture of generosity and attention to the city, in which it has been operating for the last 46 years. The air purifiers, the company said, have been placed in the study room in one of the buildings, which has become an important step as many young students and professionals spend hours studying there.

Following an inspection, Camfil proposed the installation of three air purifiers in the study room. The clean air solutions, capable of purifying the air from pollen, bacteria, viruses, particulate matter, ozone, chemicals and other harmful contaminants, are also the same adopted by the French and Spanish regional authorities in the canteens, laboratories, and study rooms of their schools, Camfil said. Silent and with very low energy consumption, the City M air purification systems will guarantee about 16 changes per day of purified air, thanks to HEPA H14 filters, with a certified filtration efficiency of 99.995% even on the smallest particles in the air, it added.

Luciano Rogato, Managing Director, Camfil Italy, said: “We are humbled to have donated three air purifiers to the reading room of the Pertini Cultural Center, which plays a central role in promoting culture, socialization, and creativity in the Cinisello Balsamo community. It is an important contribution, as the local communities and public places have remained under strict restrictions due to the pandemic. Our clean air solutions ensure a healthy and safe indoor environment.”

Mayor Giacomo Ghilardi, said: “I thank Camfil for this donation to our city library, which is a hub for so many young people for studying, reading, and as a meeting place. Due to the health emergency, which is still ongoing, the Pertini was closed for some time, and we know how much discomfort this has created for many students and young professionals. The installation of these machines will allow more comfortable and healthy use of the indoor environments.”

Carrier launches Abound

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Florida, 27 April 2021: Carrier Global Corporation on April 26 launched Abound, which it described in a Press release as a new cloud-native platform, as part of its growing investment in digital solutions designed to give people confidence in the health and safety of their indoor environments. Abound is an open-technology platform that aggregates data from different systems and sensors and provides building owners, operators and occupants transparency into relevant and contextual insights about air quality, thermal comfort and other performance data, the company said.

“Abound will transform a building owner’s ability to optimize the indoor environment, boosting the confidence of each visitor and occupant,” said Dave Gitlin, Chairman & CEO, Carrier. “The access to real-time actionable data for indoor air quality and other building systems and sensors embodies the future of building health and performance for customers around the globe. With this launch, we are moving closer to establishing industry standards that will provide owners, operators and occupants greater confidence in their indoor spaces.”

According to Carrier, Abound is a cloud-native offering that uses advanced technology to make building environments more intelligent, efficient and responsive. It connects directly to existing building systems and sensors with no need for upgrades, retrofitting or replacements. And, unlike other building management platforms, Abound is designed to easily work with all systems regardless of manufacturer, to unlock and unite siloed data to provide more powerful, actionable insights, Carrier claimed. The platform can be rapidly installed and scaled and showcases data on a single pane of glass and via remote readings, the company added.

According to Carrier, a hallmark feature of the platform is the ability for building operators to benchmark building performance related to air quality, ventilation and humidity against the thresholds identified by certain air features within the WELL Building Standard (WELL) from the International WELL Building Institute, which works for achieving healthy buildings. Building owners will have the ability to display real-time information and messaging about a building’s health through the Abound application programming interface (API), which can be used to create digital wallboards and support mobile experiences, Carrier said.

“We’re proud that the thresholds in the Abound platform are based on the WELL Building Standard’s air quality features, helping Carrier to make something as invisible as air quality more visible and actionable,” said Rachel Hodgdon, IWBI’s President and CEO. “This platform will help streamline pathways for customers to measure, communicate and report their progress toward WELL Certification, advancing IWBI’s overall mission to advance people first places around the world.”

According to Carrier, Abound is currently being piloted across the United States, with customers in the commercial building, K-12 education and sports and entertainment industries, including Trust Park, home to the Atlanta Braves. It is also operating at Carrier’s world headquarters and building technology showcase, the Center for Intelligent Buildings in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

“We are thrilled to participate in the pilot of the Abound platform to give fans a safer and more informed spectator experience,” said Jim Allen, Senior Vice President of Corporate and Premium Partnerships for the Atlanta Braves. “The visual displays strategically placed throughout the stadium will provide our guests a real-time look at how our systems are working together to improve air quality. Sports bring people together, and the game just isn’t the same without our incredible fans here at the ballpark and we’re excited to welcome them back.”

While a tool for building owners, Abound was designed with building occupants and the general public in mind, Carrier said. It will make the invisible – air quality – visible through a smart, simple interface, and using its API and responsive display generators, building owners can communicate building health strategies, health performance metrics or the live indoor air quality summary through in-building digital displays, mobile applications or existing digital experiences.

“The launch of Abound underscores Carrier’s leadership in digital innovation and ability to move quickly to exceed our customers’ needs,” said Bobby George, Senior Vice President & Chief Digital Officer, Carrier. “The platform came together in a fraction of a year, and I couldn’t be prouder of the team. Abound’s platform architecture was designed around open standards and modern cloud native technologies and can quickly adapt to a wide range of integration and connectivity and scaling needs. The platform is comprehensive and delivers value to our customers through the complete integration of software, hardware and digital analytics.”

Johnson Controls releases 2021 Sustainability Report

CORK, Ireland, 10 April 2021: Johnson Controls on April 9 published its 2021 Sustainability Report, highlighting its new environmental, social and governance commitments and progress towards the company’s sustainability goals, the company said through a Press release.

George Oliver, Chairman and CEO, Johnson Controls, said: “At Johnson Controls, sustainability is our business. This year saw us continue to pioneer new and important paths to sustainability, including our issuance of a green bond in the U.S. capital markets – among the very first industrials to do so.

“We welcome and embrace the enhanced attention and urgency around tackling climate change and making gains across environmental, social and governance pillars. We are determined to strengthen and further build our culture of diversity and inclusion.

“Our bold new sustainability commitments demonstrate we are all-in to help drive healthy buildings, healthy people and a healthy planet for our employees, shareholders, customers and all of our stakeholders.”

According to Johnson Controls, highlights of the report include:

  • New ambitious sustainability commitments that outline the company’s priority to make positive changes in lowering its company footprint, such as achieving net zero carbon emissions before 2040.
  • Its first-ever Sustainability Report that includes and fully integrates its first-ever diversity and inclusion report, highlighting its D&I commitment, mission, vision, pillars and progress.
  • Its goal to double its customers’ emission reductions through implementation of its OpenBlue digitally enabled solutions by 2030.
  • Its intention to double the representation of women leaders globally and minority leaders in the United States over the next five years.
  • Its green financing initiatives, including a green bond – one of the first industrial companies to issue a green bond in U.S. debt capital markets – and a senior revolving credit facility tied to specific sustainability metrics
  • Executive compensation that is linked to sustainability and diversity performance goals
  • The appointment of the company’s first Chief Sustainability Officer and the formation of a Governance and Sustainability board of directors’ committee
  • Performance contracting projects that have helped its customers avoid more than 30.6 million metric tons CO2e and save USD 6.6 billion through energy and operational savings since January 2000.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions intensity reduction of more than 70% since 2002.
  • Our commitment to The Climate Pledge, co-founded by Amazon and Global Optimism, to reach net-zero

Building for the “new normal”

As the world continues to grapple with an ever-shifting economic landscape, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, stakeholders in the building sector across the GCC region have observed how the pandemic has triggered an evaluation and reassessment of priorities. Ashok Jha, Head FM and Retrofit Projects, Universal Voltas, points out that the unprecedented disruption caused by COVID-19 has prompted many organisations to take actions they have been putting off for some time, including launching new digital services and evolving their business models, enabling greater flexibility in their working and implementing cost optimisation measures.

However, Jha says, perhaps the most notable trend would be the move towards a greater number of retrofit projects in the region. “Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the oil prices plummeted to one of the lowest levels and government revenues went down in the GCC region,” he says. “This has led to reduced spending across all sectors, including new construction, with the current market seeing greater push towards shallow retrofitting, deep retrofitting, energy conservation and reducing the building carbon footprint in the existing buildings to make them more sustainable.” Jha says that since the number of existing buildings in Oman, Kuwait and the UAE is very high compared to new buildings, there was also a need to address the physical deterioration of the buildings, due to functional and economic obsolescence, and to make them more sustainable. “Because of this, there is a surge in demand for the retrofitting of the existing buildings across the GCC region,” he says (see sidebar).

Andrea Di Gregorio, Executive Director, Reem, Ras Al Khaimah Municipality, also believes the region is poised to see a strong pipeline of retrofit projects. “More focus is being put in refurbishing existing buildings, to bring them up-to-speed with the latest best practices in sustainability,” he says. “We see an increase in interest from building owners in retrofit activities, and we expect this interest to further increase throughout 2021 and in the coming years.”

Energy efficiency and sustainability 

Another major driver for retrofits is the move towards energy efficient and sustainable practices, which has long been heralded by experts in the sector. Jha points out that because of the detrimental impact of buildings on the environment, with occupied buildings and the construction sector accounting for 36% of the global energy consumption and nearly 40% of total direct and indirect CO2 emissions according to International Energy Agency (IEA), the UAE has begun to actively transition into smart and sustainable cities, which has turned the focus on the energy efficiency of the buildings, specifically existing ones. 

In addition to its impact on overall sustainability efforts, much of the move can be attributed to growing awareness on return of investment in terms of reduced operational cost. As Jha points out, retrofitting primarily refers to the measures being taken to replace legacy energy and utility systems with new and energy-efficient technologies. “These technologies not only reduce energy consumption and decrease carbon emissions but also lower maintenance costs, improve safety, enhance productivity, boost property valuations and also prolong the useful life of the assets and the building as a whole,” he says. “In a nutshell, we can say that OPEX of the building reduces and the asset value increases. Hence, it is becoming important day by day to retrofit buildings to not only make them more sustainable for the future but also to derive economical value by reducing the operational cost and, in turn, optimise the rentals and make them more lucrative for the tenants.”

Weighing in, Di Gregorio says that sustainable buildings often result in lower life cycle cost of the building itself. “If sustainability features are carefully selected, operational savings – in terms of energy and water usage and equipment maintenance – typically exceed any incremental investments that those features require,” he says. “For this reason, in a perfect market, where developers are able to fairly monetise their investments in higher quality buildings, we would expect for tenants any rent premiums for more sustainable buildings to be exceeded by the value of operational savings.”

Jha adds that as energy prices continue to rise, the relative benefits of energy efficiency will become increasingly important, and this is leading to a huge surge in demand for equipment, such as Smart LED lights and motion sensors, air curtains and FAHUs, energy-efficient AHUs, FCUs or split units and VAV systems. This has also led to greater demand for water usage reduction through the use of low-flow fixtures, sensors, waterless urinals and low-flush WCs, and also for photovoltaic panels on rooftops to generate electricity from the solar power, among other solutions. 

A renewed focus on IAQ 

While the return on investment (ROI) from retrofitting for energy efficiency is becoming clear, stakeholders are hopeful that the new wave of retrofits would also accommodate enhancements of indoor air quality (IAQ), which has been typically overlooked over the past years. Di Gregorio says that he believes this would be the case. “There is increasing interest in IAQ, partly driven by COVID-19 concerns,” he says. “Some awareness and technical barriers are there; nonetheless we foresee development in this area in the future.”

Jha shares a similar opinion. He says: “Fear of pandemic is looming large in the minds of the people, and therefore, while carrying out the retrofitting of their buildings, owners are ensuring that retrofit projects also take into consideration IAQ of the buildings, where people are currently spending more than 90% of their time and also to reduce the chances of contamination through virus, bacteria, moulds and fungi.”

Di Gregorio says there is a lot of focus on safety and security from building owners, particularly in what concerns disinfection of common areas. “This sometimes adds to other measures, like filtration, turning into improved air quality,” he says. Jha adds that some of the measures that building owners are taking include Demand Control Ventilation through C02 sensors, fitting volume control dampers, ultraviolet lamps in AHUs, ultraviolet germicide irradiation and MERV 13/14 filters. He further adds that there has been an increase in the use of humidifiers and dehumidifiers to maintain humidity in the range of 40-60%, where the microbial and fungal growth is minimal.

Jha also says that the majority of the offices are allowing their staff to work from home and that people are spending more than 90% of their time indoors. “This further necessitates that apt measures are taken by the occupants to ensure proper lux levels, ergonomics and IAQ, as these will have a profound impact on their health and wellbeing and, in turn, impact their productivity,” he says. “Hence, there cannot be a better time than now to address the Indoor Environment Quality (IEQ) issues, if any.” Jha says these are the factors driving a lot of investment being done by the property owners in the built-environment to retrofit their buildings to ensure proper IAQ against the traditional retrofit, where emphasis was mainly towards energy efficiency.

Making a case for retrofits 

Keeping in mind the tangible and intangible benefits of retrofitting, Di Gregorio believes there is more than enough evidence to drive building owners to invest in such initiatives. “If building owners are not thinking about retrofits, they definitely should!” he says. “Retrofit projects tend to have very favourable returns. We are observing that for comprehensive retrofits of commercial buildings in Ras Al Khaimah, the payback time is 3-5 years. And the contracting standards that are being adopted often provide forms of guarantees for the investor on those returns.”

Jha, agreeing, says that in spite of the change in the occupancy profile of buildings, property owners must continue to retrofit within the built-environment. “Retrofitting of existing buildings offers tremendous opportunities for improving asset performance in terms of utilities,” he says. “Retrofitting also offers a potential upside in the overall performance of the building through improved energy efficiency, increased staff productivity, reduced maintenance costs, and better thermal comfort.” Jha believes that such key drivers should serve as a motivation and incentive for building owners, who are on the fence about investing in retrofit projects.

A complete 180

In view of the shifting political landscape, how will the new administration affect the country’s commitment to climate change mitigation?

It’s going to be a complete 180 from the [Donald] Trump administration. In [Joe] Biden’s plan, he mentions “a historic investment” in upgrading four million commercial buildings to return almost a quarter of the savings from retrofits to cash-strapped state and local governments. Specifically, it says that he will “mobilize a trained and skilled American workforce to manufacture, install, service and maintain high-efficiency LED lighting, electric appliances, and advanced heating and cooling systems that run cleaner and less costly”. 

Given our focus on energy savings, I think that this will be great for business as well as for building owners. Some suggest that large rebates may be involved to directly incentivise businesses and make it affordable to pursue these upgrades. 

That being said, although the Trump administration was not at all focused on energy conservation, I found that individual building owners and managers were still pursuing these measures during the Trump administration. Most organisations in the US are interested in conserving energy and saving money. With government focus and incentives, it will just accelerate the demand.

In view of COVID-19, do you see a greater uptake of IAQ equipment throughout the country? 

Yes, for sure. However, these things come with a cost, and with COVID destroying the economy, there is going to have to be some kind of funding or incentives given to get these types of retrofits in place. I will give you an example. Two of our clients in the US requested ultraviolet lighting proposals to be retrofitted into their air handlers and FCUs. We put together the proposals and delivered them; however, neither has been approved yet due to the difficulties these buildings are facing financially due to delinquent tenant rent payments and occupancy.

Another interesting fact is that most of these IAQ retrofits are not intended to deliver energy savings. That is another hurdle to getting these projects approved. One last point – and I don’t think this is limited to the US – customers in the UAE have also asked for ultraviolet lighting to be installed, and it is still difficult to get the approval here, for the same reasons mentioned earlier.

Has there been a heavier-than-usual concentration on the air side of things from building owners, tenants and manufacturers?

The EPA has recommended that guidance provided by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) for managing IAQ during the current pandemic be followed. ASHRAE’s statement is as follows: “Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through the air is sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled. Changes to building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems, can reduce airborne exposures.”

The two solutions we have seen implemented in the buildings we service in the USA are AHU filter upgrades and increasing the intake of outside air into the building. Both of these changes are very effective and relatively easy to implement as well as low cost.

How has the change in occupancy profile thrown everything into a state of chaos in terms of commercial and residential property requirements? Will this be a driving force towards more retrofit projects? 

In terms of energy conservation measures, this has thrown everything into a state of chaos. One, the commercial buildings are hardly occupied, which has led to energy bills dropping dramatically. However, with less occupancy comes less rent, thus less money to invest in retrofit projects. In addition, building owners, who are still looking for energy savings, are hesitant to move forward, because they are not sure if and when tenants will be returning to the buildings, so to be honest, unless it’s a well-funded customer, this could actually slow the conservation efforts.

Residential buildings face the same issue. People are leaving the dense, populated cities, preferring the suburbs right now, leaving residential multi-family buildings unoccupied and no rents being paid. Until we get herd immunity with the vaccine, and people are comfortable returning to the cities to work and live, this will continue to be challenging.

How have these trends potentially influenced building owners? 

As I stated earlier, most building owners are hesitant even if they want to move forward on new projects, given the current situation. However, some forward thinkers, with ability and the confidence that things will return to normal, are taking this time to invest in conservation efforts, so that when the buildings are occupied, they can take advantage of the maximum savings.

Have there been efforts to retrofit among specialised facilities such as healthcare? 

At the moment, it is difficult to even get a meeting with a healthcare facility in the US. They are overwhelmed and have overcapacity with COVID patients and are focused on saving lives before anything else. Their priority right now is the conservation of life.

Has the pandemic finally trained the spotlight on the importance of having a balance between energy efficiency and IAQ? 

I think that yes, people will be investing in IAQ, or at least investigating their options, especially healthcare facilities and the like. However, in my experience, to be honest, it’s a tough sale, unless there’s a Return on Investment (ROI) in the project. Having said that, UV lighting does have some energy-saving benefits, so maybe a combination of IAQ and energy savings should be highlighted to the building owners in the presentation of these retrofit solutions.

Retrofitting in Kuwait, Oman and the UAE

Ashok Jha

COVID-19 has had a significant adverse impact on organisations, people’s health, their livelihoods and the economy at large in the GCC region countries, says Ashok Jha, Head, FM & Retrofit Projects, Universal Voltas LLC. However, Jha is quick to point out that while the duration and severity of COVID-19’s impact on economies and sectors will undoubtedly vary, companies and governments in the GCC region have done well to set in motion a “look ahead, anticipate, innovate and adjust” roadmap, which has led the construction sector to focus on energy optimisation and retrofitting in existing buildings, which is a key to sustainable construction.

 

Oman 

Citing figures from Global Data, a leading data and analytics company, Jha says that Oman’s construction industry contracted sharply in 2020, plummeting by nearly around -10.3%. “The industry is struggling with challenges presented by the COVID-19 outbreak, low oil prices, and the impact of sovereign credit rating downgrades,” he says. Further compounding the downside risks to the outlook for the industry, the Omani Government has had to rationalise spending.”

Jha adds that given the limited prospects for the government to boost investment in infrastructure and other investment projects, a recovery in the construction sector is expected to be very slow. “Global Data currently expects the construction industry to fall further in 2021, with output contracting by -5.8%,” he says. “The fiscal plan by the Oman Government is intended to reduce public debt, increase the state’s reserves, and diversify revenue away from the oil sector.”

Owing to these factors, Jha believes that new construction spend will be very minimal, and more impetus will be on the retrofitting, deep retrofitting, fit-outs and energy performance optimisation in the built-environment in Oman.

Kuwait

Kuwait has faced similar challenges, Jha says, adding that the construction market shrunk in the year 2020 at about -9.5% approximately, as per Global Data. “The construction industry is struggling with the challenges presented by the outbreak of COVID-19, low oil prices and the impact of sovereign credit rating downgrades,” he says. “Because of this, focus is more towards existing buildings in Kuwait.”

Jha adds that within the built-environment in Kuwait, residential buildings constitute around 81%, commercial buildings are 11%, whereas government buildings constitute four per cent; the remaining four per cent includes commercial, industrial, agricultural and services. “Also, Kuwait has one of the highest per capita electricity consumption and carbon footprint globally, which further necessitates the retrofitting of the buildings to make them more sustainable,” he says. “All the above factors, along with the economic strain, is forcing Kuwait to focus on energy conservation, deep retrofitting, retrofitting and fit-outs in the built-environment with a very minimal spending on new construction.”

UAE

Sharing observations on the UAE market, in particular, Jha says that the COVID-19 outbreak, coupled with low oil prices, has led the construction output in the UAE to contract by nearly 4.8% in 2020, but that a rebound is expected in 2021, as per Global Data. “New project opportunities are expected to be minimal in the coming quarters, as the government is consolidating its widening fiscal debt and COVID-19-related force majeure,” he said. “Over the medium- to longer-term, government investment will remain focused on upgrading physical infrastructure and reforming the financing and regulatory environment.”

Jha adds that the UAE has set high targets for building retrofit, which are reflected in the UAE Energy Strategy 2050 and the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy. “The latter targets an overall 30% reduction in energy and water use by 2030,” he says. “To support this, Etihad ESCO aims to retrofit 30,000 buildings in the next 10 years and generate 1.68TWh energy savings and around 5.64 BIG of water savings by year 2030.”

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