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The future of retrofit in MENA

Sustainability By Marc Lynch, Associate, Building Services – 06 June 2022

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Marc Lynch in Cundall Dubai office

Marc Lynch

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Construction Week Middle East sat down with Marc Lynch, Associate to discuss the future of retrofitting and how energy audits can benefit older projects, especially with the advancing developments in digital twin technology.

The below was originally published in Construction Week May 2022.

The 2021 UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, outlined that 2022 is going to be the year of action for businesses.

According to EY’s report titled, “How construction companies can combine profitable growth with net-zero”, COP26 was a wake-up call for companies to put robust decarbonisation plans into action to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. Given these findings, EY noted that the entire construction value chain needs to take urgent action to reduce both, energy-related carbon emissions and the building’s energy consumption.

Globally, significant research is being conducted to innovate products and services that help building owners and operators reduce their carbon emissions and energy consumption to reach net-zero carbon construction, according to the report. Simultaneously, these initiatives and opportunities are generating profitable growth.

Future of retrofit

“The future of retrofit has never been more important, particularly in the UAE, where a considerable proportion of the building developments were built during the construction boom at the turn of the century. Since then, new buildings have embraced the benefits of best practice sustainability standards to ensure all MEP systems are optimised to maximum potential and now act as a benchmark for the older building stock in the region,” Lynch said.

He added: “Future-proofing or retrofitting buildings involves upgrading MEP systems to avoid a stranded-assets scenario whereby the building is no longer sellable or leasable because of its poor energy performance.

“Additionally, optimising system performance through retrofitting reduces utility bills, particularly HVAC and lighting upgrades which can offer significant savings and payback periods. The advancement of MEP systems and controls technology has rapidly increased over the last decade, making it easier to manage buildings remotely and plan preventative maintenance measures ahead of time.”

However, EY pointed out that businesses will need to build a clear sustainability strategy and targets supported by robust measurement and accountability and to deliver these retrofit solutions, and the collaboration between business and the government will be critical.

“The future of retrofit has never been more important, particularly in the UAE, where a considerable proportion of the building developments were built during the construction boom at the turn of the century.”

How do energy audits benefit legacy buildings?

Energy audits can be applied to all building types and provide a key insight into the performance of existing buildings, particularly those constructed 15 to 20 years ago and have MEP plant and equipment that is starting to reach its expected lifecycle, according to Lynch.

Explaining further, he added: “Energy audits provide an understanding of the building energy consumption, making it possible to provide recommendations for improving MEP system performance and the potential savings associated with the proposed energy reduction measures.

Furthermore, a good energy audit carried out by an engineering consultant will provide retrofitting option or guidance towards optimised energy expenditure, the increased life span of the MEP equipment/systems, and efficient performance of the existing plant and equipment.”

He noted that these types of older buildings constructed two decades ago offer the most significant opportunity for improvement or retrofit compared to current best practice benchmarks seen in modern buildings. Lynch added that at Cundall, their approach to energy audits is aligned with international third-party O&M certification methodologies.

He elaborated: “This process starts with an initial feasibility study carried out by our MEP and sustainability teams to evaluate existing performance against benchmark targets. Then, based on the feasibility study findings, a more detailed audit will be produced to breakdown key energy conservation measures relevant to high consuming equipment and an opportunity for passive design enhancements.

“The next level of energy audit is provided through a calibrated energy model of the existing facility. This allows us to simulate all the various performance-affecting factors at a much deeper level.”

Can smart software track “as-built” information in real-time?

EY noted that R&D is providing significant opportunities for smart software and business model innovations that automate when, where and to what degree HVAC and lighting are provided, combined with holistic services and solutions. For example, building automation systems as well as smart energy management methods can improve a building’s operational performance and enhance the comfort of occupants.

Moreover, Lynch specified that the development of digital twin technology in the construction industry has provided an exciting opportunity for building asset owners and facilities management teams to accurately track and record ‘as built’ information in real-time.

“Historically, the MEP as-built information available on older buildings has been found to be lacking in detail and rarely reflecting the true as-built condition, let alone any modifications to the systems following handover.

“With the possibility of real-time updates of as-built systems, energy audits will become much easier to manage with the accuracy of available information available via BIM,” he added.

Lynch pointed out that energy audits and retrofits are taking them a step closer towards improved building performance management and keeping the global warming climate change target limited to 1.5 degrees.

“An increasing occupant demand for wellness, sustainability, carbon-neutral targets, and building energy ratings will soon reshape the commercial real estate market, driving a demand for improved building performance,” concluded Lynch.