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Green retrofitting plays a crucial part in ensuring existing buildings are able to meet modern sustainability standards.

May 2015

The UAE has put sustainability at the forefront of its policy making agenda, and with it the ‘greening’ of existing buildings to add longevity to the built-environment.

According to experts, for the last decade or so the majority of the sustainability efforts in the region were focused on new construction rather than existing buildings, yet now green retrofitting is a concept quickly gaining traction and is one of the most significant development activities going on in the region.

Placing energy efficiency at the top of the country’s priorities, the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy (DSCE) announced its recent plans to retrofit 30,000 buildings with green technologies at a cost of AED 2 billion, to be funded in partnership with the private sector. The Council’s retrofitting plans aim to keep step with the plans for sustainable development and green economy, including mechanisms to reduce electricity and water consumption in those buildings.


Sustainable retrofitting in the Emirates is a growing movement bolstered by the support of several ongoing projects. According to the Emirates Green Building Council (EmiratesGBC), the Gulf region had a late start in sustainability due to the region’s focus on infrastructure development.

“Today, led by the concerted efforts of the government and the private sector the energy efficiency industry has gained significant traction in the UAE,” says Saeed Al Abbar, Chairman of the EmiratesGBC “In fact, one of the focal areas of EmiratesGBC is in influencing the market towards sustainable retrofit technologies and procedures.”

The retrofit industry is progressing in the region. Dubai has taken a step by formulating a regulatory scheme which ensures that all energy performance contracts and retrofit projects function under a guided framework.

“Today, we see significant strides being taken by the UAE in promoting energy-efficiency in the built environment, with both Abu Dhabi and Dubai governments taking initiatives to reach out to building owners to adopt measures that improve the rational use of energy and water. Moreover, the focus on sustainable built environments furthers the ‘green economy for sustainable development’ initiative announced by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai,” says Al Abbar.

By instituting an accreditation scheme, the Dubai Regulatory & Supervisory Bureau (RSB) has also strengthened rapport with the private sector, and for Al Abbar this is a move that builds confidence among all stakeholders.


In Dubai alone, there are 120,000 buildings of which 30,000 have been identified as having high energy saving potential.

“To convert them into more sustainable buildings, we have created the EmiratesGBC Technical Guidelines for Retrofitting Existing Buildings, to serve as a tool across all building sectors, and to help building owners and operators make informed decisions on how they can retrofit their building, so that it operates more efficiently,” says Al Abbar.

The EmiratesGBC Technical Guidelines have been compiled as a guide for UAE industry professionals and building end-users. The guide will provide them with a set of instructions and best practices to help understand the current processes, technologies, and standards to successfully retrofit their buildings, thus make them more energy- and water-efficient.

“It thus provides methods which can improve operational efficiency and longevity of existing buildings, generate savings, and also enhance indoor environmental conditions for the better health of owners and occupants,” says Al Abbar.

In addition, according to HE Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, Vice Chairman of DSCE the Council follows up on implementing the building-retrofitting programme, to increase efficiency of electricity and water use in existing buildings in Dubai. “This supports the Dubai Plan 2021 and the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy (DIES) 2030, to reduce energy demand by 30% by 2030.”

“The directive pushes implementation of the government-building retrofitting programme forward. It covers major enhancements to reduce electricity and water use in addition to thermal insulation. This will save energy and improve building system performance and work conditions inside,” adds Al Tayer.


One of the major trends in the industry in the region is the emphasis on promoting energy sector diversification, as well as retrofitting of buildings to make them more energy-efficient with a commitment to reduce energy consumption levels.

Al Abbar explains: “For example, sustainability is at the forefront of the UAE’s policy making agenda. The Green Economy vision announced by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the National Agenda 2021, the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy and Abu Dhabi’s Vision 2030 all serve as critical catalysts contributing to a sustainable mind-set in the country.”

Another trend which Al Abbar notes is that retrofit projects are now being provided financing opportunities. “This will also encourage building owners to adopt energy efficient measures. This trend is stimulated by an urgency to revamp over 30,000 buildings that have been earmarked by Etihad ESCO (Energy Service Company) as retrofit candidates, due to their proven inability to operate sustainably.”

In the last five years, energy savings and short-term paybacks have created strong demand for retrofit projects.

“We have also seen how an accreditation scheme facilitated by the government has significantly changed the face of the energy efficiency industry. The accredited ESCO market is progressively moving from its formative stages into becoming an organised entity in part due to supporting regulations and on the ground initiatives such as the Energy Efficiency Programme (EEP) administered by the EmiratesGBC,” says Al Abbar.


While sustainability is at the core of the government’s agenda, there are a few challenges to the green retrofit market.

EmiratesGBC has identified a set of challenges that the multiple players involved in promoting the sustainability of existing buildings face when choosing the right partners for their projects.

Al Abbar also notes the energy efficiency market continues to be fragmented. Various stakeholders who provide materials and services related to energy efficiency are scattered in the market which makes the process of identifying partners to push an energy efficiency project forward an arduous task.

“That’s where we are confident that our EEP will be very helpful, by streamlining the energy efficiency market, unifying key stakeholders and simultaneously boosting company market reach as well as bringing in financial opportunities,” says Al Abbar.

He also pinpoints knowledge and awareness as another challenge. “A large part of our efforts focus on educating and helping the industry share their knowledge and expertise. The EmiratesGBC EEP, for example, also serves as an engagement platform which facilitates the streamlining of the retrofit process by hosting panel sessions and ‘Focus Days’ to discuss the opportunities and challenges faced by the industry.”


Confirmed as a viable market niche, the retrofit market in the Emirates is poised for growth. “Moreover, energy efficiency gained through successful building retrofit is widely believed to be the next tangible resource within the UAE,” says Al Abbar.

He goes on to add that an increasing number of successful retrofit projects within the country have generated strong momentum and calls for dialogue and stakeholder engagement. “As the country assesses the beneficial results of these retrofit projects, we are confident that the number of these will continue to grow even faster.”

“The UAE can potentially gain much headway by learning from best practices from international retrofit markets and applying these lessons to a regional context. The good news is that solid steps have been taken and it will gain further momentum in the coming days,” concludes Al Abbar.