30 OCT 2019

For Buildings, Blue is the New Green

Why is wastewater reuse difficult at source?
The high cost and high-energy requirements of providing a reliable supply of clean water, especially in the Gulf, necessitate the exploration of more viable, environment friendly and economically sustainable options. 

In residential buildings and commercial properties, non-potable water applications such as toilet flushing, cleaning, cooling towers and landscaping constitute as much as 95% percent of the total water consumption. The resulting wastewater is discharged into the sewer systems. In un-sewered areas, they are mostly discharged into open areas untreated or semi-treated. Wastewater reuse rarely happens at source. As the energy, financial and environmental costs embedded in potable water are high; using high-quality potable water for non-potable purposes is not an efficient way of using a scarce and vital resource.

How can it be done?
Some building owners have tried ways to reduce consumption of high-quality potable water for non-potable applications in buildings. However, existing measures, in particular rainwater harvesting and greywater recycling have not proven to be adequate and cost effective. Rainwater harvested is almost certainly insufficient to offset the non-potable water consumption within buildings due to the issues of intermittency and limited storage space. Greywater (from washbasins, showers and laundry) recycling on the other hand, requires dual plumbing to separate greywater from other forms of wastewater. Such separation is not available in most buildings and retrofitting is costly. 

Given the above limitations with the current solutions, there is a need for an on-site wastewater recycling solution that can generate a more predictable and significant source (in terms of volume) of non-potable water on-site. The solutions also need to eliminate or reduce the need for major retrofitting in existing properties without dual plumbing or dedicated pipe systems and be adaptable enough to meet the requirements of different properties. The solution should also be scalable and modular enough so that the system can be scaled-up or down to meet a property’s changing water consumption patterns.

By providing an additional source of fit-for-purpose water, buildings can use every drop of water more than once, taking in less piped water and reducing wastewater discharge into the sewer network. This complements the centralized grid by reducing the load on grid and reducing the cost of water, especially when the supply of water through desalination comes at a high cost.

What is a Water Smart Blue Building?
The Water Smart Blue Building is a technology platform pioneered by ECOSOFTT through the decentralized and integrated management of water. It allows buildings to become water sustainable by recovering and reusing wastewater using low energy and high water recovery technologies to enable “Point of Use Reuse”; better optimizing water from different sources, such as rain and ground water and using non-potable water for non-potable purposes. It also allows the deployment of smart accessories to monitor and manage water usage that can be integrated with Building Management Systems and Data Analytics.

What criteria needs to be considered to achieve this?
Implementing decentralised water management systems present technical requirements and challenges that are somewhat different from municipal treatment plants. Several important criteria needs to be considered to maximise user benefits and environmental impact including high treatment efficiency with the ability to manage fluctuations in wastewater contamination level from time to time and a small footprint to minimise real estate cost. Other criteria to consider include reliable performance and easy to operate as there may be no technical specialist on site; and no or minimal sludge from process, which would otherwise be cumbersome to dispose. Also relevant are the criteria of no odour to avoid negative impact on building users; low energy consumption and operating costs and minimal use of chemicals for environmental sustainability.

What is a good example of a Water Smart Blue Building?
A successful example of the deployment is JTC CleanTech One, an eco-building in Singapore with 37,000 square metres of space. The on-site wastewater treatment system eliminates the need for extensive retrofitting, dual plumbing, dedicated piping systems required for conventional greywater recycling. A Water Smart remote monitoring and control system enables the entire system to be monitored and controlled remotely on a real-time basis, thus reducing on-site manpower for operations and maintenance. 

The entire system was designed to blend into the built environment with no impact on the building structure and the aesthetics of the existing building. A good part of the original greenery is preserved. An architectural wall was built using sustainable materials and a Green Wall, which can be irrigated using recycled water was added to the entrance of the setup.

The end result gives the effect of a “Wastewater Recycling System in a Garden”. This effectively dispels the common perception that wastewater treatment systems are dirty and unsightly, and have to be placed in faraway or hidden areas.

This project has proven that recycling and reuse of wastewater at a building level can be technically feasible, socially acceptable and financially viable. The possibility of customizing water to any required quality further challenges the conventional wisdom of using potable water for non-potable purposes, which account for almost all the water used in industrial estates. 

What are the next steps?
Depending on the water sources, tariffs structure and local costs, recycling may be viable at different scales. In many cases, managing recycling at an estate level could provide more flexibility in storage options and excess water from one building can be sent for use in another building that consumes more water. In such a framework, the end users become active partners and collaborators with service providers and utilities in the management of water from source to source, at source. 

 

By Marcus Lim, Co-Founder & Managing Director of ECOSOFTT 

29 DEC 2019

Need to Know: Top 10 Facts about Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week

By Her Excellency Mariam Almheiri, Minister of State for Food Security

The ability for a country to act sustainably is a determinant of its successful development. In the context of food security, sustainability means enabling all citizens and residents to have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food for an active and healthy life at  affordable prices at all times, including emergencies and crises. 

My role as Minister of State for Food Security sees me tasked with ensuring that the UAE is able to deliver food sustainably across the food supply chain - from harvest to the table - to feed the UAE’s growing population, which is expected to add another million or so people over the next 20 years. When you take the UAE’s adverse crop growing conditions into account - its poor soil quality, shrinking levels of groundwater, lack of arable land, and low annual rainfall - it is not difficult to see that this represents something of a challenge.

Thanks to the UAE leadership placing a priority on forging firm and friendly relations with other governments, the UAE has created strong import supply chains that deliver 90% of its total food. Although these have placed the country comfortably at 21st place on the Global Food Security Index, it means that it remains vulnerable to global supply chain disruptions.  

To reduce the UAE’s heavy reliance on food imports, my colleagues and I launched the National Food Security Strategy in November 2018. Through its various pillars, the strategy aims to take the UAE from its current 21st place in the Global Food Security Index to being in the top 10 by 2021 and number one by 2051. In devising the strategy, we were acutely aware that its success would depend on our ability to create meaningful partnerships and to involve the community. 

Initiating the strategy in the first few months meant finding suitable partners to help get it off the ground. A key pillar is enabling technology-based domestic food production, which has a target of increasing domestic yield by 30% by 2021. One of the first things we did was to remove perceived barriers to adopting technology in this sector. In doing so, we engaged with private sector stakeholders to create 10 new initiatives in 100 days.

Now successfully launched, my office is giving a stronger focus on involving the community – local and global – in our efforts to advance food security. In effect, we are making the community our partners towards our goals. In September this year, we announced, in partnership with Tamkeen, an Abu Dhabi-based company mandated to deliver projects to meet the UAE’s vision of knowledge-based development, the FoodTech Challenge – a global competition that aims to identify and implement sustainable and technology-driven solutions across the food value chain that enhance the UAE’s food security and self-sufficiency at the national, community, and household levels. Launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, the challenge is open to all and invites the youth, entrepreneurs and innovators to find solutions across the food value chain to identified challenges in the UAE with a shared prize pool of USD one million for four winners – the largest ever offered for a food technology challenge - winners will receive a host of benefits that include the offer to participate in a six-month business incubation programme by the Catalyst in Abu Dhabi to translate their ideas into actual projects and connection with international investors. 

With respect to creating a healthy population, the Food Security Office and the National Program for Happiness and Wellbeing launched the Nutrition Labelling Policy in September this year. This policy sees the adoption of a traffic light system for healthy and less healthy foods based on their ingredients and nutritional content. Red, yellow and green labels indicate sugar, salt and fat content, with the policy based on the results of a field study carried out by the Community Design for Wellbeing Initiative – another important partner who is helping us meet our goals.

Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) is essential to this concept of partnership. Masdar City is already an important ally in our efforts to create an advanced Agritech sector through its initiatives that include the shipping container vertical farming project, aquaculture farming scheme and the ‘Bustani’ Smart Home Farming Showcase. Each year ADSW further raises awareness of the importance of sustainability in all spheres, including food security, and we wish this year’s programme every success.

02 FEB 2021

‘Green recovery’ will make 2021 a pivotal year for action on climate change

Almost exactly one year ago, I believed that 2020 would be remembered as the year the world finally got its act together on climate action. All the signs were positive: public pressure was being matched by political will. Ambitious milestones and targets were to be put in place, and, fuelled by footage of wildfires and storm damage, climate change was high on the media agenda. 

The pandemic put those hopes on hold, with climate change being eclipsed by a news cycle dominated by COVID-19. This year, it is my sincere hope that 2020 was just a bump in the road: opportunities delayed, rather than thwarted. In fact, with the world pinning its hopes on a post-COVID ‘green recovery’ fueled by infrastructure spending, I believe that this year we are looking at the best opportunity of our lifetimes to enact real, long-term change and limit global warming to 1.5C by the end of the century.

The pandemic may well have focused our collective will: unchecked climate change, after all, will be far more devastating for the world than COVID-19. The response to the pandemic, and particularly the speed in which numerous effective vaccines were developed, tested and rolled out, showed us that governments, businesses, investors and researchers can work together to ensure funding, personnel and resources can be allocated where they can be most effective.

It is my hope that this year’s Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) will be remembered as a platform through which we helped forge this collective will in regard to the green recovery and to climate action. As one of the world’s most recognized sustainability gatherings for more than a decade now, ADSW is this year being held virtually, and bringing together more of the world’s most influential experts and leaders in sustainability and climate action than ever before.

We’re building on solid momentum: between 2015 and 2020, solar and wind capacity around the world more than doubled, from less than 700GW to more than 1,400GW, and by early 2020 renewable sources were accounting for 28 percent of global energy generation. At the same time, US President-elect Joe Biden, through his Build Back Better initiative, is putting sustainable infrastructure investment and clean energy transition at the top of his agenda. (We had the honor of hosting the president-elect at Masdar City, when he visited the UAE in 2016, and he expressed a keenness to enhance co-operation between the US and UAE in clean energy.)

For over a decade now, the UAE and Masdar have been playing a leading role in supporting climate action, both here and abroad. At Masdar City, for example, we have created a complete sustainability ecosystem that allows new ideas to develop and to thrive, and which is home to more than 900 innovative enterprises from around the world today. And, with partners including Taqa and EDF Renewables we are proud to be part of the 2 GW Al Dhafra solar project – a testament to the UAE’s commitment to clean energy.

This commitment was further reinforced at the end of 2020, with the UAE’s leadership announcing we would reduce our carbon emissions by 23.5 percent by 2030, in line with our commitment to the Paris Agreement. This translates into absolute emission reduction of about 70 million tonnes and will be achieved through more clean energy capacity as well as boosting energy efficiency; increasing carbon capture; promoting sustainable agriculture; and implementing environment-friendly waste management.

In the UAE, our clean power capacity – including solar and nuclear – is set to meet the target of 14GW by 2030, increasing from just over 100 MW in 2015, and 2.4 GW in 2020. Masdar pledged in 2019 to double the capacity of our generation portfolio – then at 4 GW – within five years. In fact, we have already exceeded that target in 2020. Our portfolio including operational projects and those under delivery, has a capacity of more than 10 GW, displacing some 16 million tonnes of CO2 each year.

Any green recovery that is committed to mitigating climate change will require the highest levels of collaboration and partnership between countries, businesses, and societies, and here, too, we see opportunities in 2021. With technology, we must invest more into the potential energy sources of the future, such as green hydrogen, as well as finding more efficient battery and storage solutions, developing smart grids, and introducing mobility infrastructure such as charging stations. 
The historic Abraham Accords between Israel and the UAE will bring about a new era of cooperation and co-investment in clean energy, among other opportunities. And, at the end of this year, we at Masdar will be part of the UAE’s delegation to COP26, the UN climate talks, where real progress must be made on drawing a roadmap to achieving the UN Sustainability Goals. 

In 2021, the stakes may never have been higher, but the opportunities have never been greater. 

By Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Masdar

15 JAN 2020

Rethinking energy mix is the need of the hour

By His Excellency Engineer Awaidha Murshed Al Marar, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Department of Energy 

With an investment of US$163 billion in energy mix the UAE aims to achieve 50 per cent clean energy capacity by 2050

As the world grapples with climate change and growing environmental concerns, we see an unprecedented need to shift from conventional energy sources to renewables. The time is ripe to make the energy transition and as a nation committed to the Paris Agreement, we are moving towards a sustainable future by optimising conventional energy sources and investing in low carbon energy sources such as solar and nuclear power. 

Clean energy is the cornerstone of sustainability and drives the UAE’s narrative to achieve a carbon-free future. The UAE has set out national targets to achieve 50 per cent clean energy capacity and to decarbonise the power and water sectors by 70 per cent in the next three decades as part of the UAE Energy Strategy 2050. For total power generation capacity by 2050, the strategy outlines targets of 44 per cent renewable energy; 38 per cent natural gas; 12 per cent ‘clean coal’; and 6 per cent nuclear energy, thereby improving energy efficiency by 40 per cent in all sectors. 

While driving the development of a cleaner energy mix, we need to ensure a reliable and secure supply of power to meet the ever-growing energy needs and also create an energy value chain that is economically viable. We believe that leveraging and optimising our natural resources such as solar irradiation, will go a long way in supporting non-petroleum dependent industries.

To this end, Abu Dhabi’s latest solar PV plant made a significant power contribution in 2019 to capacity mix bringing the Emirate closer to its 7% renewables target for 2020. Not only did the solar plant position the emirate on the global map as a leader in photovoltaic energy in terms of renewable capacity, but it also generated power at a record low cost of just 2.94 US cents per kilowatt/hour.

Thereby, furthering our goal of creating economically viable solutions. 
Another milestone in the clean energy segment is the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant in Abu Dhabi, which is nearing completion. Once operational it will offer nuclear power for electricity generation, in line with the UAE’s strategy for peaceful uses of nuclear power.  

Yet another revolutionary step in moving away from fossil fuels will be a rollout of electric vehicles (EVs). The move will also involve creating a reliable infrastructure around the same, complete with EV charging stations and regulatory aligned business model. We are currently finalizing a specific policy around EV’s to ensure a large-scale deployment of electric cars takes place without any glitches. 

More recently, hydrogen is gaining traction globally as a clean alternative and substitute for natural gas. We see huge potential in ‘green’ hydrogen from surplus solar PV generation, and ‘blue’ hydrogen from natural gas as a sustainable fuel of the future.

While formulating policies and goals, we are mindful of the importance of mobilising community in achieving sustainability and promoting social well-being by creating a cleaner, healthier living environment. Raising awareness about judicious use of energy is also a key element in furthering the cause of reducing carbon footprint. Focusing on small, incremental shifts towards demand side efficiency and developing skills of young professionals who will lead the charge of a greener energy system in the future are top on our agenda. 

Underlying these policies and goals is our drive towards a digital economy. Across every touch point in Abu Dhabi’s energy value chain there is deep focus on integrated digitisation, which serves in boosting sector efficiencies and reducing environmental footprint. Digitisation serves as a key to addressing sectoral challenges as well as creating new benchmarks for a sustainable energy future. I see digitisation as a vehicle to achieve the UAE Energy Strategy 2050 targets as well as playing pivotal role in establishing a more diversified economy. 

Thanks to a visionary strategy, the UAE is well on its way to becoming a significant global partner in mitigating climate change and harnessing social, economical and health benefits of a more  sustainable environment.