‘There was no energy performance contracting market in Dubai. So we’re creating it’

With its gleaming air-conditioned skyscrapers, man-made islands and reputation for excess, oil-rich Dubai isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of sustainability.

But if the city's energy capacity is to keep up with its continued growth, Dubai needs to get its electricity demand down. And with the world's eyes set to turn to the city for the 2020 Expo, the government is anxious to be seen as environmentally responsible.

With these pressures in mind, it has created Etihad Esco, a government-backed organisation that will support independent energy service companies and nurture the market for their services, with a view to driving down energy consumption from Dubai’s buildings by 1.7Twh (1.7 billion units) by 2030.

Etihad Esco’s CEO Stephane Le Gentil told Lux: ‘The market for energy performance contracting was really non-existent here. So we’re creating it.’

Le Gentil joined Etihad Esco from Johnson Controls, where he ran the European energy solutions division. He also served as chairman of the European association of energy service companies so, he says, he is ‘pretty used to Escos and how it all works’.

Huge potential

‘There is a huge potential market,’ he says, ‘and we know it’s not necessarily the companies that are already there in Dubai that will succeed, so we are encouraging new companies to come into the Dubai market.

‘For us, lighting is very important. When you look at a typical electricity bill for a building here in Dubai, 60 per cent of it would be related to cooling and AC, and then lighting would represent probably around 15 per cent. It’s not that big as a percentage but it’s still significant, and it’s not a very complex thing to do, so we would include it in every project.’

Etihad Esco is a subsidiary of Dewa, Dubai’s power generator and distributor, which will also be the beneficiary of its first big project, involving the replacement of thousands of lights at two power stations and seven office buildings. It’s a AED 37 million ($10 million) project, and the majority of that is for lighting.

‘When we did the assessments of Dewa’s facilities we very quickly saw that there was work to be done on their buildings and in the power stations,’ says Le Gentil. ‘There was this huge infrastructure of lighting that they had, using very old lights.’

These are now being replaced by LED lights from Philips, which should pay for themselves in three-and-a-half years.

‘The government is very keen on leading by example, so it’s a strategic decision to focus on government clients first, and that will expand into other areas,’ Le Gentil says.

‘We also expect that the projects we do with the government, they will advertise it and make some noise around it, so we hope the private sector will see that and say, that’s something we need to do.’

Etihad Esco is now in the process of selecting suppliers for its next big lighting project, at the Dubai International Financial Centre, which is looking to replace 27,000 lights in 15 buildings. It’s a big retrofit project, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

‘There are 120,000 buildings in Dubai, and there was a study that shows there’s potential for energy-saving retrofit for around 30,000 of them,’ says Le Gentil. ‘That’s the plan that we have between now and 2030: to retrofit all those buildings.’