Less is more

Poor insulation and energy-guzzling air conditioning systems cause vast amounts of energy go to waste in buildings. That’s something that the South-East Mediterranean countries can no longer afford. An EU programme is helping them save energy.

High energy costs are a burden on the budget at the Centre Hospitalier du Nord in the Lebanese town of Zgharta. Energy consumption at this private hospital is high, with 75 per cent of the supply coming from its own diesel generators as the town is affected by frequent power outages. With fuel prices rising, the hospital’s management team decided to save energy – and money. An energy audit identified some fairly easy options to make savings. The hospital installed roof insulation, improved the efficiency of its air conditioning system, and switched to low-energy light bulbs. Most importantly, it introduced a smart management system for its most energy-hungry appliances. For example, as electricity from the national grid is expensive during peak periods and cheap at other times, the system schedules the hospital’s laundry cycles so that the washing machines operate off-peak. After just one year, these improvements had already paid for themselves, and the hospital is now saving €45,000 a year in energy costs.

A low-energy building in Aqaba, Jordan, uses 80 per cent less energy than a conventional building of a similar type. Designed from the outset to avoid heat build-up in summer, the building has green terraces on every storey as a form of natural air conditioning. Ventilation shafts remove warm air, and the double thickness walls are insulated with sand and straw.

Save money – save the climate

These energy-efficient buildings are just two of 10 pilot projects in the Arab Mediterranean countries. Other energy-efficient buildings have been constructed in Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and the West Bank, for example. They form part of an EU-funded project which aims to promote energy-efficient construction and the use of renewable energies across the region. The focus is on cutting consumption, based on the principle that there is no cheaper or greener energy than the energy that is not used. A GIZ-led consortium is implementing the project on behalf of the European Commission.

The construction sector offers major potential for energy saving. Buildings consume more than 40 per cent of all energy produced worldwide. In the southern Mediterranean alone, fuel consumption soared by 50 per cent from 2000 to 2009, and electricity consumption doubled. If nothing changes, it could double again by 2020, for the population is growing and more people are using electrical appliances, especially energy-hungry air conditioning. The EU-funded programme is tackling the problem by promoting cutting-edge solutions such as solar energy systems, geothermal applications, and double glazing. It also supports a revival of the region’s traditional building techniques, which were perfectly adapted to the local climate: window shades instead of glass façades, clay bricks rather than concrete, and traditional ventilation in place of air conditioning.

Energy saving built in from the start

Energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions could be dramatically reduced if energy-saving construction techniques were used more widely. However, this broad impact cannot be achieved without political support. In practice, this means cutting subsidies for conventional energy in order to create incentives for energy saving. Guidelines are also required for the construction industry, and investment in energy efficiency must be mandatory for project developers.

GIZ advises governments in the Arab Mediterranean countries on the drafting of relevant legislation and regulations. In parallel, it aims to increase the private sector’s commitment to energy-efficient construction. It prepares feasibility studies in order to encourage architects and construction companies to build energy efficiency into project development from the start. Indeed, energy efficiency offers a great opportunity for the building industry as it is a driver of employment: an energy-efficient building sector has the potential to create around 1.6 million jobs in the southern Mediterranean in the next 20 years.