Originally posted in wamda.com by Lucy Knight on July 20, 2016

“It’s like the wild west, codes are lax, and no public records.” These are the comments of engineer Charles Blaschke when talking about the Dubai real estate scene.

Blaschke’s company Taka Solutions has big ambitions for the buildings of Dubai – he wants to make them more energy efficient. However, as he told Wamda, “it’s a big challenge to overcome”.

Typically when Taka Solutions takes on a building to be ‘retrofitted’ to provide the owner with energy savings, they need a number of details about the building.

They need building drawings, including elements such as air conditioning and electrical fittings, and utility bills – but more often than not they are not available. “You won’t find documents that will show the ‘fit-out’ of a building,” he said. “The building could have gone up in 1980 or 2013, the problem is the same.”

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Charles Blaschke, far right, with some of the Taka team saving energy. (Images via Taka Solutions)

Blaschke cites technical drawings in Dubai as pretty bad, with them being either incomplete or wrong. “Owners apparently don’t commission them in UAE and on top of that you then can’t commission reports on them.”

When it comes to the people involved, Blaschke said that an owner or an engineer involved in building a structure may well not have any access to the material. “There is a lack of organisation and accountability. There is basically no logical time-saving approach,” he said.

BIM is the answer

For Blaschke the future of design and construction is centered around BIM, a way to assess and save on a building’s energy waste.

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Simply explained BIM, or building image modelling, is the digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. You can enter information about a building, from doorways to light bulbs and, in real time, track the way it operates.

However, while this is mandatory in many countries, especially for public buildings, it is not required for buildings in the UAE.

They do get by though.

They enter any information they can gather about the building and in parallel, use web-based analytics to make predictions on energy consumption and feed it into the BIM. So, basically, all information about the building is centralised into one place. This tool, although for internal use, can be sold back to the building owner should they so wish to take control of the building operations.

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International use of BIM. (Image via Cadenas GMBH 2015)

A lack of government supervision though has its advantages. There wasn’t a permitting process that might be as constraining as in the US or Europe when it comes to retrofitting, Blaschke said, such as upgrading AC units or installing IoT sensors.

And direct competition didn’t exist as no one else was going into a project to retrofit, fully finance and then have the client pay once they started to make savings, he added.

UAE ambitions

Last week Hillary Clinton reminded voters of her vow to make the US a clean energy superpower. Well, despite Blaschke’s current frustrations, she might have some stiff competition from the UAE.

The Dubai government made one in a series of bold proclamations in late 2015 that Dubai would be providing 75 percent of the emirate’s energy through clean sources by 2050.

“Our goal is to become the city with the smallest carbon footprint in the world by 2050,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

That’s nice, but there is some way for them to go. One place they need to start is with the buildings that already exist in the city, that gently suck energy out of their owner’s pockets. According to the Emirates Green Building Council (Emirates GBC) there are 30,000 buildings in Dubai that have high energy saving potential.

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“Buildings consume 40 to 50 percent of energy worldwide,” says Blaschke. “And we know with current tech available you can reduce a building’s energy use by 30 percent, so we have the ability to [make an] impact.”

This is where Taka Solutions can step in to highlight systems that are not energy efficient and use software to identify and solve the problems.

It’s a learning curve but there is “obvious progress from the side of the authorities”, said Saeed Al Abbar, chairman of Emirates GBC. Al Abbar plays a central role in strengthening awareness and in advancing green building principles and practices in the UAE.

Contrary to Blaschke’s view that there is a lax approach to building regulations, Al Abbar said there was a good track record for the UAE when it came to their focus on environmental conservation.

“However, in terms of maintaining records, there could have been a lack of integrated approach or communications in traditional construction approaches,” he added in an email to Wamda. “Further, many were unaware of the need to maintain such records.”

Improvements

In addition to proclamations of what Dubai aims to become by 2050, there are policy and regulation changes being made.

The ‘Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050’ also includes a 100 billion Emirati dirhams (US$27 billion) investment ‘Green Fund’, plus a 50 billion dirhams (US$13.6 billion) for their Solar Park in Dubai by 2030. Then there’s the Dubai Plan 2021, which seeks ‘to build a smart, integrated and connected city that is sustainable with its resources’.

And in September, in an effort to address the issue of creating sustainable cities, Community Jameel and Wamda will host an MIT Media Lab Dubai workshop with designers, engineers, scientists, and artists.

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The Dubai Municipality, the Real Estate Regulatory Authority, and the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy didn’t respond to a request to comment before this article was published.

To date, Taka Solutions has undertaken 30 projects, plus consulting work. They have grown to 15 full time staff since establishing themselves in Dubai in 2012, and this year will bring on more. And while the company is currently profitable, they say it’s not enough for the growth they would like to be making.

They’re also working on private villas, bringing a BIM solution in an app for homeowners.

When it comes to the impact on their business, it’s now more about convincing people to sign a contract with them, rather than convincing them that they need to save energy. “People are motivated because the government is telling them to be so,” he said.