Sustainable Transportation in the Middle East

Karim Elgendy and Wissam Yassine

Developing transportation networks and facilitating access and mobility are major constituents of the economic development of any country or region. Yet transportation also poses great economic and environmental challenges as a major energy consumer and a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.

In the Middle East, the transportation sector is challenged on both fronts. On one hand, its underdeveloped and inefficient networks continue to hinder economic development. In addition, the transportation sector represents a major consumer of energy in the region and a primary contributor to carbon emissions. In 2008, the transportation sector was estimated to be responsible for 31% of the region’s total energy use – a relatively high proportion compared to the global average of 27% – while the road sub-sector alone was responsible for 18% of energy use – compared to 14% globally.

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The Power Sector in Lebanon

Guy El Khoury

From Electricity Concessions to National Grid

1885 is generally considered as the birth year of the electricity network in Lebanon. It is the year where the first concession for a network of gas lighting was established in Beirut when the city was still under Ottoman rule. Over the following decades, the development of the electricity infrastructure across the country was carried out by similar independent regional concessions.

Although the electricity network progressively expanded to cover major cities of the country, this scheme of infrastructure development failed to benefit all citizens and regions equally. Industrial development for example was only concentrated in areas where concessions provided reliable supply (Beirut suburbs and Chekka in the North).

It is only in the early 1960s that the improvement of access to electricity became a government priority. In fact, electrification was a key pillar of nation-building efforts spearheaded by president Fouad Chehab (1958 – 1964), who saw extending the electricity network to the entire Lebanese territory and unifying tariff schemes across the country as a guarantee for reliable and equal access to electricity for all citizens.

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An Introduction to Climate Change

Wissam Yassine

UPDATED – Climate change refers to the current changes in the Earth’s climate patterns due to the increase in greenhouse gases emitted by human activities. The driving force behind this pattern is an increase in the Earth’s surface and water temperature. In fact, over the last 130 years, the global average temperature of the planet rose by 0.8 °C.  However, the impacts of this temperature increase on climate patterns in different regions varied widely (Figure 1).

National scientific bodies in all major countries agree that the cause behind global warming and climate change is the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to human activities such as burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and growing livestock. Climate models have been created to forecast the expected increase in the average global temperatures over the coming years based on current and expected emission levels. These models show that the global average temperatures are expected to rise by up to 6 °C by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise as they have in recent decades.

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A Review of Sustainable Design in the Middle East

Karim Elgendy

The notions of sustainable design and energy efficiency first entered global consciousness following the energy shortages of the 1970s and 1980s. Influenced by ideas of energy independence, many designers in Europe and North America sought ideas and strategies that could help create energy-efficient buildings and cities. As they searched for design solutions, some researched the environmentally responsive elements of traditional architecture, while others developed new solutions that employ modern technologies and high performance materials.

As the energy crisis subsided, the building industry in North America returned to business as usual, allowing its European counterpart – which emphasized technological solutions – to take a lead. But with the revival of global interest in sustainability – this time driven by both environmental and energy concerns – the dormant dialogue between the two approaches to sustainable design returned to play a role in shaping the global sustainability agenda. Oscillating between advocates of passive design and proponents of technological solutions, this dialogue continues to enrich the discourse on the future of sustainable design and development

National Commercial Bank in Jeddah (left). consists of a triangular 27-storey office tower juxtaposed with a six-storey, 400-car circular garage. The verticality of the bank tower is interrupted by three triangular courtyards ‘chiseled’ into the building's facade. The office windows are oriented towards these courtyards with an inward orientation typical of Islamic traditional design. This provides the interiors with daylight but prevents them from overheating. Copyrights: Wolgfang Hoyt/Esto. Shaded pathways within Masdar Institute for Science and Technology (right) Copyrights: Nigel Young

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Averting Crisis: Managing Energy Use in Abu Dhabi

Lara El Saad

Recognised as one of the world’s largest oil producers, Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, holds 94% of the country’s proven oil reserves and 90% of its natural gas, making it the wealthiest of the seven emirates in the federation. In recent years, and despite the recent economic downturn, Abu Dhabi maintained a steady pace of development that was accompanied with steady increases in energy demand and consumption.

This growth of energy demand and consumption has been as result of a number factors. Prime amongst which is economic growth and the demographic pressures of a growing population. But equally important to these factors are the heavy subsidies on the domestic energy market, which encourages overconsumption, and the heavy subsidies on domestic water use, which play a major factor in the growth of energy use in Abu Dhabi.

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Passive Cooling: Responding to Electricity Demand in the UAE

Wissam Yassine and Karim Elgendy

During the 1990s and the early 2000s, the UAE, and the city of Dubai in particular, witnessed a rapid rate of growth in its built environment driven by a real estate bubble. In the span of a few years the city’s unprecedented rate of growth, which was driven by both demand and speculation, completely transformed the city. But such growth came at a price.  Driven by their need for quick returns, developers cared little beyond delivering a building on time and on schedule. Speed of construction often came at the expense of quality, and issues of performance and energy use played almost no role in the design and construction processes. Common disregard of performance was also fueled by the fact that most buildings were commissioned for developers – rather than owner/occupier clients – since their focus lied solely on reducing initial capital expenditures without considering operating costs that are typically borne by tenants.

Figure 1. Photo of the Masdar Institute Courtyard showing the wind tower, and the layered facades of residential units. Copyrights: Nigel Young/ Foster+Partners

These commercial forces, coupled with relatively cheap electricity across the UAE, and a lack of demanding building regulations have paved the way to the development of unsustainable design practices over the last decade. A typical office building in the UAE today is a predominantly glazed high rise tower. Basic design decisions such as orientation, massing, and envelope design are usually made without much regard to their impacts on the buildings’ energy performance, and passive cooling strategies are rarely considered.

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Two Trends of Energy and Carbon Emissions in the Arab World

Karim Elgendy

Discussions on the environment in the Arab World have traditionally been limited to the negative impact of region’s fossil fuel exports on climate change. In recents years, a more regional discourse has emerged that also addressed the region’s water scarcity, rapid urbanization, environmental degradation, and the expected impact of global climate change and sea level rise on its most vulnerable regions.

Map showing emissions in countries of the arab world as percentage of global emissions. Copyrights: Carboun

However, such discussions often overlooked the region’s own energy and ecological footprints and the impact of its own energy use on climate change. In the past , such disregard may have been justified by the fact that the region had not yet experienced the kind of economic development and prevalent consumerism that was common in most of the developed world. Such justification was supported by the region’s historically low rate of energy use and carbon emissions. In fact, the Arab world which constitutes 5% of the world’s population, emits just under 5% of global carbon emissions according to World Bank data, and except for Saudi Arabia, no single Arab country is responsible for more than 1% of global emissions. The energy use of an average Arab person is still below the world average and less than half that of an average european.

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