The State of Energy Efficiency Policies in Middle East Buildings

Karim Elgendy

Energy use in buildings accounts globally for nearly 40% of global energy consumption and 36% of total energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. These percentages are almost equally split in two halves between the industrialized countries and the rest of the world (Price et al., 2005).

Our buildings use energy in two ways; first, to keep our interior environment comfortable through cooling, ventilation, and heating our spaces; second, to power the appliances that we have come to depend on such as home appliances, lighting systems,computers, and other office equipments.  To reduce this high percentage of energy use and the resultant carbon dioxide emissions, both sources of energy use in buildings must be addressed. The first energy use can be addressed by improving the building envelope’s efficiency in order to reduce the need to condition its spaces (cooling, heating, and ventilating). This method of conserving energy use includes a vast array of passive low energy design strategies that depend on the building’s environment and context. The second energy use can be addressed by improving the efficiency of appliances and equipment used inside buildings including improving the efficiency of lighting and dissemination of improved stoves for cooking in rural areas.

In recent years many Arab countries have attempted to address these two sources of energy use, and a number of studies have been published to chart some of these attempts. This short paper will aim to shed light on some of these developments on a country by country basis (listed alphabetically).


The development of energy efficiency standards for home appliances is part of the National Energy Efficiency Program of the Algerian Ministry of Energy and Mines. The energy efficiency law outlines the general rules concerning the energy efficiency of home appliances operating on electricity, gas and petroleum products. The law also stipulates that the energy performance requirements of those appliances have to be set by the government (CLASP, 2008).


In terms of improving building envelope energy efficiency, Egypt has developed its own residential building energy efficiency codes in 2003. Complying with the new energy code has the potential to save about 20% of buildings energy consumption. However, the new codes will not  initially be part of the building code and will only be implemented on a voluntary basis. Recent research has also shown that these efforts are yet to make a change in the Egyptian design practices towards an improved energy efficiency (Huang et al., 2003). The Egypt Green Building Council has been established in 2009 and is currently in the process of developing its Green Pyramids Rating System.

In terms of appliance efficiency, the Egyptian government has developed both energy efficiency standards and energy labels for the most popular appliances in Egypt, namely room air conditioners, washing machines, and refrigerators. It is now mandatory for local manufacturers and importers of such equipments to meet energy efficiency specifications, and to apply the Energy Efficiency Label to the appliances they manufacture or import.


As part of the Jordanian national energy efficiency strategy, thermal insulation in residential and commercial building in certain zoning areas should be enforced. In addition, an Energy Efficiency Code is currently being prepared as a part of such a strategy. The Jordan Green Building Council to promote appropriate green building concepts and practices in the Jordanian building and construction sector.


In Kuwait, where air-conditioning accounts for approximately 50% of buildings energy demand, a code of practice for energy conservation was developed to set limits for the electrical consumption of air-conditioning systems for buildings. The code stipulates energy conservation measures and use limits for different types of buildings.


A thermal energy standard for buildings is currently under development in Lebanon with the support of the ADEME of France. The Lebanese construction law is also providing economic incentives for voluntary thermal insulation of building. However, due to a weak legislative and institutional framework, subsidies of energy prices, and the absence of a national energy strategy, many energy efficiency projects in Lebanon have failed to achieve tangible results (Mourtada, 2008). Lebanon also has a projects for certification of home appliances under development.


After the discovery of oil in Sudan, it has been promoting a policy of switching from biomass to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) for cooking in rural and urban households. The Sudanese government has implemented a number of policies to encourage the increased use of LPG in the household sector. For example, the price of LPG was halved and the fees and customs on LPG stoves were decreased substantially.


A code of practice of thermal insulation for buildings is being developed in Syria. The aim of the code is to provide information to consumers regarding the advantages of building insulation in order to affect insulation purchase decisions. These guidelines are meant to provide recommendations for best practices of  insulation for new and existing buildings (Zein, 2005). Syria also has a projects for certification of home appliances under development.


Tunisia has recently implemented both standards and a labeling program for household appliances and other energy-driven equipment. This program led to the issuance of energy labelling and minimum energy efficiency standards for refrigerators in 2004. As a result, it is forecasted that by 2030 this programme will have saved 3.4 Mt of CO2 emissions (LIHIDHEB, 2007).

United Arab Emirates

For the last few decades, rapid urbanization in the UAE, as well as in other GCC member states, has been characterized by forms of imported western architecture which were not environmentally responsive to the region’s climatic conditions. High rise buildings with large areas of glass façade, and huge demand for electricity for air conditioning can be seen in all new urban centres such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, as well as other cities such as Riyadh and Doha. These unsustainable designs of residential and commercial buildings, besides being big consumers of energy and water, are massive contributors to GHG emissions.

In an attempt to reverse this trend, the Government of Abu Dhabi has been developing a set of measures to deal with these issues, including the launch of the Estidama Program and the Pearls green building rating system which would become integrated into the building code and partly enforceable, as well as the launch of the Emirates Green Buildings Council. In Dubai, the Dubai  Electricity and Water Authority issued the second phase of its Green Building Regulations in April 2010, aimed at reducing energy demands of new buildings by up to 40%. Nationwide, the Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology has launched a scheme scheduled for 2010 to certify electronic goods, and in particular air-conditioning units, according to their energy efficiency.

Note on conserving lighting energy

Throughout the Arab World lighting consitutes a large percentage of total energy use. For example, in Egypt lighting accounts for nearly 23% of the total electricity consumption, half of which is consumed in the residential and commercial. However, in spite of this high percentage, no policies have emerged to encourage the transition to more efficient lighting methods. Compact Florescent Lighting (CFLs) have recently emerges worldwide as an alternative to the highly inefficient incandescent lighting. However, while CFL lamps offer great economic and environmental benefits, only few Arab countries have strategies or national plans to disseminate them. One of the major obstacles to the use of highly efficient lamps in most Arab countries, as has been the case worldwide, is their relatively high initial cost especially that most of these lamps are imports and subject to customs duties. CFL lamps are rarely manufactured locally in the Arab countries.

Karim Elgendy is an architect and a sustainable design researcher based in San Francisco. He can be reached at Karim [AT] carboun [DOT] com

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