UAE Energy Conservation Grows at “Green Mosques”
A “green mosque” project underway in the United Arab Emirates has the potential to revolutionize energy conservation efforts all over the world. Although Dubai’s newly constructed premier eco-mosque is rightfully commanding huge media coverage, a modest-sized mosque in Madinat Zayed, UAE, is the first retrofit energy conservation project to appear on the horizon.
The Sultan Bulfara Al Kobaysi Mosque in Madinat Zayed is one of 225 mosques located in Abu Dhabi’s Western Region whose maintenance is being cared for by facilities management company Khidmah LLC. Successfully retrofitting this one mosque will pave the way for Phase Two of the project, which aims to retrofit 30 additional Muslim prayer sites designated by Khidmah’s Green Mosque Initiative.
Khidmah’s Abdulla Al Amri and Jomon Thomas spoke recently to Facilities Management Middle East (fmME) about the Green Mosque project. Al Amri said it came about in response to a particular need identified at the Sultan Bulfara Al Kobaysi Mosque.
Summers Are Hot in Abu Dhabi
Installation of additional air conditioners in the mosque began to overload the energy grid in the area. Not only was the power going out frequently in the mosque, it was also taking down the surrounding neighborhoods. At first, it seemed the natural answer was to supply more power to the area to meet the increased demand. Khidmah installed temporary generators while Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority worked on a more permanent solution.
This is when Al Amri began researching alternative solutions. He began considering how to cut down on the mosque’s energy demand instead. “We wanted a better solution,” he recounted. “We wanted to make the mosque more sustainable.”
Al Amri went to Thomas with the idea, and Thomas suggested a phased approach to making the mosque green, envisioning the Sultan Bulfara Al Kobaysi Mosque as a template to follow for other mosques. Selecting 30 mosques to represent a cross-section of the 225 mosques under their care in the Western Region, the two men implemented an overhaul to the lighting system being used at the mosque, replacing its existing lights with energy-efficient LED lights.
Determining Current Energy and Water Consumption
When Khidmah received the green light for the Green Mosques project, they carried out specialized technical feasibility studies. Three sample mosques were chosen from which to analyze energy and water consumption through detailed site inspections.
Calling in Sense4Things, an energy management company, Chief Executive Mike Otten joined the Green Mosque team. In a recent interview with UAE’s The National, Otten explained that Sense4Things uses technology that monitors energy consumption patterns, analyzes the data, and makes suggestions on how to lower energy usage.
The hardware works by installing a simple clamp onto energy supplies. It feeds information to a data box that can be monitored over the internet. This way, consumers can see where they are using the most energy. They can then program alerts into the device and it sends warnings when usage exceeds a set value.
Doing the Math on a Smartphone
“People can get a message on their smartphone,” said Otten, “so they can call home and tell someone that there is no need for the AC to be on. It’s simple maths and that is how to save.” He said their technology had recently gained wide publicity when it was adopted for a smart thermostat developed by Nest, a company recently acquired by Google.
“I think in technology it’s all about making complex things easy,” said Otten.“It’s not about showing how complicated it is.” He also noted that organizations such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) or Estidama will value a building’s assets more highly if it utilizes energy-saving technology.
Step One: Change the Lights
Armed with data obtained from the Sense4Things technology, Khidmah’s Al Amri and Thomas decided to launch the Green Mosques project at the Sultan Bulfara Al Kobaysi Mosque. “It’s very hard to change an existing mosque to a green one in one go,” Al Amri explained. “So we decided to do it step by step. We started with the lights — we replaced the ones we had with the more energy-efficient LED lights. First, we changed all the internal lights to LED lights. Once we finished that, we went ahead and changed the external lights as well.”
Immediately the power interruptions in the area ceased, and soon afterwards significant energy and cost conservation benefits were tallied and celebrated. Not only that, but the energy drain on the AC also decreased. “When we started using LED lights, we also saw a reduction in the heat that was being emitted by the 3000+ lights in the structure,” Al Amri said. “People started noticing — they thought we had fixed the AC. But we hadn’t done anything of the sort — we had simply changed the lights.”
Thomas offered an additional spiritual benefit, noting that “the indoor comfort is one of the main things that matters in a mosque — as a result of these changes, people who visit the mosque will now want to spend more time in it as well.” Thomas noted the environmental benefits, explaining that the yearly reduction in energy load amounts to a total of 16,607 kWh p.a., or the equivalent of shutting down a seven-ton air conditioning unit for a year, resulting in the reduction of 10.48 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. All that, just by changing the lights.
Additional Steps to Follow
But replacing the lights is the first of several planned improvements. A greywater recycling system will reuse the water draining from the wudu stations. Wudu is the Islamic procedure for ritual washing prior to prayer. With an estimated 6,000 people visiting the mosque weekly, Khidmah has found that around 20 liters of water are being consumed per person, per visit. The potential for conserving water through recycling and increasing efficiency in this one mosque alone is huge.
Soon Khidmah plans to take the mosque’s lighting completely off-grid, using solar energy to power the lighting instead. An energy audit has already been conducted, and Khidmah is awaiting approvals for the project to move ahead. Al Amri said that with solar energy use carbon emissions at the mosque would be further reduced by about 70.53 tons. He added that community interest in the solar panels is high, with many wanting to use alternative energy for their own purposes as well.
Reducing UAE Spending on Energy Subsidies
Thomas commented that the impact of the project, if expanded across Abu Dhabi, would be tremendous. “In Western Region, the electricity is subsidized by the government, maybe up to around 90-95%, or even up to 100%,” he said. “So this kind of innovation which Khidmah is bringing to this field is going to cut down on the energy consumption in a big way. It is going to show our commitment towards ensuring sustainability.”
“We consider sustainability in all our operations,” Thomas added. “The products we use, be it LED lights or biodegradable bags, are in line with Khidmah’s overall policies. People here also have the freedom to express themselves, and bring in new innovations and ideas, which, I think, is very unique for Khidmah. The kind of organization culture which Khidmah has is really quite unique.”
The Coming Islamic Energy Conservation Revolution
Looking at the coming revolution in Islamic energy conservation is inspiring in the light of UAE’s budding success. The Green Mosque Initiative is primed with exciting potential. With 30 additional mosques retrofitted in the near future, the path to bigger and better energy savings only gets brighter. The 225 mosques under Khidmah’s care in the UAE Western Region will surely prove a tipping-point in the revolution.
There’s one particular mosque in Abu Dhabi with a capacity for 40,000 worshippers that I personally would love to see go “green.” The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque features 82 domes, more than 1,000 columns, 24-carat gold-plated chandeliers, and the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet. The main prayer hall is illuminated by one of the world’s largest chandeliers –10 meters in diameter, 15 meters in height, and weighs twelve tons. The energy load in this mosque must be staggering. And the energy drain does not decrease at night, either. Projected onto the mosque exterior is a truly unique and stunning lighting system, reflecting the phases of the moon.
When I see this majestic mosque, I can’t hold back from glorifying God. However, God willing, I hope it won’t be long before we see a “green mosque” retrofit with solar energy powering the lighting and efficient greywater recycling. Maybe then they could rename it the “Sheikh Zayed ‘Green’ Mosque.” That would be very inspiring!
(Image note and source: UAE, Abu Dhabu – Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque’s incredible moon-based Lighting. From www.aishatourism.com (no relation, unfortunately!) )
(Top Image note and source: Madinat Zayed Shopping District and Mosque, from www.tripomatic.com)
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