It would seem so obvious that at least part of the Gulf's enormous energy needs could be met by using the desert sun. Yet there are no examples of solar energy being used on a large scale in the region.
That is a situation COWI hopes it can soon change. By introducing technologies that would lead to at least 70% lower energy use than conventional homes, the consultancy firm is now entering a market where climate change is slowly making its way on to the agenda.
The core of the concept is the exploitation of solar energy, combined with good insulation, energy-saving materials and sustainable supply solutions.
"There are many technical challenges to using solar energy. It's not just a matter of slapping solar panels on a roof. But the technology has become so advanced that in combination with all the other solutions, the concept offers very significant energy savings," says Jesper Damgaard, Director of COWI in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
More expensive to build - cheaper to live in
The goal is a housing concept offering the greatest possible energy savings for the lowest possible cost.
Low-energy houses will be slightly more expensive to build, but in return customers receive a savings on energy bills that, over the lifetime of the house, equals or exceeds the extra cost. Building low-energy houses also results in a number of carbon credits for the customers, reducing their investment costs further.
"There is great potential in houses. The idea is that entire villages or neighbourhoods should consist of low-energy houses. That would allow us to design the smartest solutions. For example, we can use seasonal storage of cold and potentially come up to cover 100% of the need for energy and create zero-energy buildings," says Bogdan Radomski, Senior Project Manager at COWI.
There is a market for 20,000 homes in the UAE and Saudi Arabia over the next 10 years, Radomski estimates. He now hopes to enter into a partnership with a major private or public development company to test the concept as soon as possible in 2010.
This article is republished under agreement with COWI.