While the financial and environmental benefits  of retrofitting are rapidly gaining wider acceptance in the Middle East, building owners continue to face challenges pertaining to the implementation of retrofit programmes that are both functional and cost-effective.

Industry experts say that solar energy is a technology that can be harnessed to roll out retrofit schemes that not only reduce the financial burden on building owners, but also deliver long-term savings for end-users.

Solar retrofit projects are a popular choice in the UAE, according to chief executive officer of Enova, Anne Le Guennec, who spoke to Construction Week’s sister title, MEP Middle East, at the RetrofitTech Dubai Summit, held in the city on 10-11 April.

Explaining the advantages of solar retrofit projects, Le Guennec said: “The price of solar technology has decreased significantly in the last five years, [and it is] enough to be competitive compared to the price of electricity. This was expected, because the willingness to adopt renewable energy was always there in the market.”

This acceptance has also spurred innovation in the sector. Solar technology has evolved so significantly over the years that, for instance, even during sandstorms, dust particles do not stay on the panels for long periods.

Le Guennec said this eases operations and maintenance activities, making the technology an attractive alternative for the Middle East climate.

She added: “Moreover, we now have new technologies that make sure that the cleaning process is easier. One example of this is automated, self-cleaning solar panels.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the demand for the technology is high in the Middle East, and particularly in the UAE. “The UAE is the pioneer when it comes to solar retrofits, thanks to its Vision 2050 mandate,” Le Guennec explained.

“The country is leading the way, but we can see that the interest is everywhere – for example, in Saudi Arabia, thanks to its Vision 2030.”

Oman and Bahrain also have solar energy regulations in place, and Bahrain has recently unveiled its first solar-powered home. The house, in the Mussala area in Jidhafs, is connected to Bahrain’s electricity network through a net metering system, BNA reported. The project involved the installation of 24 solar panels with a total electricity production capacity of 7.8kW.

Electricity and Water Affairs Minister, Dr Abdulhussain Mirza, said the Bahraini government was taking steps to install similar systems on the roofs of industrial structures and government buildings, such as schools, hospitals, and health centres, to maximise the use of solar energy.

The advantages of using solar technology are obvious to the Middle East’s building experts. However, as Le Guennec pointed out, the move towards solar retrofits is not as new as it is novel. Indeed, the process has been under way for several years in the region.

Perhaps the most notable example of this is an energy-saving programme carried out by Dubai Airports in 2016, which resulted in savings worth 5.17 million kilowatt-hours.

Key initiatives within the programme included the replacement of lighting systems, chiller optimisation, and the installation of intelligent occupancy sensors at Dubai International airport (DXB) and Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC). In addition, the programme saw the installation of solar panels on areas of both facilities. 

The solar panels that were installed on the roof of DXB’s Concourse D, and at the police facility at DWC, are said to have made significant contributions to Dubai Airports’ energy conservation efforts by generating power.

Nascent technologies undoubtedly come with teething challenges that may prove harder to manage than initially envisioned. However, the Middle East’s pursuit of solar energy – which can play a crucial role within broader, much-needed retrofit schemes – is a step in the right direction.

Regional building owners would do well to explore how solar technologies can be maximised for long-term savings.