"Minergie in the UAE, We are taking advantage of our experiences"

  Jean-Louis Scartezzini

Jean-Louis Scartezzini

Jean-Louis Scartezzini, head of EPFL’s Solar Energy and Building Physics Laboratory, is passionate about Minergie—a Swiss label for energy consumption in buildings and the most widely applied building energy standard in the world with almost 20,000 buildings. Working with EPFL Middle East, he hopes to bring Switzerland’s experience in reducing energy consumption in buildings to other parts of the world. A technical but also cultural challenge, we asked Scartezzini to tell us more about it.

Building efficient homes and buildings is engrained in Switzerland’s tradition. What does the Minergie label add to this tradition?
Today, Minergie is more than a label; it is now part of Switzerland’s building code to build energy efficient buildings. EPFL former PhD student Ruedi Kriesi, back in 1994, created the label that combines several building technologies to reduce energy consumption. Not only does a Minergie building have to consume no more than 3 liters of fuel for every square meter—which means 5 times less than a traditional construction—it must also have a controlled ventilation, selective double glazed windows, external shading and appropriate thermal insulation. Moreover, Minergie buildings are simply more comfortable to live in.

And you are working with EPFL Middle East to bring this to the UAE?

We have seen, through extensive computer dynamic simulations, that similar techniques work in a desert climate. The same principles that are used to reduce heating loads in Switzerland can be adapted to reduce cooling loads, all the while improving thermal comfort. Working with EPFL Middle East Dean Franco Vigliotti, who heads the project, we even hope that the future EPFL research center will include several Minergie buildings. An exchange student from Politecnico di Milano is working in our labs, using a urban simulation program developed at EPFL (CitySim) to extend the Minergie concept to encompass an entire neighborhood or research hub.

What are the obstacles?
The major obstacles will be cultural ones, not technical. In Switzerland, it took many years and careful coordination between the professional associations of the building sector and the federal and cantonal governments to make such rewarding progress. In the UAE it will surely need a top-down decision to implement such standards. Only then will the construction sector follow.

Why is this important for a region like Ras al Khamaih?
It is important for the whole world. Switzerland is currently a 6.5 Kilowatt per person society (average power used per capita on a 24/7 basis). We have to reduce this to 2 Kw in the upcoming years. But the UAE is currently a 12 kW society. If we are serious about mitigating climate change, we need to transfer our knowledge about building envelops to regions that have high energy consumption or even potential high consumption, as with India and Asia.

What is the next step?
The next step is critical. Not only are we building on what we have learned in building science over the past 30 to 40 years, we are also taking advantage of our experience in terms of policy changing. We hope, like was done in Switzerland, to build pilot and demonstration buildings where decision makers can visit and feel the difference. A Minergie building in the desert climate will have a comfortable temperature for working or living, have clean and fresh air, and consume 80% less than current constructions.

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