Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Emirates GBC bench-marked UAE hotels for Energy and Water performance

Yesterday I was invited to the launch of first of it's kind energy and water bench marking report of UAE's Hotels by Emirates Green Building Council, a great step for Sustainable Tourism. Globally Tourism contribute to 5% of the global carbon dioxide emissions, so it's important to focus on sustainable tourism to control the carbon emissions of the country.

Energy and Water Bench marking for UAE Hotels 2016
Emirates GBC is formed in 2006 with goal of advancing green building principles in UAE. Hotel bench marking 2016 is one of their newest initiative, where they collected data from 46 hotels in UAE to provide overview of UAE hospitality sector's energy and water performance. Out Of the 46 hotels, 25 are Eco-certified hotels by bodies like Green Globe, Green Key, Earth Check etc. 25 Hotels have installed energy efficiency features and nine are connected to the district cooling network. The data of energy and water consumption over the period of 3 years was gathered and processed by qualified professionals who are members of EGBC like Majd Fayyad using a specially developed software by Mr. Sarfraz Dairkee of M.A.H.Y. Khoory & Co. LLC. The study analysed the Energy Use Intensity and Water Use Intensity of the hotels.
Occupancy is major influencing parameter for water consumption, therefore water use intensity per guest night (WUI) is considered for water bench marking in the report.

Saeed Al Abbar, Chairman of  EGBC presenting the report
Out of participating hotels, 57% have 5-star rating, an interesting and shocking point to note the report states that Dubai's 5 star hotels consume 225% more energy than their 5-star counterparts in Europe. Though generally 30% to 50 % energy is used for cooling in hotels which are based in hot and humid climate; in UAE this percentage is even higher and reach 70% in typical 4-star hotel. I think it's high time for UAE hotels, to adapt DEWA recommended 22 degrees temperature in summer and focus on operable windows for winter. From my experience I have complained in many hotels in UAE while on stay cations that their air conditioning control is not working properly, if I need to increase set temperature or even switch off option is not available. Providing more control to guest can result in considerable energy savings.

Key findings

Annual Normalized Energy Use Intensity Graph
  • There was unequal water and energy performance across the UAR hotels. 
  • EUI, an internationally acceptable norm for bench marking of hotels, was found to vary between 104 and 721 kWh/m2.year across the hotels; a median UAE hotel has average normalized EUI of 283kWh/m2.year.
  • The values of WUIs (Water Use Intensities) per guest-night ranged between 30 to 399 Imperial Gallons/guest-night.year
  • Poor performing hotels consume 3 times the amount of energy (in kWh/m2.year) and 7.4 times the water compared to the best performing hotels.
  • High potential for significant savings with viable and affordable existing technologies.
  • Significant and negative correlation between the year of build and the water consumption which necessitates a deeper focus to be put on the replacement of old fixtures and proper maintenance of water systems.
  • Significant impact of laundry services and landscaping on the water use intensities

Limitations of Energy and Water Bench marking 2016

  • This bench marking approach does not reflect operational efficiency of buildings
  • This bench marking excludes food production, food waste, waste management, indoor air quality, carbon footprint of the property, natural gas use and efficiency. 
But this bench marking provides data over wide range of hotels in UAE for the first time and even classified hotels according to their energy and water performance level. Most of the hotels have strong potential for improvement on the basis of energy and water consumption. Either they can make small changes or if performance is really poor they can go for retrofitting and can achieve considerable savings by increasing their energy or water efficiency. 

EGBC will be updating and fine tuning the bench marking and will be repeating on annual basis. We can surely expect improved and more accurate bench marking reports from Emirates Green Building Council next year!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Enchanted by Northern Lights in Iceland

If I told you, I went on Aurora hunting trip in Iceland all the way from Dubai, does that sound thrilling? Well, then it was! One of the best experiences in my life, specially because northern lights has such a special place in my heart.
Tried my hands on Northern Lights Photography!
When I was in 8th grade in school, I took part in inter school astronomy competition and I was given concession from attending classes to hang out in school library and prepare for the competition and to bring the award to the school. This was pre-google era, when you had to read books to gather knowledge and information. For a book-lover like me, it was almost like a feast! I used to spend hours sitting in the library going through books which were not touched for years all related to astronomy, space science and astrophysics. One afternoon I opened a book and wow, on the first page, there was that ethereal photo of Aurora Borealis! I was so fascinated by the phenomenon that I decided the same day that I have to travel far North someday in my life and see these dancing northern lights in front of my own eyes! For the record, I lost the first award on question related to Tunguska event (a historic meteor strike in Russia) and got second place in the competition.

So when I saw the Northern Lights last week, I practically danced and jumped and felt like that same school girl in 8th grade!

Northern Lights Facts

For naked eyes colors were looking much fainter

I would like to tell you few things which no body tells you about Northern Lights. For sighting you can not depend on Northern lights forecast only there are numerous factors affecting your chances of seeing them that makes them very unpredictable. You might see less colorful lights with naked eyes but your camera can capture the full glory! Don't even waste your time to drive on your own and look out for northern lights if it's first time for you, Those northern lights can look similar to clouds for first timers, specially if it's overcast.
You need an expert to locate northern lights in sky and find place on ground from where you can see them. I am happy to share information about an expert I found in Iceland, just promise me you will keep our little secret!

I kept on checking Northern lights forecast before few day of my trip. It's always advisable to go on northern lights tours at start of your trip, so that if you can't see them, these tours let you come one more time without charging you. Also if you really want to see Aurora Borealis, you should be in Aurora Borealis location for at least a week, because northern lights activity is high for 3-4 days with gap of 2-3 days. Better to be there for the complete cycle to increase your chances of seeing northern lights.

My Northern Lights Experience

Aurora Borealis Band
The day I got to see Northern lights, it was overcast, full moon, raining that night and Aurora Borealis KP level was predicted 5 by a few northern lights apps. KP Index is global geomagnetic storm index based on 3 hour measurement of K indices. Basically in simple words, it shows the probability of seeing northern lights in sky that night. But all thanks to Runar from Time Tours, I could still see these captivating lights!

Our trip started around 10.30-11 pm, Runar was looking at different websites for reference and live streaming drove out of Reykjavik, looking for gaps in cloud cover. At first stop in southern side, near sea, he explained and helped us out with our camera for Northern Lights photography. We waited for a while but clouds started gathering and even it started raining, so we drove off from their to another location. This way we drove in many diff rent directions, which I think only Runar remembers. On 3rd or 4th stop we saw northern lights for the first time in between cloud cover, Very faint green, almost cloud color. Then we even located Aurora Borealis band right on top of our heads. After Some successful photos and northern lights game of appearing and disappearing, the cloud cover again started blocking the view.

Later Runar took us to other location on hunt of northern lights, we even joined him in the hunt looking out of window in the sky. It's not an easy job, you have to clearly know how northern lights look. Then we found them, stopped, some photos again, this went on for few hours. At one point, we got to see northern lights dance, it was mesmerizing! No words to explain that for sure. I felt so lucky to see them, but kind of craved for more. Someone in our tour group complained about their color not as green as he expected. But when Nature shows it's wonders I don't think we are at place to do quality check, I don't know how to get disappointed when you are seeing nature's magic in totally difficult conditions. I mean most of the tour operators already cancelled the tours that day sighting adverse conditions like overcast and rains. So it explains why I highly recommend Time Tours! Another great part is, Runar actually explains you all the technical stuff behind Northern lights, if you have older kids you should definitely take them on this tour it's not just fun but very educative too, just be prepared to sleep really late and keep your next day's itinerary relaxed. I reached back at around 2.30 am.
I pre-booked the tour for my first night in Iceland, but because of low KP index I even postponed it few times, but Time tours happily accommodated all my requests. They even take your photos on back ground of northern lights, if you fancy it. Then they will send you all photos taken by them on the same night through emails. So don't worry much about northern lights photos, you can choose to just enjoy them and lock the glory in your memory box.

What are Northern Lights?

Auroras are basically caused by the interaction of solar wind with Earth's magnetosphere. When the charged particles from the sun's corona strike atoms and molecules in Earth’s atmosphere, they excite those atoms, During the process with which they return to their normal state, they emit this excess energy in the form of visible photons. The aurora often appears as curtains of lights, but they can also be arcs or spirals, often following lines of force in Earth’s magnetic field. Most are green in color but sometimes you’ll see a hint of pink, and strong displays might also have red, violet and white colors.

One more funny thing I would like to specifically mention, I met quiet a lot of Australians during my time in Iceland, who wanted to see northern lights and when I asked them have they seen southern lights? Most of them didn't even know that something like this exists. Southern lights are known as Aurora Australis. It has been observed that the northern and southern auroras very closely mirror each other at any given moment.

Preparation for Northern Lights Tours

Here are few things I would like to mention, take good number of layers of warm clothes with you, it can get pretty cold at night that too somewhere outside city. Particularly hand gloves are very useful. Pack your raincoats and rain cover for cameras. If you plan to do Aurora Borealis photography taking tripod is must and also keep extra battery, if you are spending day taking photos. I carried extra camera battery and mobile charger as batteries drain fast in colder weather.
Don't forget to be responsible during all northern lights excitement. Carry your reusable water bottle and thermos or coffee mug fill with hot chocolate. You will thank me later. When you get back in the car, you can sip on your hot chocolate and relax. Better to carry some snacks as well, I don't know was that excitement or what but I was hungry even after dinner and many people were munching. While seeing northern lights and taking photos stay away from roads, number of accidents are increasing. There is high chance you can forget where you are standing, when the magic will start in sky. Please don't throw any garbage in wild. When you are seeing prettiest things in sky, don't forget beauty on the land though it might look barren in Iceland and but don't spoil it in any way. And lastly please don't judge the beauty of Aurora Borealis, just because you paid for the trip. It's not an ordinary show, for which you can buy tickets and criticize later. Let's not be that materialistic and consumerism oriented that we can't even enjoy the wonders of Nature!

There are some northern lights boat tours as well if you want to try them and when conditions are favorable you can even see Aurora Borealis from Reykjavik city! The Grotta light house located far end of city is one of the great location to avoid light pollution.

After our heart was content with basking in the Northen lights on tour with Time tours, we even got to see a full semi circle rainbow in moonlight! I never even imagined before that you can even see rainbows at night! God was definitely in one of his best moods, when he was creating Iceland!