Sustainability is increasingly becoming a hot topic across numerous sectors, and the construction industry is no exception to that. Many developers have shifted their focus to enhancing their projects and adopting environmentally friendly practices.
But what is more than that? Well, an entire city has been conceptualized and developed to become the first of its kind in the Middle East.
Located in DubaiLand, on Al Qudra Road, The Sustainable City is the brainchild of Diamond Innovation Centre. The city is 5,000,000 square feet and consists of two phases. The first one was completed in 2016 and comprises five residential clusters, housing 500 villas. It is also connected to the central Green Spine that runs the length of the city, whereas the second phase will be completed soon.
“Phase one is essentially residential and covers 80% of the land area. We started construction in 2014, and we currently have 70% occupancy. We have built 500 villas that meet the highest environmental standards,” says Karim El-Jisr, Director, Diamond Innovation Centre. “The entire city is oriented to the north, and that allows us to avoid the sun and subsequently avoid a lot of air conditioning which brings down the energy intensity of the villas.”
This city has integrated many amenities and attractions thus far including a farm, an equestrian centre, a mixed used area with a mosque and a nursery. One of the city’s strongest selling points is that it is a zero net energy development. “We are connected to DEWA within the city boundaries. However, within the city, we have sufficient solar panel induction to satisfy consumption. We are aiming for a capacity of 10 Megawatt Peak (MWp) in solar panels, and we have already installed 26,000 panels on rooftops and in parking areas.”
The city doesn’t charge service and maintenance fees. Thus, people living in those 500 units will not receive and invoice every few months neither from the facility management nor from the property developer. “The cost of servicing the community and maintaining the villas is absorbed by a portion of the rental revenues from the mixed-used area, which is not for sale; it is a stock that we hold – a 50 thousand square meters area – and a portion of that pays off for the services and maintenance of the city. This is part of the equation, we don’t call it business we call it economic sustainability, so it is about being economically sustainable,” Karim explains.
Furthermore, with homes being very efficient in terms of energy consumption, electricity bills and utility drop considerably. “In Dubai, we are used to paying very high bills, which can be very hefty for villa owners. However, in The Sustainable City, one pays very minimal sums. We just finished the winter season, which was our first in this city and with grid activated solar panels many villas didn’t pay electricity bills for three months because they produced sufficient electricity to satisfy demand.”
With the completion of the first phase, the developers are embarking on the second phase, which has been in the planning since 2013. “We have five non-residential buildings in phase 2 including a hotel called Indigo, operated by the Intercontinental Hotel Group that will be a solar powered property. Next to it, there will be a comprehensive rehabilitation hospital, which provides alternative non-intrusive treatments and therapies. This is a specialized hospital that won’t have Occupational therapy (OT) and Emergency Room (ER) sections. This phase will also have a school K-12 initially K-8 that will follow an IB curriculum with a twist. It will be a much greener school with sustainability at the core of its curriculum.”
Elaborating furthermore, he adds, “Phase 2 will be as interesting if not more interesting than phase 1 especially with the Diamond Innovation Centre which is going to be a platform for knowledge. It’s a depository for knowledge and knowledge transfer and we would like to scale up this experience that we have acquired in this environment. We are in the approval stage, construction will start within the next 6 months and the centre will be fully functional by October 2019.”
All these buildings meet the highest standards of sustainability as made available by technology and design today. “We have pushed the boundaries as much as we can, given the current state of technology and knowledge through passive design, active demand management features. We have also integrated some social features in this city, it’s not just about the building but also about the lifestyle and well-being that are at the core of the city.”
Nevertheless, Karim declares that there have been many challenges along the way. “We actually committed to installing 10 MWp solar panels before the regulation was out. In order to install solar panels and to be grid-connected and have an agreement, we had to accelerate the prolongation of the necessary regulation. We also faced challenges with the land use planning and the built up area. It was not easy to get approvals on the farm because it’s unusual to have a farm in an urban community; it doesn’t tick any of the boxes, it’s an unusual box to tick. We always have challenges related to the climate. On the operational side, it is always sunny which is good for solar energy. However, we also have a lot of heat during summer and a lot of dust and sand storms which are not good for solar efficiency, because when depositions of sand and particles cover the panels, they reduce the efficiency so we have to manually clean the panels. Additionally, on the verification side of everything that I said, someone needs to verify that what I said holds. Are we really more efficient? Are people happy? Are we achieving a higher level of well-being? Is there social cohesion? Is it affordable? So someone has to verify all these parameters and report them. Diamond Innovation Centre has entered into many agreements with partner organizations to collect the data, analyse it then verify it whether it is scientific or social data.”
To conclude, Karim encourages people to make more “sustainable” decisions. “Individuals and families alike can reduce carbon footprint and be much closer to nature by choosing a better place, a more sustainable home would be decision number one. Inside the home, once they have made the decision or if they have no other options, they can start by sorting out waste and diverting a lot of it away from landfills. Moreover, they can install solar panels and generate electricity. It’s a small start-up cost which can be covered in 5-6 years and nature will be eternally grateful to them because they are harnessing some solar energy and reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Last but not least, one can pick a friendlier car or an electrical vehicle; the latter is coming to Dubai and The Sustainable City is ready and equipped with charging stations.”