RIYADH: Incorporating energy efficiency techniques during the construction of a house is far more effective than investing in renewable energy sources for residences, said a leading researcher at King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center.
Speaking to Arab News, Mohammad Al-Dubyan, a researcher in KAPSARC’s climate and environment program, revealed that Saudi homes consumed more than 47 percent of the total domestic electricity consumption in 2020 i.e., around 138 terawatt-hours.
That is not all. Around 44 percent of Saudi homes were more than 20 years old and were not designed to conserve energy.
“We are working on enhancing the energy efficiency in real estate,” said Al-Dubyan.
According to industry reports, an energy-efficient design involves constructing buildings that can reduce energy loss, such as decreasing heat loss through the building envelope.
A University of Calgary paper recently expounded that such homes are less expensive, more comfortable and more environmentally friendly.
Al-Dubyan pointed out that retrofitting Saudi housing stock with only one effective energy efficiency measure could reduce peak demand by about 6 gigawatts. This reduction is more than double the effect of installing photovoltaic systems on all residential roof areas.
The potential to apply renewable energy to buildings is there. Still, energy efficiency is always the first step before going renewable.
“When we invest enough in enhancing our buildings’ energy efficiency, we reduce the need for renewables,” added Al-Dubyan.
Solar PV system is unviable at home
“Generally, it’s not financially attractive to install solar PV in homes despite the huge amounts of solar radiation that we get,” said Amro El-Shurafa, another KAPSARC researcher.
El-Shurafa pointed out that capital costs are considerably high, electricity prices are relatively low and payback periods are over 10 years in the residential sector.
“Nobody would spend around SR20,000 ($5,333) to SR40,000 to save around SR100 to SR200 a month. That’s not financially appealing,” said El-Shurafa.
Another challenge that affects solar energy adoption is the vast rented landscape in Saudi Arabia.
“If you rent a house, you’re not going to invest huge sums in a solar PV system and leave it when you move out,” he added.
Living the REEM
KAPSARC has been developing the Residential Energy Model, a framework that can assess energy consumption and the impact of energy efficiency programs.
“REEM is a bottom-up engineering-economic model to simulate energy consumption of the entire Saudi residential buildings by their types, vintages and locations,” explained Al-Dubyan.
The experiment assesses three main building types in the Kingdom in three weather conditions.
“The experiment goes from mild cold sometimes in the south to extremely hot in the middle of the country,” he said.
The goal of REEM is to indicate which building vintages consume more electricity than the other. It is also suitable for testing green initiatives before further regulatory procedures occur.
“What might be applicable in one country or region might not be successful in different regions,” he said.
Advent of circular carbon economy
According to Aljawhara Al-Quaid, a research associate at KAPSARC, CCE offers a holistic and inclusive path to the Kingdom, utilizing and benefiting from all technologies, energy sources and mitigation opportunities based on the availability of resources and the economic and national circumstances.
This process includes improvements to energy efficiency, electrification, the creation of nature-based carbon sinks such as planting more trees, investments in carbon capture utilization and storage, reducing the share of fossil fuels in the energy mix and more.
The Kingdom is also taking a leadership role in climate action on a regional level by introducing the Middle East Green Initiative.
It starts with the goal of planting 50 billion trees across the Middle East, equivalent to 5 percent of the global afforestation target.
“The Kingdom is currently aiming to increase the target of their renewable share of the electricity mix by up to 50 percent by 2030,” Al-Quaid said.
In line with the Saudi Green Initiative announced in October 2021, the Kingdom is applying the CCUS approach.
It encompasses technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the flue gas and atmosphere and further recycle the carbon emission for industrial use or safe and permanent storage options.
According to Al-Quaid, the CCE achieves meaningful emissions reductions by following the four R principles: Reduce, reuse, recycle and remove.