Water Conservation Strategies for Middle East

To deal with freshwater management challenges in the Middle East, it is important to bring a balance between both water supply and demand side. This can be done by employing strategies to increase water efficiency and conservation. Water conservation strategies for the Middle East include reducing the use of potable water where possible, find alternative source of water for various water usage and increase the water efficiency of fixtures and equipments. 

Efficient strategies along with water monitoring that tracks water consumption and identifies problems can significantly reduce both indoor and outdoor water consumption in water-scarce GCC countries like UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Most of the water conservation strategies have no additional cost implication and/or provide rapid payback while other strategies such as wastewater treatment systems and graywater plumbing system often require substantial investment. 

Reduce Indoor Potable Water Consumption

Consumption of potable water  in indoor uses can be reduced by installing water-efficient low flow fixtures for water closets, urinals, lavatories, showers, kitchen sinks and by using non potable water for flush functions. The sources of non-potable water are mainly captured rain water, gray water, municipal treated sewerage effluent (TSE) or reclaimed water. Waterless urinals are available in the market, which can be used in commercial buildings. Flow restrictors, electronic controls and compositing toilets can also help in achieving indoor water reduction targets.

Reduce Outdoor Potable Water Use

Landscape irrigation consumes huge amount of potable water. The water use for outdoor landscaping can be reduced significantly through an integrated approach. This includes employing combination of water-efficient irrigation technology, mulching, reduced turf or no turf grasses, using non-potable or recycled water, installing sub-meters to track and log irrigation trend and choosing native and adapted plant species in landscape design and using xeriscaping methods. High performance water efficient irrigation systems such as drip irrigation, bubbler distribution systems, scheduled irrigation and weather-based irrigation controlled can be used to increase the water efficiency.  

Reduction in Process Water Use

The typical building systems that use process water include cooling towers, boilers, chillers, dishwashers and washing machines. The volumes of water used in these systems are quite significant. The strategies to reduce process water use include; use of non-potable water such as rainwater, graywater or TSE in building processes and systems such as cooling towers. Metering of process water system can be done to collect information on water consumption and to identify leaks.

Recovery and Reuse of Condensate Water

Condensate produced from air conditioning equipment can be recovered and reused within the building. The condensate can be collected by installing a collection pan and then transferred to different systems through drainage pipes for various reuse purposes such as irrigation, toilet flushing, or other onsite purposes where it will not come in contact with the human body. For buildings with a cooling load equal to or greater than 350 kilowatt, a large volume of condensate can be recovered and reused.

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Green Career Tips by Salman Zafar

Salman Zafar, Founder of EcoMENA, talks to Bhavani Prakash of Green Collar Asia about cleantech industry trends, and offers tips for professionals trying to enter renewable energy and waste management sectors.

This interview was originally published on www.greencollarasia.com and is being republished with the kind permission of Bhavani Prakash. 

Green Collar AsiaHow did you become so interested in renewable energy and waste management technologies?

Salman Zafar: I am a chemical engineer by education. After completing my Master’s degree program in 2004, I got the opportunity to work as a Research Fellow on large-scale biogas power projects which initiated me into waste management/bioenergy sector.

During the course of my fellowship, I was involved in the design, operation and troubleshooting of waste-to-energy plants and other biomass energy projects. The idea of converting wastes into clean and useful energy appealed to me in a big way, and after completing my education in 2006 I started writing articles and blogs on biomass energy and waste management which were well-received around the world. A Swedish gentleman read one of my articles and was so impressed that he asked me to prepare a comprehensive report on biomass energy situation in Southeast Asia and there was no looking back from that day onwards.

Green Collar AsiaAs a leading authority in Asia and the Middle East in this realm, can you give an overview of waste management trends in the region?

Salman Zafar: The rapid increase in population, rising standards of living and scarcity of waste disposal sites has precipitated a major environmental crisis in Asia and the Middle East. Municipalities are finding it extremely hard to deal with mountains of garbage accumulating in and around urban centres. Reduction in the volume and mass of municipal waste is a crucial issue especially in the light of limited availability of final disposal sites in many parts of the world.

The global market for solid waste management technologies has shown substantial growth over the last few years and has touched USD 150billion with continued market growth through the global economic downturn. Over the coming decade, growth trends are expected to continue, led by expansion in the US, European, Chinese, Asia-Pacific and Indian markets. Asian and Middle Eastern countries are also modernising their waste management infrasructure and have seriously begun to view waste-to-energy technology as a sustainable alternative to landfills for disposing waste while generating clean energy.

Green Collar Asia: What are the drivers that are required for waste-to-energy technologies to scale up? What kind of policy support would be conducive?

Salman Zafar: Waste-to-energy technologies cannot prosper without political, legislative and financial support from different stakeholders. Close and long-term cooperation between municipalities, planners, project developers, technology companies, utilities, investors and general public is indispensable for the success of any waste-to-energy project.

Energy recovery from wastes should be universally accepted as the fourth ‘R’ in a sustainable waste management program involving Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. An interesting fact is that countries (like Sweden, Denmark and Germany) which have reduced dependence on landfills have the highest recycling rates, and they have achieved this in combination with waste-to-energy.

Green Collar AsiaWhich areas/regions are investing most in renewable energy, or rather where do you see a lot of activity?

Salman Zafar: China, United States, Germany, India and Brazil are witnessing a good deal of activity in the cleantech sector. China has made rapid progress in renewable energy sector, particular in wind energy, and invested more than USD 6 bi7llion in different renewable energy resources in 2012. India is among top destinations for renewable energy investments with more than USD 6.85 billion pouring in for solar, wind and biomass projects in 2012. Brazil has also made strong investment in clean energy and is the market leader in Latin America.

Green Collar AsiaAs a keynote speaker and panelist for several events, do you see a growth in the number of conferences in renewable energy and waste management, and new locations for these?

Salman Zafar: Yes, there has been significant proliferation in academic as well as industrial conferences in recent years. Renewable energy has caught the attention of the policy-makers, academic institutions, corporates, entrepreneurs and masses because of concerns related to global warming, industrial pollution and dwindling fossil fuel reserves. Infact, oil-rich countries like UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are working on large clean energy projects to mitigate the harmful environmental effects of the oil and gas industry and to augment their fossil fuel reserves.

As far as new venues for cleantech conferences are concerned, countries like United Arab Emirates, India, China and Singapore are in the limelight. Worldwide enthusiasm for renewable energy and green technologies has increased dramatically in recent years, and hundreds of conferences and exhibitions are being organized each year at hitherto unknown destinations which is surely helping in raising environmental awareness and career development.

Green Collar Asia: What skills and competencies are required for this field?

Salman Zafar: Skills for cleantech jobs are more or less the same as that required for traditional jobs. The capability to transfer traditional skills to a green energy project is a crucial factor for any industry professional. Renewable energy jobs are heavily based on core knowledge areas like math, science, engineering and technology.

To get an edge, it would be beneficial to get specialized knowledge and experience in the areas of energy efficiency, waste management, environmental policies, natural resource management, sustainability, computer modeling tools etc. A wide variety of jobs are on offer in the cleantech sector, such as managers, process operators, analysts, engineers, IT professionals, systems engineers, designers, technicians etc.

Green Collar Asia: What advice would you give to professionals entering this sector?

Salman Zafar:  Being a relatively new industrial segment, it is advisable not to rush things while entering the cleantech sector. Focusing your education on core knowledge areas is the first step towards a green energy career. There is an avalanche of jobs in this sector, and key to success is to use your transferable skills to get a dream job.

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CDM Projects in MENA Region

 

The MENA region is an attractive CDM destination as it is rich in renewable energy resources and has a robust oil and gas industry. Surprisingly, countries in MENA host very few and declining number of CDM projects with only 23 CDM projects registered till date. The region accounts for only 1.5 percent of global CDM projects and only two percent of emission reduction credits. The two main challenges facing many of these projects are: weak capacity in most MENA countries for identifying, developing and implementing carbon finance projects and securing underlying finance. 

The registered CDM projects in MENA countries are primarily located in UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, Syria and Tunisia. Other countries in the region, like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman, are also exploring opportunities for implementing projects that could be registered under the Kyoto Protocol.

Potential CDM projects that can be implemented in the region may come from varied areas like sustainable energy, energy efficiency, waste management, landfill gas capture, industrial processes, biogas technology and carbon flaring. For example, the energy efficiency projects in the oil and gas industry, can save millions of dollars and reduce tons of CO2 emissions. In addition, renewable energy, particularly solar and wind, holds great potential for the region, similar to biomass in Asia.

Let us take a look at some of the recent registered CDM projects from the MENA region.

Al-Shaheen Project (Qatar)

The Al-Shaheen project is the first of its kind in the region and third CDM project in the petroleum industry worldwide. The Al-Shaheen oilfield has flared the associated gas since the oilfield began operations in 1994. Prior to the project activity, the facilities used 125 tons per day (tpd) of associated gas for power and heat generation, and the remaining 4,100 tpd was flared. Under the current project, total gas production after the completion of the project activity is 5,000 tpd with 2,800-3,400 tpd to be exported to Qatar Petroleum (QP); 680 tpd for on-site consumption, and only 900 tpd still to be flared. The project activity will reduce GHG emissions by approximately 2.5 million tCO2 per year and approximately 17 million tCO2 during the initial seven-year crediting period.

GASCO Project (Abu Dhabi)

Located at the Asab and Bab gas processing plants in Abu Dhabi, the energy efficiency project is the fifth CDM project in the UAE to be registered under the Kyoto Protocol. The ADNOC's GASCO CDM project helps to reduce CO2 emissions through installation of a device in the flare line to considerably reduce the consumption of fuel gas, thereby ensuring lower greenhouse gas emissions. The project contributes to Abu Dhabi's and ADNOC's goals for sustainable development while improving air quality in the region. This retrofit project is expected to generate approximately 7,770 CERs per year.

Kafr El Dawar Project (Egypt)

Located at the Egypt for Spinning, Weaving and Dying Company in Kafr El Dawar near Alexandria, the fuel switching project is the latest CDM project from MENA to be registered under the Kyoto Protocol. The Kafr El Dawar CDM project helps reduce COemissions through switching from the higher carbon intensive fuel such as Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) to natural gas, a lower carbon intensive fossil fuel, contributing to Egypt’s goals in sustainable development. It has also significantly mitigated atmospheric emissions of pollutants while improving air quality in the region. The replacement of HFO with natural gas is expected to generate approximately 45,000 Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs) per year.

 

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An Introduction to Smart Grid

A smart grid is an electrical grid that uses information and communications technology to gather and act on information, such as information about the behaviors of suppliers and consumers, in an automated fashion to improve the efficiency, reliability, economics, and sustainability of the production and distribution of electricity.

Smart grids are now being used in electricity networks, from the power plants all the way to the consumers of electricity in homes and businesses. The “grid” amounts to the networks that carry electricity from the plants where it is generated to consumers. The grid includes wires, substations, transformers, switches etc. The major benefits are significant improvement in energy efficiency on the electricity grid as well as in the energy users’ homes and offices.

What is Smart Grid

In a typical smart grid, central management center controls all the units connected to it making sure to operate them at the highest efficiencies. The central management center does not only assist in better energy management inside the facility but also it helps in reducing the electrical consumption during peak times. This reduction is reflected as huge energy savings.

A smart grid also facilitates switch from conventional energy to renewable energy. In case of having a source of renewable energy in the facility, the grid allows an easy access to integrate it into the grid. Smart grid permits greater penetration of highly variable renewable sources of energy, such as wind power and solar energy.

Smart grid is a new gateway to a green future. It not only provides better energy benefits but also opens up new avenues of employment for youngsters. For example, conversion of normal operating units into smart ones capable of connecting to the smart grid is full of new and exciting opportunities. The global market for smart instruments is trending up with out-of-the-box ideas and innovations from young energetic minds.  

Smart Grid Prospects in the Middle East

The Middle East electricity market is growing at an accelerating rate due to higher consumption rates in the private, commercial and industrial sectors. This results in the need for a successful implementation strategy that can bridge the gap between the current supply and increasing demand. A smart grid network makes for the ideal bridge where the goals of modernization can meet those of a reliable public infrastructure.

Regional countries such as UAE, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are moving ahead smart meter rollouts. The high incomes in those countries, high electricity consumption, and small populations will drive smart meter deployments in the medium-term. The technologies used and lessons learned in these deployments will then be diffused throughout the region.

Smart grid offers an excellent opportunity to modernize Middle East power infrastructure, lay the foundation for energy management, provide new employment opportunities and ultimately reduce region’s dependence on fossil fuels. The Middle East region has the highest per capita carbon footprint in the world which can be offset by deployment of smart energy systems.

In the last few years, the number of events, conferences and meetings focused on smart grid and smart energy has sky-rocketed in the Middle East. The growing amount of attention being paid to this area reflects an increased sense of urgency to meet the energy requirements of fast-growing population and sustain the rapid industrial growth across the region.

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The Menace of Single-Use Plastic Bags

Single-use plastic bags are one of the most objectionable types of litter in urban areas. The sheer volume of plastic waste generated coupled with energy and material resources required for production, as well as emissions resulting from these processes paint a grim picture of the environmental havoc created by plastic bags. Single-use plastic bags are a huge threat to the environment as an estimated 1 trillion such bags are consumed worldwide every year. In the United Arab Emirates alone, nearly 12 billion plastic bags are used annually.

Major Hazards

Single-use plastic bags are notorious for their interference in natural ecosystems and for causing the death of aquatic organisms, animals and birds. In 2006, The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimated that there are 46,000 pieces of plastic litter floating in every square mile of ocean and upto 80 percent of marine debris worldwide is plastic which are responsible for the death of a more than a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals each year from starvation, choking or entanglement. Infact, there is a huge floating dump in the Pacific Ocean called the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" which is hundreds of miles wide and consists mostly of plastic debris caught  in the ocean's currents. 

Plastic bags are mistakenly ingested by animals, like cows and camels, clogging their intestines which results in death by starvation. In addition, plastic bags clog urban drainage systems and contribute to flooding, as witnessed in Mumbai, Dhaka and Manila in recent decades. Moreover, toxic chemicals from single-use bags can enter the food chain when they are ingested by animals and birds.

Unfortunately only a small percentage of these bags are recycled each year, and most float about the landscape and create a tremendous expense in clean-up costs. Several countries, regions, and cities have enacted legislation to ban or severely reduce the use of disposable plastic shopping bags. Plastic bags litter serves as a floating transportation agent that enables alien species to move to new parts of the world thus threatening biodiversity.

Plausible Solutions

The hazards of single-use plastic bag can be mitigated by raising environmental awareness among communities. Many municipalities in the Gulf region are targeting shopping malls and grocery stores to reduce dependence on single-use plastic bags. Environmental education at workplaces, schools and residential areas is a vital tool in the fight against plastic bags. Empowering people to take proactive actions and encouraging them to be a part of the solution can also be helpful in reducing the reliance on single-use plastic bags.

Municipalities can make use of 5Rs of waste management – Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover – to encourage safe disposal of plastic bags which may be facilitated by mass deployment of plastic bag collection systems and recycling facilities at strategic locations. Some of the alternatives are cloth-based bags, such as jute and cotton, which biodegradable as well as reusable. Infact, the range of durable fabric shopping bags is growing each year in the Western countries, including those that can be conveniently folded up into a pocket.

The introduction of ‘plastic bags tax’ can also be a handy weapon in restricting use of single-use plastic bags in the Middle East. For example, Ireland introduced a plastic bag charge called PlasTax ten years ago which has virtually eliminated plastic bags in the country. 

Regional Initiatives

The Middle East region has been slow in gearing up to the challenges posed by single-use plastic bags, though governments have been trying to raise public awareness aimed at behavioral change. The Ministry of Environment and Water in UAE launched an initiative called “UAE free of plastic bags” in 2009 to maintain the health of the natural habitat and enhance the environmental standards of the state. The Dubai Municipality has also launched an ambitious “No to Plastic Bags” campaign to slash 500 million plastic bags. There are similar efforts, but small-scale, efforts in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait to encourage clean-up campaigns in seas, deserts and citites. In Egypt, the Red Sea (Hurghada) is the first plastic bag free governorate having introduced a ban in 2009 which generated employment opportunities for women who have been charged with creating cloth bags in the place of plastic bags.

 

About the Authors

Eaman Abdullah Aman is MRLS graduate in Environmental and Natural Resources Law and Policy with a specialization certificate in Energy Law and Policy from Denver University, USA. Her expertise encompasses international petroleum transactions, petroleum contracts and agreements, international petroleum investment operations, energy policy and economics of natural resources law and policy. She has rich knowledge on issues related to climate change mitigation, environmental law and policy, environmental ethics, energy security, sustainable development etc.

Salman Zafar is the Founder of EcoMENA and a renowned expert in waste management, renewable energy, environment protection and sustainability. He is widely acknowledged as an authority on environment and sustainability sector in the Middle East and proactively engaged in creating mass awareness on clean energy, environment and sustainability through his websites, blogs, articles and projects. Salman can be contacted on salman@ecomena.org.

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Energy Efficiency Perspectives for UAE

With Abu Dhabi alone on track to generate more than 10,000 megawatts of electricity for the first time, discussion about improving energy efficiency in the United Arab Emirates is taking on a more critical tone. Daytime energy use in the hot summer months is still experiencing rampant year-on-year growth, with peak demand this year growing by 12 per cent. Lying at the heart of these consumption levels is the need for air conditioning, which accounts for about half of total electricity demand.

Business and Government Action

At the commercial level, considerable steps are being taken to reduce the Emirate’s carbon footprint. A building insulation program in Dubai has resulted in claims that all buildings there have become twice as energy efficient since completion of the program. Further steps are also underway in other ecological areas such as water efficiency and waste management with the intention of ensuring the green credentials of every building meet international environmental standards and expectations.

At the official level the Emirates’ Authority for Standardization and Metrology continues to implement its Energy Efficiency Standardization and Labelling (EESL) program. This introduced specific efficiency and labelling requirements for non-ducted room air-conditioners in 2011.

These measures were joined this year by requirements under the same program for many other household electrical goods including lamps, washing machines and refrigerating appliances. The labelling requirements under this program will become mandatory by 2013 enabling consumers to see which machines are the most efficient and make sound environmental choices that will also save them money on running costs. The EESL programme will be further extended in 2013 to include ducted air-conditioners and chillers.

The UAE’s oil and gas sector also is recognising the importance of the energy efficiency agenda. It might seem counterintuitive that a sector with oil reserves of about 97 billion barrels and natural gas reserves of six trillion cubic meters should be thinking about how to save energy. The issue is that these reserves, despite their size, are not finite and that oil for export produces greater revenue generation than oil for the domestic market. It is, therefore, in the oil and gas sector’s interest to work with those trying to drive down domestic consumption, as it will maximise the sector’s longer term sustainability.  

The Emirates Energy Award was launched in 2007 to recognize the best implemented practices in energy conservation and management that showcase innovative, cost effective and replicable energy efficiency measures. Such acknowledged practices should manifest a sound impact on the Gulf region to stir energy awareness on a broad level and across the different facets of society.

Significance of Behavioural Change

As much as formal initiatives and programmes have their place in the battle for a more energy efficient UAE, there also needs to be a general shift in culture by the public. Improving public perception of green issues and encouraging behaviours that support energy efficiency can contribute significantly towards the overall goal. As fuel prices increase in the domestic market, the UAE’s citizens are already adding more weight to fuel efficiency when considering what cars they will buy.

SUVs and 4x4s might still be the biggest sellers but household budgets are becoming increasingly stretched and many ordinary citizens are looking for smaller more efficient cars. Perhaps for the first time, the entire running costs of cars are being considered and the UAE’s car dealers and their suppliers are looking to accommodate this change in their customers’ attitudes. This trend is so significant that some car dealerships are seeing large year-on-year increases in sales of their smaller, more efficient models.

Car rental companies are seeing this trend also and in Dubai, at least one is making hiring a car with green credentials more appealing to a wider cross-section of the public – offering everything from the more familiar Chevrolet Volts and Nissan Leafs to the most exotic hybrid and fully electric cars available to hire or lease.

Capitalising on these trends makes both environmental and business sense but economic drivers cannot alone be left to change public behaviour. There are really simple measures that government and business should be encouraging people to take. Some may argue that switching-off computers, lights and air-conditioning at the end of the working day may save energy but is not sufficiently worthwhile promoting – voluntary measures of this sort will not impact on overall energy trends.

There is evidence however that if these behaviours are added to measures like installing energy efficient lighting, lowering thermostats and optimising EESL five-star rated air-conditioners, the energy savings really do become significant – potentially halving a building’s energy consumption.

Conserving energy may not yet be a way of life in the UAE but the rapid changes being seen there are an indicator of what is to come. Formal energy efficiency programs and voluntary measures combined will help the UAE maintain its economic strength in the region and because of this it is one agenda that will not be going away.

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MSW Generation in the Middle East

The high rate of population growth, urbanization and economic expansion in the Middle East is not only accelerating consumption rates but also increasing the generation rate of all  sorts of waste. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait rank in the top-ten worldwide in terms of per capita solid waste generation. The gross urban waste generation quantity from Middle East countries has crossed 150 million tons per annum.The world’s dependence on Middle East energy resources has caused the region to have some of the largest carbon footprints per capita worldwide. The region is now gearing up to meet the challenge of global warming, as with the rapid growth of the waste management sector. During the last few years, UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have unveiled multi-billion dollar investment plans to Improve waste management scenario in their respective countries. 

Solid Waste Generation Statistics

Saudi Arabia produce more than 15 million tons of garbage each year. With an approximate population of about 28 million, the country produces approximately 1.3 kilograms of waste per person every day. More than 5,000 tons of urban waste is generated in the city of Jeddah alone. 

The per capita MSW generation rate  in the United Arab Emirates ranges from 1.76 to 2.3 kg/day. According to a recent study, the amount of solid waste in UAE totaled 4.892 million tons, with a daily average of 6935 tons in the city of Abu Dhabi, 4118 tons in Al Ain and 2349 tons in the western region.

Qatar's annual waste generation stands at 2.5 million tons while Kuwait produces 2 million tons MSW per annum. Bahrain generates more than 1.5 million tons of municipal waste every year. Countries like Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar have astonishingly high per capita waste generation rate, primarily because of high standard of living and lack of awarness about sustainable waste management practices.

Country

MSW Generation

(million tons per annum)

Saudi Arabia

13

UAE

5

Qatar

2.5

Kuwait

2

Bahrain

1.5

In addition, huge quantity of sewage sludge is produced on daily basis which presents a serious problem due to its high treatment costs and risk to environment, human health and marine life. On an average, the rate of municipal wastewater generation in the Middle East is 80-200 litres per person per day. Cities in the region are facing increasing difficulties in treating sewage, as has been the case in Jeddah where 500,000 cubic metre of raw sewage is discarded in Buraiman Lake daily. Sewage generation across the region is rising by an astonishing rate of 25 percent every year which is bound to create major headaches for urban planners. 

Waste-to-Energy for the Middle East

Municipal solid waste in the Middle East is comprised of organic fraction, paper, glass, plastics, metals, wood etc which can be managed by making use of recycling, composting and/or waste-to-energy technologies. The composting process is a complex interaction between the waste and the microorganisms within the waste. Central composting plants are capable of handling more than 100,000 tons of biodegradable waste per year, but typically the plant size is about 10,000 to 30,000 tons per year.

Municipal solid waste can be converted into energy by conventional technologies (such as incineration, mass-burn and landfill gas capture) or by modern conversion systems (such as anaerobic digestion, gasification and pyrolysis). The three principal methods of thermochemical conversion are combustion (in excess air), gasification (in reduced air), and pyrolysis (in absence of air). The most common technique for producing both heat and electrical energy from urban wastes is direct combustion. Combined heat and power (CHP) or cogeneration systems, ranging from small-scale technology to large grid-connected facilities, provide significantly higher efficiencies than systems that only generate electricity. 

At the landfill sites, the gas produced by the natural decomposition of MSW can be collected from the stored material and scrubbed and cleaned before feeding into internal combustion engines or gas turbines to generate heat and power. In addition, the organic fraction of MSW can be anaerobically stabilized in a high-rate digester to obtain biogas for electricity or steam generation. 

Anaerobic digestion is the most preferred option to extract energy from sewage, which leads to production of biogas and organic fertilizer. The sewage sludge that remains can be incinerated or gasified/pyrolyzed to produce more energy. In addition, sewage-to-energy processes also facilitate water recycling. Infact, energy recovery from MSW is rapidly gaining worldwide recognition as the 4th R in sustainable waste management system – Reuse, Reduce, Recycle and Recover.

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The Menace of Plastic Water Bottles

During the holy month of Ramadan, the use of drinking water increases many folds as water bottles are supplied and provided especially at ‘Fatoor’ and dinner at religious places, hotels, Ramadan tents and private homes. The main consumption is however, at the religious places due to longer stay of people in offering special night prayers (taraweeh and Qiyam ul Lail). These water bottles are provided in bulk by philanthropists, sponsors and people at religious places to quench the thirst of people who gather for the long prayers.

In the Middle East, it is common to see people greatly misuse this resource considering it free, taking a bottle, sipping it half and leaving it at the venue. These used and partially consumed water bottles are then collected and thrown away in municipal garbage bins from where  it is collected and transported to Askar municipal landfill site located some 25 km away from the city center. These water bottles thus have a high carbon footprint and represent enormous wastage of precious water source and misuse of our other fragile resources. In many cases, these water bottles are being littered around the commercial and religious places.

Plastic water bottles are a common feature in our urban daily life. Bottled water is widely used by people from all walks of life and is considered to be convenient and safer than tap water. A person on an average drinks around 2.0 liters of water a day and may consume 4-6 plastic bottles per day. UAE is considered as the highest per capita consumer of bottled water worlwide. 

We need to understand that plastic is made from petroleum.  24 million gallons of oil is needed to produce a billion plastic bottles. Plastic takes around 700 years to be degraded. 90% of the cost of bottled water is due to the bottle itself. 80% of plastic bottles produced are not recycled.

Globally, plastic recycling rate is very low and major quantities of plastics are being disposed in the landfills, where they stay for hundreds of years not being naturally degraded. Recycling one ton of plastic saves 5.74 cubic meters of landfill space and save cost of collection and transportation.

Water bottles manufacturing, transportation, distribution and again collection and disposal after its use create enormous pollution in terms of trash generation, global warming and air pollution. The transportation of bottled water from its source to stores alone releases thousands of tons of carbon dioxide. In addition to the millions of gallons of water used in the plastic-making process, two gallons of water are wasted in the purification process for every gallon that goes into the plastic bottles.

The first step is that once you open a water bottle, you need to complete consume it to fully utilize the resource. Do not throw the plastic bottles as litter. The solution to the plastic bottles usage lies in its minimum use and safe disposal. Alternatively, a flask, thermos or reusable water bottle can be used which can be refilled as required. It is suggested that religious places, hotels and malls should have efficient water treatment plants to reduce the use of plastic water bottles.

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Renewable Energy in GCC: Need for a Holistic Approach

The importance of renewable energy sources in the energy portfolio of any country is well known, especially in the context of energy security and impacts on climate change. The growing quest for renewable energy and energy efficiency in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries has been seen by many as both – a compulsion to complement the rising energy demand, and as an economic strength that helps them in carrying forward the clean energy initiatives from technology development to large scale deployment of projects from Abu Dhabi to Riyadh.

Current Scenario

The promotion of renewable energy (RE) is becoming an integral part in the policy statements of governments in GCC countries. Particular attention is being paid to the development and deployment of solar energy for various applications. Masdar is a shining example of a government’s commitment towards addressing sustainability issues through education, R&D, investment, and commercialization of RE technologies. It not only has emerged as the hub of renewable energy development and innovation but is also acting as a catalyst for many others to take up this challenge.

With the ongoing developments in the clean energy sphere in the region, the growing appetite for establishing clean energy market and addressing domestic sustainability issues arising out of the spiralling energy demand and subsidized hydrocarbon fuels is clearly visible. Saudi Arabia is also contemplating huge investments to develop its solar industry, which can meet one-third of its electricity demand by the year 2032. Other countries are also trying to reciprocate similar moves. While rationalizing subsidies quickly may be a daunting task for the governments (as for any other country, for that matter, including India as well), efforts are being made by UAE to push RE in the supply mix and create the market.

Accelerating Renewable Energy Growth

However, renewable energy initiatives are almost exclusively government-led projects. There is nothing wrong in capitalizing hydrocarbon revenue for a noble cause but unless strong policies and regulatory frameworks are put in place, the sector may not see viable actions from private players and investors. The present set of such instruments are either still weak or absent, and, therefore, are unable to provide greater comfort to market players. This situation may, in turn, limit the capacity/flexibility to reduce carbon footprints in times to come as government on its own cannot set up projects everywhere, it can only demonstrate and facilitate.

In this backdrop, it is time to soon bring in reforms that would pave way for successful RE deployment in all spheres. Some of the initiatives that need to be introduced or strengthened include:

  • Enabling policies for grid connected RE that should cover interconnection issues between RE power and utilities, incentives, facilitation and clearances for land, water, and environment (wherever relevant); and
  • Regulatory provisions relating to – setting of minimum Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO) to be met, principles of tariff determination for different technologies, provisions for trading in RE, plant operation including scheduling (wherever relevant), and evacuation of power.
  • Creation of ancillary market for effectively meeting the grid management challenges arising from intermittent power like that from solar and wind, metering and energy accounting, protection, connectivity code, safety, etc.

For creating demand and establishing a thriving market, concerted efforts are required by all the stakeholders to address various kinds of issues pertaining to policy, technical, regulatory, and institutional mechanisms in the larger perspective. In the absence of a strong framework, even the world’s most visionary and ambitious project Desertec which  envision channeling of solar and wind power to parts of Europe by linking of renewable energy generation sites in MENA region may also face hurdles as one has to deal with pricing, interconnection, grid stability and access issues first. This also necessitates the need for harmonization in approach among all participating countries to the extent possible.

Conclusions

It is difficult to ignore the benefits of renewable energy be it social, economic, environmental, local or global. Policy statements are essential starting steps for accelerating adoption of clean energy sources including smaller size capacity, where there lies a significant potential. In GCC countries with affluent society, the biggest challenge would be to create energy consciousness and encourage smarter use of energy among common people like anywhere else, and the same calls for wider application of behavioural science in addressing a wide range of sustainability issues.

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Asbestos Waste Management in MENA

Each year countries from the Middle East and North Africa import large amount of asbestos for use in the construction industry. As per the last known statistics, the Middle East and Africa accounted for 20% of world demand for the material. Iran and the United Arab Emirates are among the biggest consumers of the material. Infact, the entire Middle East has been steadily increasing their asbestos imports, except for Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which are the only two countries that have placed bans on asbestos but with questionable effectiveness. Iran alone has been reported to order 30,000 tons of asbestos each year. More than 17,000 tonnes of asbestos was imported and consumed in the United Arab Emirates in 2007. 

Fallouts from Wars and Revolutions

Asbestos is at its most dangerous when exposed to people who are not protected with masks and other clothing. In times past, such considerations were not thought about. At the moment, most people think of asbestos exposure as part of the construction industry. This means demolition, refurbishment and construction are the prime times that people can be exposed to the fibres.

In the Middle East and North Africa, however, turbulent times have increased the danger of exposure for people across the region. Since 2003, there has been the Iraq War, revolutions in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, plus the uprising in Syria. Not to mention a raft of conflicts in Lebanon, Palestine and Israel. The upshot of this is that a building hit by an explosive, which contains asbestos, is likely to put the material in the local atmosphere, further endangering the lives of nearby.

Asbestos Waste Management

In many countries around the world companies, institutions and organizations have a legal responsibility to manage their waste. They are banned from using substances that are deemed hazardous to the general public. This includes a blanket ban on the use of asbestos. Where discovered it must be removed and dealt with by trained individuals wearing protective clothing. In the Middle East and North Africa, it is vitally important for there to be the development of anti-asbestos policies at government and business levels to further protect the citizens of those countries.

Not a single Middle East country has ratified International Labour Organization Law Number 162, which was instituted at the 1986 Asbestos Convention. The ILO No. 162 outlines health and safety procedures related to asbestos, including regulations for employers put forth in an effort to protect the safety of all workers. Asbestos waste management in the MENA region needs to take in several distinct action phases. Education and legislation are the first two important steps followed by actual waste management of asbestos. 

Largely speaking, the MENA region has little or no framework systems in place to deal with this kind of problem. Each year more than 100,000 people die worldwide due to asbestos-related diseases and keeping in view the continuous use of asbestos use in the region, it is necessary to devise a strong strategy for phasing out of asbestos from the construction industry.

Future Strategy

Many may argue that there is still a philosophical hurdle to overcome. This is why education must go in tandem with legislation. As of 2006, only Egypt and Saudi Arabia had signed up to a ban on asbestos. Even then, there is evidence of its continued use. Whether as part of official pronouncements or in the papers, on the TVs or in schools, it is vitally important that bans are backed up with information so the general public understand why asbestos should not only be banned, but removed. It is important that other countries consider banning the material and promoting awareness of it too.

Governments have the resources to open up pathways for local or international companies to begin an asbestos removal programme. In many places education will be required to help companies become prepared for these acts. Industrial asbestos removal begins with a management survey to identify what asbestos materials are in a building and where. This is followed up by a refurbishment and pre-demolition survey to best see how to remove the asbestos and replace it with better materials. These come in tandem with risk assessments and fully detailed plans.

Asbestos management cannot be completed without such a survey. This may prove to be the most difficult part of implementing widespread asbestos waste management in the Middle East and North Africa. Doing so will be expensive and time consuming, but the alternative is unthinkable – to rip out the asbestos without taking human safety into account. First, therefore, the infrastructure and training needs to be put into place to begin the long work of removing asbestos from the MENA region.

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The Paper Bag Boy of Abu Dhabi

Abdul Muqeet, also known as the Paper Bag Boy, has risen from being just another ordinary student to an extra-ordinary environmentalist. At just ten years old, Abdul Muqeet has demonstrated his commitment to saving the environment in United Arab Emirates and elsewhere. 

Inspired by the 2010 campaign “UAE Free of Plastic Bags”, Abdul Muqeet, a student of Standard V at Abu Dhabi Indian School, applied his own initiative and imagination to create 100% recycled carry bags using discarded newspapers. He then set out to distribute these bags in Abu Dhabi, replacing plastic bags that take hundreds of years to degrade biologically. The bags were lovingly named ‘Mukku bags' and Abdul Muqeet became famous as the Paper Bag Boy.

Abdul Muqeet’s environmental initiative has catalyzed a much larger community campaign. During the first year, Abdul Muqeet created and donated more than 4,000 paper bags in Abu Dhabi. In addition, he has led workshops at schools, private companies and government entities, demonstrating how to create paper bags using old newspapers. His school along with a number of companies in Abu Dhabi adopted his idea by exchanging their plastic bags for paper bags.

Abdul Muqeet was one of the youngest recipients of Abu Dhabi Awards 2011, for his remarkable contribution to conserve environment. The awards were presented by General Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. In 2011, Abdul Muqeet was selected to attend the United Nation’s Tunza conference in Indonesia where he demonstrated his commitment for a cleaner environment through his paper bag initiative. He is actively involved in spreading environmental awareness worldwide, especially UAE, India, USA and Indonesia.

 

Abdul Muqeet continues to make headlines for his concerted efforts towards a plastic-free environment, and has been widely covered by leading newspapers in UAE and other countries. He tirelessly campaigned for the Rio+20 summit, urging world leaders to commit to the Green Economy. “Plant more trees; use less water; reuse and recycle; always remember that everything in this world can be recycled but not time,” offers Abdul.

He has been remarkably supported by his parents and siblings throughout his truly inspiring environmental sojourn. Abdul Muqeet’s monumental achievements at such a tender age make him a torch-bearer of the global environmental movement, and should also inspire the young generation to protect the environment by implementing the concept of ‘Zero Waste’.

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Environmental Education: Key to a Better Future

environmental-educationTomorrow's leaders need to be equipped for tomorrow's challenges, and we must adequately prepare our children for the future they will inherit. As climate change is being felt across the globe and its long term catastrophic impacts have never been so scientifically clear, environmental education is the key to a better future. In an era where more and more children are disconnected from nature, we should recognize the importance of making a real investment in environmental education and outdoor learning. Studies have shown environmental education engages students in learning, raising test scores, and encouraging youth to pursue career in environmental and natural resources. And not only that: environmental education can help children perform better in social studies, science, language, arts, and mathematics.

Engagement at Different Levels

The secret to environmental education is to act at different levels, engaging the entire school and addressing students, teachers, parents, administrators and all members of the schools community. Eventually, it will link up all the participants within the community. The components of this initiative depend on interaction and participation, with teachers undertaking a guiding role by encouraging students to discover solutions on their own.

At first students should determine and check the extent of their use of natural resources in the school. Through this, they evaluate their efforts in the field of environmental management. 

As a second step, children should set up and run Eco Clubs. Eco Clubs provide an opportunity to students to participate in environmental projects and activities. They also serve as a forum through which the students share environmental problems, along with the school staff, parents and the community surrounding the school, in order to work on finding solutions, and promote a positive environmental behavior. In this component the schools can implement internal and external projects, such as introducing efficient methods of irrigation, lowering the volume of waste, reducing the consumption of electricity and water and trying to reduce air pollution.

The third step focuses on organizing training courses for teachers and releasing educational resources in different themes and curricula, helping them to teach environmental concepts in innovative ways and through various educational materials. This will help teachers to adapt and to provide students with information about different habitats, biodiversity, climate change and other issues faced at the local level, as well as faced by the planet on a global level.

The final step should be to connect students to environmental causes and issues, and identify solutions through the provision of field trips. Additionally, such trips can be associated with the educational curriculum as they offer direct learning method. This helps boosting the understanding of various concepts by the students, and increasing the chance of using multiple senses such as eyesight, hearing, etc., which helps to raise their capacity to understand what they have learned. The success and engagement of schools to take on the environment field trips is great and extensive and it represents a set full of amazing adventures of exploration and knowledge.

Undoubtedly, the final and greatest outcome is to educate our children on the importance of becoming good environmental citizens.

Challenges in the Middle East

The Middle East region faces difficult natural conditions, and it is clear that steep population growth, poverty and the consequent degradation of natural ecosystems make it a priority when it comes to Environmental awareness and sustainability goals. One of the biggest challenges is certainly the lack of awareness. 

Most countries are blessed with high levels of education, with a large portion of the population pursuing secondary and higher education. Unfortunately however, human development and wealth are not always synonym with high environmental awareness and interest in sustainability issues… Jordan and Lebanon, for example, have their primary focus in tourism, which mostly contributes to their GDPs.

An interesting survey conducted in the Sultanate of Oman revealed that the environmental awareness of the Omani public was related to education level but also to gender and age. Males were found to have a higher level of knowledge about environmental issues than females. Males were also more environmentally concerned and tended to engage in more environmental behaviors than females. Younger and more educated respondents tended to be more knowledgeable and concerned about the environment than older and less educated respondents.

Eco Clubs provide an opportunity to students to participate in environmental projects and activities.

Eco Clubs provide an opportunity to students to participate in environmental projects and activities.

Another challenge that countries such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar are faced with, is trying to reduce their consumption patterns. Even though awareness levels seem to be higher than in other countries, these nations are notorious for their unsustainable consumption rates. For instance, KSA and the UAE’s water consumption have reached 265 and 550 liters per capita per day respectively, which significantly exceeds the world’s average. 

Participation of Emirati Youth

Educating the UAE youth and preparing them to lead the country’s sustainable future is the first goal in the UAE national environmental awareness strategy and the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment encourages the youth to innovate and be part of global environmental efforts.

Recently the UAE has taken a major step including environmental education in all schools: back in November Thani Ahmad Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, announced that awareness of climate change and how to help save the environment will be taught in classrooms across the country.

Under plans to tweak schools' curriculum to include learning on sustainability, schoolchildren will also be shown how to take energy-saving measures. These include schoolchildren of all ages, including in private sector schools, learning the importance of turning off lights and air-conditioning when not in use, and how to use less water. Each pupil will also be encouraged to spread the message to their family and friends. One of these initiatives, called Sustainable Schools, is an extension of a program that started in Abu Dhabi in 2009.

As a consequence to all these efforts taken by the government, I observed an increase in the numbers of UAE nationals volunteers participating in our programs: we've usually had a majority of Indians and Europeans taking part in our tree planting events or in the anti-pollution awareness drives, but lately large groups of young Emiratis have come forward to participate actively in all our programs and we continue to receive many emails asking to become long term volunteers. This is one of the biggest achievements we could wish for the UAE.

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