Working to transition to a post-hydrocarbons economy, Qatar has seen the launch of a number of renewable energy initiatives in recent years. In 2009 the state’s per capita carbon footprint was the world’s largest, and until recently Qatar had no mandatory standards regarding the energy performance of its buildings, despite being in the midst of an enormous building programme that will see hundreds, if not thousands, of buildings spring up over the next 15 years.

Using rebranded standards developed by Qatari Diar’s Gulf Organisation for Research and Development (GORD), the state is set to change its building practices, with eco-friendly techniques expected to be incorporated in high-profile projects including Msheireb Downtown Doha (MDD) and World Cup stadia. With Qatar Green Building Council (QGBC) now testing its pilot eco-villa, industry stakeholders are hopeful that green building practices will also be introduced to the broader residential construction sector in the future.

GSAS: Qatar’s green building initiatives gained pace in 2010, when GORD unveiled the Qatar Sustainability Assessment System, a green building certification scheme developed with the University of Pennsylvania’s TC Chan Centre for Building Simulation and Energy Studies. The system was relaunched in 2012 as the Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS), expanding on the original in an attempt to broaden its application across the MENA region. Similar to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM) standards, GSAS covers a series of sustainability benchmarks. All three systems rate different project types – commercial, neighbourhoods, schools and residential – while GSAS goes further, with categories for large-scale projects common to the GCC, including hotels, sports venues and railways.

GSAS consists of six certification levels across eight categories, which measure a project’s environmental impact and lifespan. Certified projects need to achieve a score greater than zero, and they are ranked on a star system, with six stars representing the highest level of certification. Mandatory requirements include water and power efficiencies, solid waste and wastewater reduction, and improved indoor environments. While the system focuses on sustainability, GORD developers have stressed that it is also linked to human health and safety, from construction workers to end users.

Ashghal (the Public Works Authority) was the first governmental institution to fully adopt GSAS, with all new government buildings approved as of 2012 required to adhere to its standards. Ashghal has oversight of all state buildings and infrastructure projects in Qatar. The system was also adopted into environmental design curricula at Qatar University and Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd University, and integrated into the 2010 Qatar Construction Specifications. This means that up-and-coming designers are trained to understand the system, and makes mandatory compliance easier to achieve.

QGBC: Green building initiatives are also being spearheaded by QGBC, which was established by Qatar Foundation in 2009 to encourage collaboration in applying environmentally sustainable practices for green building design and development in the state. QGBC officially launched its pilot eco-villa experiment, Passivhaus, in 2012, opening it to the public in June 2014. Featuring renewable energy generation, water-efficient plumbing and irrigation, energy-efficient indoor lighting design and recycled building materials, the eco-villa aims to achieve a four-star GSAS rating, cutting energy, water usage and carbon emissions by 50%, and serving as a model for sustainable community development.

According to QGBC officials, it cost just 16% more than a normal villa to insulate the pilot project, with a layer of extruded polystyrene, as well as UV-blocking, triple-glazed glass in the central atrium. The basement’s septic system, developed by Canadian firm Bionest, recycles waste water for drinking and irrigation, while the villa also features a 34-KW rooftop solar panel.

“The focus is on the technical and financial aspects. The cost of building the Passivhaus, which is considered to have the highest standards of a green building, is only 16-18% higher than using standard building practices. Our goal is to move beyond creating awareness, and into development of a culture where the long-term benefits of green building lead to these technologies and processes being employed in every new build,” Meshal Al Shamari, director of QGBC, told OBG. The eco-villa rests on a plot of land adjacent to another villa, which was constructed for the pilot project without using green practices. QGBC researchers plan to study energy usage at both villas for several months, before asking two families to move in, and then studying the families’ experiences living in each home. QGBC also plans to publish a directory of green retailers, which will help builders source materials that offer the highest environmental standards. “Not everyone knows where to buy green products and services in Qatar, so this is the first step towards a culture of environmentally friendly sourcing,” Al Shamari told OBG.

STADIA: Outside of pilot projects, GSAS and other sustainability initiatives are also making an impact on mega-project design and construction, most notably in MDD and at Qatar’s planned World Cup stadia. The Al Wakrah, Al Bayt, Khalifa International and Qatar Foundation stadia will all target GSAS four-star and LEED certification. This means the stadia and their surrounding precinct will be planned using best practice energy-efficient measures and green materials, while the stadia will maximise shadows and shade, with cooling systems at Al Wakrah striving for an optimal temperature of 26°C on the pitch, 24-28° in spectator stands, and 30-32° in fan zones and public areas. “The Al Sadd and Al Gharafa stadia were retrofitted with cooling systems a few years ago, and while these were early prototypes, they work well,” Steven Humphrey, director for Qatar at AECOM, told OBG.

Other stadia will feature unique green initiatives; Qatar Foundation Stadium, for example, will have photovoltaic and reflective technologies embedded in its roof, while a minimum of 20% of its materials will come from sustainable sources. A further 50% of all wood products used in its construction will be sourced from sustainable suppliers, while 20% of all its construction materials will be sourced regionally.

MDD: Msheireb’s MDD will also strive for the highest levels of green certification through a host of initiatives, including a rooftop photovoltaic panel system. As highlighted in Deloitte’s report, “GCC Powers of Construction 2014”, developers plan to install photovoltaic modules to supply a portion of the city’s electricity needs in its first phase of development.

The project will comprise 5200 solar panels across 8400 sq metres of on-site energy production, which will be used to heat water and generate electricity. MDD developers estimate annual greenhouse gas reductions of 568 tonnes, equivalent to 241,000 litres of petrol. This will underpin the city’s bid to hold the largest concentration of LEED-certified buildings in the world.