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Students tour a smart home model at the 2021 Solar Decathlon Middle East in Dubai on Tuesday Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Residents wishing to build homes with low electricity bills can now head to Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park to see models of Dubai’s smart future homes.

Eight teams from 12 regional and international universities have built innovative designs for low-cost, sustainable, net zero-energy homes as part of the second Solar Decathlon Middle East (SDME 2021).

The event was officially opened by Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, Managing Director and CEO of Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) on Tuesday.

Net zero-energy buildings use an amount of energy that is equal to the renewable energy created on the site.

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Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer tours a sustainable home model at the event Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dh10 million prize

With a Dh10 million prize for the smartest solar-powered house, SDME encourages the participating university teams to design, build, and operate smart and sustainable models of cost-effective and energy efficient solar-powered homes, focusing on protecting the environment, and considering the climatic conditions of the region.

Pre-fabricated houses with windows, walls and floors that can collect, store, and distribute solar energy have been built with recycled materials and sustainable designs that use eco-friendly solutions.

From Artificial Intelligence to 3D printing, modern technology has been incorporated along with recycled materials and innovative wind-catching methods.

Low bills

DEWA has allocated over 60,000 square metres at the MBR Solar Park, the largest single-site solar power project in the world, for the SDME Village, which is open to the public till November 25.

Speaking to Gulf News after the inaugural ceremony, Al Tayer said: “The idea is to have sustainable houses with efficient [energy] consumption with solar power.”

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Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer during his keynote at the event Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

The designs showcased by the students can help build “energy-efficient and comfortable houses with reduced [carbon] emissions and can have cheaper than normal [electricity] bills,” he added. Al Tayer invited contractors, developers and residents to visit the Decathlon and “look at the most efficient houses to adopt and implement these ideas”.

9,000 buildings retrofitted

Many local developers benefited from the first edition of SDME in 2018 and are now implementing some of the ideas showcased at that time, he said.

Al Tayer also revealed that more than 9,000 buildings in Dubai have been retrofitted with solar panels.

Along with models of the smart houses from this year’s SDME, the winning project of the first edition of SDME – FutureHAUS Dubai by Virginia Tech in the US, which bagged Dh900,000 – is currently displayed at DEWA’s pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.

Though no house modelled after the winning project has been built for living in Dubai yet, Al Tayer said future houses in Dubai will “definitely” implement the smart and sustainable solutions offered by the participating teams.

He cited space as a challenge. The prototypes made by the participating teams are very small in comparison to the massive individual houses built in Dubai, Al Tayer said.

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The contest involves a showcasing of sustainable home models, such as this one pictured here Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai’s sustainability drive

Delivering his keynote address earlier, Al Tayer said Dubai is the first city to host the biggest and most competitive competitions for international universities in the Middle East in this sphere.

“This supports [Dubai’s] commitment to sustainability, its pioneering role in shaping the future, its relentless support to efforts to combat climate change, and its role as an incubator for creativity and innovation, especially among young people,” he said.

This SDME is particularly important for Dubai as it is being organised in conjunction with Expo with its theme ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’. The event also coincides with the ‘Year of the 50th’ initiative celebrating five decades since the establishment of the UAE.

2050 climate target

“This year, the UAE has announced a strategic initiative to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, making the UAE the first country in the Middle East and North Africa to do so. Dubai has launched a strategy and roadmap to be a centre of excellence in the essential new technologies to achieve zero carbon emissions and reach 100 per cent of clean energy by 2050,” said Al Tayer.

UAE as innovation hub

In a statement, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman of the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy, said the UAE presents a global role model for empowering young people and involving them in shaping the future by encouraging them to make use of their potential and talents.

“The UAE has become a destination for innovators and creative minds from all over the world. Organising the first and second Solar Decathlon Middle East in Dubai supports the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to attract skilled and talented young people,” he added.

Sheikh Ahmed said the exceptional minds of today’s youth are key components of the UAE’s preparation for the future. “The competition also supports the directives of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of The Executive Council of Dubai, to support young people who are the most valuable asset and the most important driver of development and innovation of solutions to challenges. Investing in their ideas and aspirations is the most effective investment to build the future.”

Praising the local and international universities for encouraging their students to participate in the second SDME, Sheikh Ahmed also commended the students participating in the global competition for their intent to create solutions that promote the transition towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

‘Everyone is a winner’

Al Tayer also addressed the students participating in the SDME, saying: “Your participation in the SDME confirms your role as a driving force for building a sustainable future and highlights your awareness of the importance of smart solutions in supporting sustainable development efforts worldwide.

“On this occasion, I would like to thank you and commend the efforts you have made over more than two years, during which you have overcome the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, to design and build smart homes that adopt the latest innovative technologies that contribute to reducing environmental impact, including clean energy, to provide a happy and sustainable lifestyle.”

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Student teams and DEWA officials during the event Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

He added: “While the jury evaluates the homes that you designed and built over the next two weeks, I assure you that everyone is a winner in this competition. All the innovative models we have seen will constitute an important addition to the sustainable development process not only in Dubai but across all cities of the world.”

Platform for students

Taqwa Wriekat, the structural engineer of the future home created by Team Harmony of British University in Dubai, said the contest offered a perfect platform for the participating students to come up with innovative ideas based on what they study. “It was a wonderful opportunity to showcase everything that we studied and to see our design come alive,” added Wriekat, whose post-graduation entailed designs of sustainable built environments.

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Students hear a talk by DEWA's CEO Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer (not in picture) at the event Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

The opening ceremony was attended by Abdulla Al Basti, Secretary General of The Executive Council of Dubai; Ahmad Buti Al Muhairbi, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Energy; Saif Humaid Al Falasi, CEO of Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC); university presidents, professors, and students, and many officials from the public and private sectors.

After the ceremony, Al Tayer and senior officials toured the houses designed by the participating teams in the second SDME.

What is SDME?
Solar Decathlon Middle East is a collegiate competition that challenges students to design, build, operate solar powered houses.
SDME is organised under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council.
The Dubai Supreme Council of Energy, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), and the US Department of Energy signed an agreement to collaborate on the development of the first and second editions of the SDME in November 2018 and November 2021 at the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park.
The competition integrates unique local and regional characteristics.
All proposals focus on solving the issues and needs for sustainable living in the Middle East, which faces high temperatures, high humidity and dusty conditions. International teams enter the challenge for the opportunity to win prizes totalling Dh10 million in each edition.

Participating teams

Team KU of Khalifa University

Team Sharjah of the University of Sharjah

Team Desert Phoenix of the University of Louisville, Higher Colleges of Technology, American University in Dubai, and American University in Sharjah

Team HARMONY of The British University in Dubai

Team ESTEEM of Heriot-Watt University, and Heriot-Watt University, Dubai

Team TAWAZUN of Manipal Academy of Higher Education Dubai Campus

Team Go Smart of the University of Bahrain

Team SCUTxCCSIC of the South China University of Technology.