South Africa’s Strong Case for Green retrofitting

GBCSA says cost saving payback is between three to five years. 95% of office buildings don’t comply.

Despite South Africa being the fastest growing green building market in the world, most buildings in the office sector do not comply with environmental sustainability standards. But there is a strong case for green retrofitting.

While South Africa is only playing catch-up to its developed and developing counters, United States-based McGraw-Hill Construction in its World Green Building Trends survey notes that 58% of South African firms surveyed reported future green commercial retrofits by 2015.

green retrofitting, green building
Retrofitting in SA
FirstRand Group’s FNB and Wesbank offices saw retrofits of energy efficient lighting and air conditioners, heat pumps and escalator shutdown after 10 pm.

Furthermore the survey, which tracks 62 countries pegs the country’s take up of green building to grow three-fold, from a measured 16% in 2012 to 52% by 2015.

These figures put South Africa ahead of the pack for its fast adoption of green building – trumping Australia, United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Brazil – despite its foray into green building seven years ago.

“The uptake of the green movement in South Africa has been exponential [and] there is a deep understanding of the benefits of green building,” Groves told Moneyweb.

The number of new buildings constructed in South Africa is relatively small in terms of the existing building stock, says Dr Rodney Milford, programme manager for the Construction Industry Development Board.

“Electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions arising from the existing building stock will far exceed that from the buildings constructed over the next 20 years or so,” says Milford.

Associate and sustainability consultant at WSP Africa Alison Groves says about 95% of existing buildings in South Africa do not comply with energy and environmental sustainability standards.

“Energy efficiency and retrofitting of the existing building stock must therefore be a priority focus into the future,” Milford says.

Another driver of retrofitting initiatives is tenant demand. Groves says tenants in non-green buildings are demanding green space to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and to accrue the benefits that green spaces offer.

Approaching retrofitting 

Converting a traditional building riddled with greenhouse gas emissions into a green building is no mean feat.

Retrofitting is often associated with high costs and McGraw-Hill Construction’s survey supports this view.  It notes that 86% of South African firms cited concerns of higher costs of retrofitting.

Groves says retrofitting costs all depend on the scale of green initiatives in a building, as there are minor and major retrofits.

“Quite frequently companies don’t have the money to do the major retrofits, but there are things they can do within reach,” she says.

Some of the most common minor retrofits are replacing conventional light systems with energy efficient lighting. Retrofitting could also ascend to more costly and holistic initiatives such as reviewing air conditioning, investing in rain harvesting technology, waste disposal and solar panel heating.

“If you think about an office environment, it’s a constant energy demand and if you can drop that by half, that makes a difference to your total [energy and water] bill…If you do your sums, you will work out the payback period and then you can see whether or not it is something you can live with,” Groves adds.

Managing director of the Concrete Institute, Bryan Perrie agrees with Groves, saying retrofit costs must be viewed in relation to the life cycle of a building – as such green initiatives are likely to save money in the long run.

The Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) puts the standard payback period of cost savings after retrofits at between three to five years. Some of the benefits include lower operating costs – particularly savings in energy and water usage by up to 50%, increase in property value of up to 12% (based on US and Australia case studies), higher rental rates and attracting tenants.

“Our green buildings are showing signs of enhanced returns and better fundamentals. The challenge for our industry lies in future proofing the existing stock through sustainable and greening initiatives,” Investment Property Databank (IPD) executive director Stan Garrun explains.


Retrofitted properties

According to GBCSA programme manager Jo Anderson, there are 34 buildings rated in the four green star category, 13 in five star and three as six star. Though the rating favors new green buildings, retrofits of existing buildings also make the cut.

Cape Town’s mixed-use development, the Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront, embarked on a retrofit project to the tune of R22 million. The project involved changing light fittings, installing air conditioner control measures, waste management and less water use on its irrigation system. Over a three-year period, the V&A Waterfront recorded a consumption saving of R15.5 million.

In Johannesburg, the The FirstRand group undertook a major retrofit of its businesses in 2008 including Bank City, the Fairlands building (FNB and Wesbank) and more.

FirstRand’s overall major retrofits included upgrading its chiller system, solar geyser, light fittings and purchasing energy efficient equipment totalling R30 million. Over three years retrofitting efforts saved the group R19 million.

In 2008 Old Mutual Property retrofitted its Cape Town-based Cavendish Square Shopping Centre and Pretoria’s Menlyn Park Shopping Centre to improve heating and air conditioning systems at the respective centres.

More recently, energy efficient lighting was installed at the R1 billion redevelopment of Rosebank Mall by Hyprop Investments. The property company at its Clearwater Mall on the West Rand will install a solar power plant on the roof parking in November. If successful, the company might replicate the environmental initiative at some of its retail assets including The Glen, Hyde Park Corner and Canal Walk.



Rome University takes first place in Solar Decathlon Europe 2014

For years the prophets of the heralded ecology age have been drawing our attention to the potential of south European countries in terms of solar energy. Thus it was probably high time that a team from a country bordering the Mediterranean won a Solar Decathlon Europe event for the first time, as happened this year. And never before had it been such a close finish, not since 2002, when the very first Solar Decathlon took place under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. In the end no less than three points – from a total of 840 – stood between the winning team from the Università degli Studi Roma Tre and the squad from Delft University of Technology at third place.

The project „RhOME for Dencity“ was the overall winner in Versailles.
The project „RhOME for Dencity“ was the overall winner in Versailles.

For those who have never visited a Solar Decathlon before, the event can probably best be described as a mixture of student workcamp, architecture exhibition and open-air building and construction fair. The unique atmosphere and the opportunity to showcase the prowess of one’s university to the world public still motivates countless students and professors to devote two years of their lives to participation in the event. From applying to take part and developing a concept through drawing up the detail design to looking for sponsors and organising transportation, this is how long the preparatory phase takes until the dawning of the two-week on-site competition phase.

Be that as it may, and despite all enthusiasm and the opportunity for public exposure, there has been much pondering in recent times about the meaning of the Solar Decathlon. As is asked, what exactly is so future-oriented about planning and building a detached home for two even if it meets all its energy needs with solar power? Thus it is to the credit of the organisers in Versailles that they modified the competition rules originally formulated in 2002. This time the search was not for single-family residences that generate a maximum of solar power under the climatic conditions of the competition venue, but answers to burning urban development, social and ecological problems in the countries that the university teams hailed from. Moreover the students were to take global, future-oriented sustainable construction issues into consideration, such as urbanisation and settlement consolidation, the interlocking of architecture and mobility, affordable construction and sparing use of resources and energy.

From industrial loft to row house upgrading
The design teams responded to the challenge with a wealth of ideas, whereby the fact that the Solar Decathlon involves ten categories almost became an afterthought – at the presentation of their buildings, few of the teams put emphasis on technology but on architecture and urban development concepts. The houses also called for bit of imagination on the part of the beholder: presented in single-family house format for space, cost and time reasons, the buildings mainly consisted of prototypes standing for a more far-reaching concept.

The winning project from Rome consists of a wooden apartment for the top floor of a multi-family housing project, and if an investor can be found could one day be realised on the periphery of the Italian capital. The runners-up from Nantes, France, presented a concept for breathing new life into a late-19th-century industrial building in the French city’s port area with a mix of housing and greenhouse. Delft University of Technology even reconstructed the row house of the grandparents of one of the team members to demonstrate their concept of how buildings could be made more energy-efficient with solar energy. And no less than five teams, including the Berlin one at fourth place, presented attic conversions or roof remodelling solutions for existing buildings.

There was no lack of interesting ideas even in the houses that did not make it to the top places in the competition: the students from Chile and Japan examined concepts for housing reconstruction after storm surges and earthquakes, and their colleagues from Mexico City designed a low-budget modular system that takes the particular climate and chronic water shortages of the Mexican capital into consideration for shanty town inhabitants. Affordability was also the main focus of the south European teams: the students from Sant Cugat near Barcelona – winners in the “Architecture” category – presented a very simple building basically consisting of a structural framework system and a polycarbonate skin. After the competition is over, the building is to be placed at the disposal of a community in the Catalonian hinterland, whereupon the residents can then decide on how it is to be used – the structure is so flexible in design it could act as a community centre, supermarket or workshop building.

Regionalism meets high-tech
If Kenneth Frampton had not coined the term “critical regionalism” back in the 80s, someone else would have to do so today to describe the design attitude of the student teams participating in the Solar Decathlon. But only in a very few cases were the projects concerned with a direct reinterpretation of traditional architectural forms. Rather, the regionalism on view reflected a precise analysis of the challenges that cities and rural regions face today in differing parts of the world. And these challenges are completely different to those of 100 or 200 years ago. In this the projects in Versailles breathed new life into the well-worn slogan “think globally, act locally”.

The result was a veritable world’s fair of young architecture in which rivalry about energy budgets, indeed about the comparability of the houses, faded into the background – and this is to be seen in a very positive light. Yet the organisers ought to put more thought to the public exposure of their event; Versailles may be redolent in history but anyone seeking to kindle mass enthusiasm for green building at the next competition would be well advised to seek a venue with more public appeal, one in a downtown location as in Washington and Madrid in the past.

Retrieved Tuesday, 05 August 2014



4 Green Star R1.3bn Newtown Junction Opens

The 85000m² Newtown Junction development includes a 38000m² shopping centre, some 39000m² of prime office space, a gym and basement parking for 2400 cars. Construction on another key component of the development – a 148-room City Lodge hotel that will span 8000m² – began this month and will be complete at the end of 2015.

Attacq and Atterbury Property Developments (APD) are 50/50 joint shareholders of the Newtown Junction development. However, through Attacq’s 25% shareholding in APD, Attacq has an effective 62.5% shareholding. The landmark project in the heart of Newtown and flanked by the Market Theatre and right next to the M1 Motorway, has strong support from the Joburg Property Company (JPC).

A major part of the office component has been taken up by Nedbank for its Newtown Campus, which is nearing completion and on track to achieve a 4 Green Star SA rating from the Green Building Council of South Africa. On the shopping centre side, leading companies and brands that have secured space at Newtown Junction, include Pick n Pay, Ster-Kinekor, Truworths, the Foschini Group, Mr Price, Busboys & Poets, Life Grand Cafe and Shoprite amongst others. The gym will be operated by Planet Fitness.

Morne Wilken, CEO of Attacq comments: “We are proud to be investing in the Newtown Junction project, which is one of the most exciting developments in the Johannesburg CBD. In addition to the development being located in the vibrant and historic Newtown precinct, it is part of an urban regeneration effort with the city council.”

Construction commenced in October 2012, and despite the recent construction industry strikes that caused delays, James Ehlers, Managing Director of Atterbury Property Developments, says the Newtown Junction shopping centre is on track to open on 25 September 2014.

“The development is anchored by its retail component and will benefit from the offices as well the leisure and lifestyle elements of the gym and hotel. It’s an enhanced and safe mixed-use node within Newtown. This project was originally meant to be just a shopping centre development, but it changed at the onset into a groundbreaking mixed-use development in partnership with the city and the South African Heritage Resources Agency,” Ehlers adds.

The developers were conscious of the rich heritage value of the site, and with the support of the South African Heritage Resources Agency, have retained some of the old structures. For example, the 100 year old “Potato Shed” structure was taken off site when Newtown Junction’s multi-level basement was being constructed and the sheds were placed back in the exact position.

“Although not confirmed, it is believed that Newtown Junction is the biggest private development in the Johannesburg CBD since the Carlton Centre was constructed in the 70’s. The Johannesburg city council being the owner of the land has played a big role in this development, ensuring that it is completed successfully and that the economic targets of the City are met during the process,” says Wilken.

Newtown Junction’s development has to date created around 2700 jobs during construction alone, of which 850 were jobs for local unemployed people. During the operational phase it is estimated that there will be around 4800 people working in Newtown Junction.