April 2016

Greetings From Kuwait

So much is familiar here in Kuwait City. Along the scenic Arabian Gulf Street near my hotel, the dining options include Ruby Tuesdays, Chili’s, Applebee’s, KFC, Burger King, and TGI Friday’s. The Avenues Mall is nearly a mile long. And I see lots of Chevys in the rush-hour traffic mix. 

On the other hand, some things are different.

There’s no beer – Kuwait is a dry country – and colorful fruit juice concoctions are popular. I blushed when my “limoncello” mocktail arrived at the table. I wasn’t expecting the blue slushy drink in a goblet rimmed with pink sugar.

The color extends to the nighttime skylight, where the skyscrapers compete in a dynamic lightshow. And the buildings themselves are a bit flashier than I’m used to at home.

There’s the 8am to 2pm work day. That’s something I could get used to at home.

The summer design temperature is around 50°C. Yes that’s 122°F. That’s one reason to knock off work and head to The Avenues on a summer afternoon. Ironically, as the temperatures approach 80°F in March some locals are complaining about the heat.

A primary construction material is aerated autoclaved concrete blocks. Most buildings from homes up to mid-rise commercial buildings are concrete structures infilled with the aerated concrete blocks. It makes some sense in this hot and dry climate; the thermal resistance of an 8-inch block is about R-8. But the performance could be better, and the concrete columns and beams are thermal bridges. The delta-T on a hot summer day is over 40°F. So a local manufacturer is promoting an exterior layer of stone wool insulation to improve performance.

And one more big difference, and one reason I’m here, is the price of electricity. Consumers pay 2 fils per kilowatt-hour. That converts to 0.7 cents, which amounts to a 94% subsidy. One result, as you can imagine, is a rapid increase in electric demand over the years and a race to keep up by adding new power plants.

I was shown plans for a modestly sized home (by local standards) with 6 packaged AC units on the roof. I’m guessing around 15 tons of cooling capacity. Can you imagine what that would cost to run in Phoenix?

So I’m here teaching a class on building energy simulation. Some government architects and engineers are interested in tools to evaluate designs for housing and government buildings. The idea is that with good design they may be able slow down the power-plant race.

And in that goal, I think we’re not so different!

-Erik Kolderup
ASHRAE Golden Gate President, 2015-2016

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