The Use of Sustainable Energy in School Buildings in Saudi Arabia

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The use of sustainable energy in the construction of a new building in KAUST can reduce the expenditure on the supply of energy, and the extent of environmental damage associated with the consumption of non-renewable energy. In the last two decades, energy consumption has increased sharply, reaching its peak in 2002, with energy consumption 25 times the levels recorded in 1975 (Al-Ajlan et al. 2006; Fasiuddin et al. 2011). This act of rapid economic development and consuming vast amounts of energy could lead to an investment of roughly 90 billion dollars, which is considered necessary to meet the high demand for energy (Al-Ajlan et al. 2006). In turn, this is creating an urgent need to develop policies on energy conservation regarding sustainable development.

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Sustainable buildings would play an important role in significantly decreasing energy consumption in Saudi Arabia, and will serve as a demonstration of a sustainable design project in its climate. Fortunately, Saudi Arabia has several different renewable energy sources such as solar energy, including geothermal and wind power (Tlili 2014). According to Shalhoub (2017), Saudi Arabia was placed in seventh place in relation to global clean energy. Moreover, with its long-term vision, the country is also working to implement the world’s largest clean energy programs (Tlili, 2014) to enhance the concept of sustainable buildings.


The energy efficiency of buildings is an important phenomenon for the achievement of zero-emission environments. Policies have been enacted by organisations such as the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) to ensure an improvement in the energy performance of buildings. The standards of the EU on the performance of NZE buildings define the buildings as those with high energy performance and consume renewable energy from sources that are located nearby or are on-site (Sethi 2018). A directive for the energy performance of buildings in Europe has been described by the EPBD-2010/31/EU policy, to ensure that all new buildings in Europe must transform to Zero Energy Buildings (ZEBs) by the end of 2020, and the existing ones to be retrofitted through a renovation that is cost-effective (Hinge 2018).

The move towards sustainable solution materialised when Saudi Arabia implemented its vision for 2030. This vision is essentially based on three main pillars; specifically, a vibrant society, a thriving economy, and an ambitious nation (Alshuwaikhat and Mohammed 2017). Moreover, the plan is to reduce an economy that is dependent on oil to a diverse and sustainable one. As a result, Vision 2030 is creating a new renewable energy sector along with objectives and measures that it is believed will generate economic development (Jurgenson et al. 2016). The plan to create a sustainable environment is by increasing efficiency as regards waste management, building recycling projects, and reducing all types of pollution (Almudara 2019).


The main aim of the study is to establish the sustainable energy strategies that can be used for the construction of a new school in KAUST.


The objectives of this research include;

  • To establish the current environmental and geographical conditions that affect the adoption of sustainable energy in KAUST.
  • To establish the existing sustainable energy strategies that are applied in the construction of buildings globally.
  • To incorporate sustainable energy techniques in the design of a new building in KAUST.

Site Analysis

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is located within the King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) in Thuwal, which is positioned at an altitude of 5m a.s.l (ArchDaily 2009). The city started as a fishing center, and later expanded to a commercial hub. The area is of a desert climate and sometimes spends the whole year without rain. The mean annual temperature of Thuwal is 28.50C, with annual precipitation of 42mm. February is the driest month, with a mean precipitation of 17mm, and the coldest with an average temperature of 22.70C. However, the warmest month is July, with an average temperature of 33.10C. Water temperatures at Thuwal can be considered to be equal to those of the red sea, which ranges between 250C and 31.50C. Thuwal is a coastal city located a few kilometers away from the Red Sea. Figure 1 shows the site location.

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 KAUST (HOK 2019)
Figure 1: KAUST (HOK 2019)

Literature Review

The Effect of Geographical Conditions on the Adoption of Sustainable Energy Strategies in Construction

Climate change can cause the energy demand of a building to either increase or decrease (Hinge, 2018). Therefore, building materials are selected depending on the desired stability of the internal environmental conditions. The orientation of an apartment in relation to the direction of the sun also determines the placement of windows, doors, and solar panels for heating and lighting (Thoenes, 2016). Moreover, the availability of energy resources at a particular region determines the sustainable energy systems that can be adopted in that area. Therefore, the energy resources around KAUST should be identified.

Current State of Sustainability of School Buildings in Saudi Arabia

Recent changes in the curriculum propose the inclusion of sustainability courses, and an extensive finding of research and scholarship in areas related to sustainability (Alghamdi 2019). Some of the schools in Saudi Arabia have adopted energy sustainability standards in construction. For example, the British International School in Riyadh has initiated a project in which students install solar tubes, panels, and heating systems (Alkhayyal et al. 2019). However, the current standards of education do not equip learners with sufficient knowledge and skills in energy sustainability. The education institutions have, therefore, been transforming to roll out new systems of both soft and hard infrastructure.

The Existing Sustainable Energy Strategies Applied in the Construction Industry

U-values indicate the rate at which the building elements lose heat to the surrounding. The U-values affect targets for energy efficiency and determine the procedures for standard assessment of the energy performance of a building. A low U-value may be considered as a baseline for exceeding regulations of construction (Griffiths and Godhew 2015).

A small U-value is achieved also by designing the building to have a carbon emission rate that does not exceed the targeted value (Gaoxun 2015). The energy efficiency of the dwelling fabric should not be more than the target allowance. The temperatures of the internal surface of a window should not exceed 30C above the daytime winter temperature. The U-values for windows depend on the glazing surface area, area of the frame, coefficient of the thermal bridge of the glass edge, and the thermal bridge that results from window fixation on the exterior wall. Windows allow both indirect and direct sunlight (Griffiths and Godhew 2015).

Sustainability Standards in Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has adopted the sustainable building policies that are formulated by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), and the building regulations of Europe (Shalhoub 2017). Most of the policies that have been adopted are those of the UK, which are also used in most parts of the world. The regulations advocate for the maximisation of the use of daylight, and the use of construction materials that have the lowest extent of release of greenhouse gases. However, Saudi Architects have adopted policies for the sustainable use of water in the buildings, and the maximization of the utilisation of renewable sources of energy for heating and air conditioning systems.

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Research Methodology

This study considers conceptual design for the sustainable building to be established in KAUST. The design of the building will consider techniques for the achievement of energy sustainability such as the use of materials that emit low quantities of GHGs, maximization of the use of daylight, the installation of low energy lighting systems, natural ventilation, and the application of renewable energy in the heating and cooling systems.

Case Study Analysis

Case Study 1

A case study demonstrating that a sustainable building could work very efficiently in Saudi Arabia was undertaken by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). It is the first project with LEED platinum certification, an international green building certificate in Energy and Environmental Design (Archdaily 2009). It is located in Thowal, a city located in western Saudi Arabia with a challenging climate. For that reason, the campus was made as compact as possible (HOK, 2019). The main role of the buildings is to address the intense sun. Hence, spaces were inter-connected while improving proximities between building users by utilising bridges between buildings. Similarly, shading is provided in a dynamic way cast by the exterior steel structure, bringing a character to space as it changes through the day (see figure 2).

 KAUST (HOK, 2019)
Figure 2: KAUST (HOK, 2019)

The main goal of the project was to reduce the environmental footprint using renewable energy (HOK 2019). Using the prevailing wind and sun, the designed solar-powered wind towers harness solar power and also facilitate natural ventilation by creating a passive pressure difference by way of facilitating the wind blowing from the Red Sea (Energy efficiency and renewable energy 2019). The solar chimneys incorporate two curtain wall glazed skins, with the outer skin being fully transparent to allow the maximum solar energy to penetrate, while the inner skin contains tented glass that absorbs solar energy for the hot air to be maximised within the tower.

Case Study 2

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is illuminated by solar power, and have also adopted measures to save on the consumption of water, which is heated using solar water heaters (Energy efficiency and renewable energy 2019). The buildings within the university are constructed with 20% recycled resources, and this reduced the need for new construction materials. The university buildings are also equipped with heating, cooling, and ventilation systems (HVAC) that are powered by solar energy. A section of the building is indicated in figure 3, where solar panels are installed on the roofs to provide electricity for the whole building. The use of low-energy bulbs in KAUST is illustrated in figure 4.

Solar Panels at KAUST (, 2020)
Figure 3: Solar Panels at KAUST (, 2020)
Low-Energy Bulbs(HOK, 2019)
Figure 4: Low-Energy Bulbs(HOK, 2019)

Case Study 3

Address Al Hamra is constructed using local materials and skills. The orientation of the windows and doors allows for the free flow of cool air, as indicated in figure 5 ( 2020). The building has vaults in the walls, which enable the natural flow of air into the deep internal space (see figure 6). The need for artificial cooling of the internal environment of the mosque is minimised to reduce the consumption of electric energy, wood, and fossil fuels. The outer wall is constructed using translucent polymer to maximise the use of daylight. Figure 7 shows the external view of Address Al Hamra.

 Orientation of Windows (HOK, 2019)
Figure 5: Orientation of Windows (HOK, 2019)
 Internal Spacing (HOK, 2019)
Figure 6: Internal Spacing (HOK, 2019)
Translucent Wall of Address Al Hamra (, 2020)
Figure 7: Translucent Wall of Address Al Hamra (, 2020)


Climate change is an issue of global concern that has drawn the attention of several international and non-governmental organisations (Florides and Christodoulides 2019). A formulation of the solution to climate change requires an interdisciplinary approach since the contributors to climate change are numerous and lie within the different disciplines of science. One of the most significant causes of climate change is the release of significant levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from human activities such as energy generation. Due to the increasing human population and the resultant rise in the demand for energy, more power generation plants have been established, hence increasing the extent of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

Housing activities have a significant effect on climate change, and the commercial and residential sector is responsible for the consumption of 32% of the energy generated worldwide (Florides and Christodoulides 2019). The housing sector also accounts for 19% of the emissions of greenhouse gases, and 30% of the black carbon generations (Thoenes 2016). The carbon is readily oxidised into carbon dioxide, though in its natural form, it also has an immense negative impact on the environment. Households produce carbon dioxide (and black carbon) from biomass, coal, cooking stoves, diesel, and other cooking and heating systems. The use of grid electricity for domestic electric appliances is also responsible for the emission of significant amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, during extraction and transportation.


The research presented a proposal for the use of sustainable energy in the construction of a new primary school in KAUST. The study established different aspects for the achievement of sustainability, and these include the use of solar energy, optimisation of the use of daylight, and the selection of sustainable materials for the construction of walls and roofs. The orientation of a building and the general internal design also plays a significant role in the achievement of a sustainable building. Therefore, a conceptual design for the new school should be implemented to enhance sustainability in energy consumption.

Reference List

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  2. Alghamdi, A. (2019). Raising Saudi student’s energy sustainability awareness through ESL – teachers’ thoughts. Journal of teacher education for sustainability, 21(1), 137-154. doi:10.2478/jtes-2019-0011
  3. Alkhayyal, B., Labib, W., Alsulaiman, T., and Abdelhadi, A. (2019). Analyzing sustainability awareness among higher education faculty members: A case study in Saudi Arabia. Prince Sultan University.
  4. Almudara, S.B. (2019). ‘An observation study of 2030 vision in primary and secondary schools in Saudi Arabia’. Euromentor Journal, 10(1), pp. 51-63.
  5. Alshuwaikhat, H. and Mohammed, I. (2017). ‘Sustainability matters in national development visions—Evidence from Saudi Arabia’s Vision for 2030. Sustainability’, 9(3), p. 408.
  6. ArchDaily. (2009). King Abdullah University of Science and Technology / HOK.
  7. Florides, G., and Christodoulides, P. (2019). Global warming and carbon dioxide through sciences. Cyprus: Cyprus University of Technology.
  8. Gaoxun, J. (2015). The reasonable ways to reduce the heat losses from windows. Gavile: University of Gavile.
  9. Griffiths, R., and Godhew, S. (2015). Sustainability of solid brick walls with retrofitted external hemp-lime insulation. Plymouth: University of Plymouth.
  10. Hinge, A. (2018). Zero energy building definitions and policy activity.
  11. HOK. (2019). King Abdullah University of Science and Technology – HOK.
  12. (2020). Address Al Hamra.
  13. Energy efficiency and renewable energy (2019). Web.
  14. Shalhoub, L., (2017). ‘Saudi Arabia to invest $30-50bn in renewable energy by 2023’. Arab News. Web.
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  17. Thoenes, D. (2016). Views on the influence of carbon dioxide on climate change. Eindhoven: Eindhoven University of Technology.
  18. Tlili, I. (2014). ‘Renewable energy in Saudi Arabia: current status and future potentials’. Environment, Development and Sustainability, 17(4), 859–886. doi:10.1007/s10668-014-9579-9

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