23 Apr 2018
Irbid, Jordan
Renewable energy and energy efficiency

If Lina Al-Kurdi had it her way, the skylines of the Middle East would be covered in green. Al-Kurdi is the Founder of Lina Energy, the first company in Jordan to specialize in designing and installing green rooftops as a means of energy efficiency. Whereas most people see a forgotten space, Al-Kurdi sees potential.

Al-Kurdi first heard about green rooftops when studying for her master’s degree in renewable energy at the University of Jordan. In her mind, something clicked. “It’s a very special and unique solution that not only provides a reduction in energy costs, but also restores the environment in the heart of the city,” she says.

Interest piqued, Al-Kurdi established Lina Energy in January 2017 after going through SwitchMed’s green entrepreneurship program. “As an engineer, I didn’t have this business mentality, so the program helped me understand how I should approach this project,” she says. “It helped me to go from just a business idea to implementing and preparing a green business plan.”

As part of their market research, Al-Kurdi and her team spent 18 months looking into the impact green rooftops could have on energy efficiency across the region. They found that energy reduction rates ranged from 12% in northern Jordan to 19% in the south of the country. In a 2017 study looking at the energy saving and economic potential of green rooftops in Saudi Arabia, researchers found that buildings with a green roof experienced as high as a 35% reduction in energy consumption — and that green rooftops were still an unexplored option that could mitigate pollution, reduce urban heat islands, and absorb sound.

Lina Energy’s target market is commercial businesses, such as malls, hospitals, private schools, and universities — any location that uses high levels of cooling to maintain customer comfort. “In the MENA region, cooling demands last for most of the year, and while we want to benefit the community by creating green space, we also want the green roof owner to have a direct benefit through money saved,” Al-Kurdi notes. Not solely focused on the Jordanian market, Al-Kurdi is also looking to take on projects across the region.

A world where energy is efficient, not just renewable:

Getting initial businesses and investors on board has been one of Al-Kurdi’s greatest first-year challenges. To succeed, she says mentalities need to shift so investors and the public value energy efficient solutions in the same way they do renewable energy. “When you talk about photovoltaics, wind turbines, and biogas, everyone says they know what those are and how they work. They’ll consider investing in it, and they’re not afraid,” Al-Kurdi says.

When it comes to energy-efficient solutions, though, Al-Kurdi says people’s understanding is limited to energy-efficient televisions, washing machines, and light bulbs. Green rooftops? Not so much. Al-Kurdi is in the midst of petitioning the Ministry of Energy to offer her company the same tax exemptions available to energy efficient devices and renewable energy companies.

Dr. Shady Attia thinks this government petitioning is an important step in making green rooftops successful in Jordan. He is an energy efficiency and sustainability consultant who offers workshops advocating for bioclimatic design and green rooftops in the MENA region, including in Jordan and his home country of Egypt. Jordan, he says, has recognized the value of rooftop solar water heaters and PV panels since the 1980s, and has already introduced the idea of installing these systems on rooftops. Now, it is about getting legislation to recognize — and subsidize — the benefits of green rooftops.

“If the state itself gets convinced about the idea, they have a lot of access to rooftops through schools, universities, and public facilities,” he says, saying government support for green rooftops has been seen in both Egypt and Morocco. In addition to the opportunity to create green rooftops on government buildings, Dr. Attia thinks commercial companies could be sold on the idea based on the positive impact being exposed to greenery has on employee productivity.

Coupling renewables and green rooftops:

Ultimately, Al-Kurdi’s challenge is one of changing perceptions. “Green rooftops are a well proven concept with architecture companies abroad, but when I meet developers in Jordan, they say that the price is very high, despite it being lower than international prices by more than 50%,” Al-Kurdi says of her sales experiences so far.

To mitigate some of this resistance, Lina Energy is offering developers a hybrid system — part green roof, part renewable energy system through PV or turbine-generated power. This combination, in addition to the fact that they remain Jordan’s only green roof company, provide the startup’s most prominent unique selling points.

Lina Energy charges a small cost for design and to perform an energy analysis of the building. While the company formerly provided these services for free, Al-Kurdi says this led to their solution being underestimated.

Today, the major next step is getting the investment to create a green roof prototype so the Lina Energy team can show potential customers and investors their system in action. Creating a 100-sqm pilot roof will cost an estimated $10,000. Until then, Al-Kurdi is progressing through two potential deals, one in Saudi Arabia, and the other with a Jordanian NGO.

“The positive impact on a community when we reach our first couple of projects will be huge,” Al-Kurdi insists. “But we need a little bit more time and our first project to convince our potential clients to install, and show why this is so important for our cities.”

Dr. Attia says he has seen the benefits of green rooftops first hand in Cairo. “We are in the middle of the desert, and these rooftops are the only opportunity in highly dense cities for people to have access to nature,” he expands, adding that green rooftops can also provide a source of food for residents and work for the unemployed.

Creating community spaces for flora and fauna:

When it is time for Lina Energy to plant their first rooftop, customers will realize that no two designs are the same.

In fact, the company has made a deliberate effort to make them different — a decision that compromises the need for both nature and aesthetic. “We design our rooftops in a way that they do not introduce new invasive plants to an area,” Al-Kurdi explains. “We can also design a green roof that creates an ecosystem for specific wildlife, particularly ones that have become endangered by city growth.”

Take the green roof that Lina Energy has designed for Jordan. The base is covered in drought-resistant succulents, shaded by local lavender and agapanthus bushes (Lily of the Nile). Bougainvillea and Jordan’s national flower, the black iris, offer bursts of color and fragrance. “We are trying our best to choose bushes that are effective in carbon sequestration, and are doing research on types of vegetation that can handle greenhouse gases other than carbon,” Al-Kurdi expands. “You would be surprised by the diversity of drought-tolerant vegetation that is beautiful and flowering. There is no need to introduce other types of vegetation to get a visual impact.”

Flora and fauna aside, Lina Energy has designed its green rooftops to be highly adaptable to various forms of irrigation — a critical characteristic in a region known for its arid climates. These irrigation models include an efficient model that consumes less water than drip irrigation, rainwater gathering, and a sophisticated system that involves recycling a building’s greywater. All solutions have been designed personally by Al-Kurdi and her team.

A market in the Middle East and beyond:

In addition to her business and engineering savvy, Al-Kurdi is also a skilled cross-cultural negotiator. With experience working in Italy and Sweden, and with a branch of Lina Energy located in Bulgaria, Al-Kurdi has positioned herself at the intersection of the renewable and energy efficient solutions being developed in Europe, and the localized needs of the MENA region. That means she is in-the-know about the latest innovations, while also being able to adapt them to the warmer, often dustier, Mediterranean climates.

“Some green roof solutions have been implemented in the UAE, and those projects failed because they weren’t adapted to the local climate,” Al-Kurdi says. “We are not experimenting with our solution — we understand the climate and the culture where we are working.”

Part of that cultural understanding comes in knowing that communities need to, and will, grow. “It’s saying ‘let’s grow while reducing the damage that we introduce to the environment,’” Al-Kurdi says. “We need houses, and we need facilities to provide services for us. So let’s cover them with green vegetation. It’s not just about growing cities — but growing smarter, more energy efficient ones.”

 

 

Learn more about Lina Energy through their website and Facebook page.

Photos: Courtesy of Lina Energy.

Hilary is a journalist, photographer, and maker of things. She loves working with entrepreneurs to share their stories and has done so around the world.Hilary Duff
An energy efficient solution in a city’s forgotten spaces | The Switchers
Lina Energy Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency
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