By Warren Ondanje.

Figure 1. Two Rivers Mall Kenya. Source – Construction Kenya

It is highly likely that your weekly errands involve visiting a store housed a mall. In Nairobi especially, standalone shopping stores are becoming fewer as investors are betting on adding to the already-present 30 malls. From the convenience of having many shops in a single location, to enjoying the buzzing ambiance of the recreational areas, malls have found a special place in every Kenyan’s heart.

This is not all rosy however. Despite massive investments in the country’s real estate sector, the returns have not matched the monetary input. Kenya’s electioneering cycle has had far-reaching effects on the economy, including affecting the health of mall businesses.

Other than the political situation, energy is a key component towards the profitability of a mall. The customer, being the final consumer of goods and services will need variety, convenience and aesthetics in order to make a purchase. Tenants on the other hand will need utilities (electricity, water, gas, compressed air etc) and equipment on demand, so as to attract and close that customer purchase. Owners need to collect rent and return their investment.

Common Challenges Faced by Malls

With regards to energy management, investors will heavily rely on the expertise of the contractors to balance the expense on efficient equipment with the investment budget. The common hurdles faced by the mall management include:

  1. Lighting
  2. Air conditioning
  3. Poor Building Management System (BMS)


The wide range of shops and amenities in malls require different lighting fixtures to create ambiances that attract and relax customers. The variation can include incandescent, halogen LED lights amongst others. Renters might focus more on ambiance than being energy sensitive, and this is still debatable.

Take the example of a coffee shop that only uses incandescent bulbs (60W) for each of its 30 lounge tables. The shop operates 12 hours daily, all year round. A competitor’s shop on the other side of town has instead chosen to use 7W LED bulbs for the same space. The difference in their spending is shown in the table below:

Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC)

The HVAC systems in malls are large scale and can either be centralized to a control unit or distributed and managed separately. Distributed systems have proven to consume less energy because they can be managed separately and easily adapt to the demand of the mall faster. Areas such as bakery sections, fridges, restaurants all need temperature control to make it conducive for people to work or relax.

Ventilation system. Source – AnOfficeSystems

Three ways to increasing your HVAC efficiency are:

  1. Using a Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) system
  2. Using geothermal systems
  3. Switching to rooftop systems

Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF)

VRF use one condensing unit and connect it to several indoor fans in a building. The whole arrangement can either be a two or three-piped system; two-piped means that at any instance all the fans can either be heating or cooling the room. Three-piped systems mean that at any point, some fans can be heating one room, while the others cool another.

Coupled with a Variable Speed Drive (VSD) to control the compressor speed, significant energy savings can be realized.

Geothermal systems

These systems use the earth either as a heat source or heat sink depending on the season. An antifreeze fluid is circulated into the ground using tubes that allow heat transfer. The fluid is then used in a heat pump to provide heat especially in cold conditions. Using geothermal systems for commercial settings has been found to save about 40% of annual air conditioning expenses.

Rooftop HVAC units

These are relatively low cost investments that compromise on valuable floor space of a building. The US, for example through the Department of Energy, has pushed programs like the Advanced Rooftop Unit Campaign, to encourage facilities to replace their old rooftop units with newer more efficient ones. Of central focus is the move to motors driven by Variable Speed Drives (VSDs).
The results? A number of buildings have recorded up to 50% reduction in their energy expenses.

Poor Building Management Systems (BMS)

Malls will feature many amenities and therefore attract huge traffic especially over weekends and during holidays. Effective management of bulk systems like power supply, HVAC, emergency response, alarms, lighting etc requires a robust system that can shrink everything to a handful of control panels. Enter Building Management Systems (BMS)

BMS is a centralized system for monitoring and control of a building’s electrical and mechanical installations like lighting, HVAC, security, alarms etc. Schneider Electric proposes energy savings of up to 20% for malls that have a BMS.

Building Management System. Source – MLN Company

Advantages of such systems are:

  1. Easily monitor and control various processes
  2. Get reports on the energy/water/gas/compressed air consumption trends of the facility or individual equipment
  3. Alarms to notify you of any failures

More on BMS can be found here


By far, the biggest investment a mall manager can make is to raise sufficient awareness on energy management, both to his/her workforce and the tenants using the facility. Options towards raising awareness can include:

  1. Inviting an energy management company to do inhouse energy training, with focus on the operations of the mall
  2. Having a one of the mall maintenance personnel trained as a Certified Energy Manager (CEM®)
  3. Creating documentation/tips manual for tenants to help them manage their energy consumption

For malls, energy management will translate to higher margins and better services to the occupants. Adhering to Kenyan regulations on energy, it is important to conduct energy audits and follow through with the recommendations to improve your facility performance. Energy monitoring should always be in your long-term plan so as to gain valuable insights into your building performance and access predictive analysis on how to improve.