In a country where air-conditioning is a staple of daily life, securing a consistent supply of electricity is still highly dependent on which emirate you happen to call home. Kon, a Filipino who lives in Ras al Khaimah, who declined to give her last name, is not sure whether the Government or a private company supplies her electricity. Whoever it is, they have not done a great job, she says. "The electricity is cut sometimes because of lack of supply," she says. "Then we have no light. But it only happened to me four times in six months, and it usually lasts 30 minutes."
Meanwhile, in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, many expatriate residents say electricity and water service is as good or better than in their home countries. "It's good here, there's no problem," says Elias Dibe, an Abu Dhabi resident from Lebanon. Although much has been made of the country's power crunch, by and large residents have access to cheap electricity and water with few bureaucratic problems and more consistency than in neighbouring countries. In most cases, setting up a utility account takes less than half a day, and in many cases bills can be paid at numerous locations and online.
In much of the northern emirates, however, the situation is different. Power and water have traditionally been supplied by the Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA), but the Government agency has struggled to cope with skyrocketing demand. It's now up to local governments to build generation capacity, says Sheikh Saud bin Saqr, the Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of Ras al Khaimah. "The federal entity is not delivering power and we don't have a local entity here and no private companies," he explains in a recent interview. "We just started now to build power generators to solve the problems."
The Ras al Khaimah Government was trying to determine the best way to proceed, he said. In the meantime, it is using generators. "We have what I call temporary measures," he says. "What we are doing is like island wards: which means that in certain areas we supply. But there has to be a solution for the network." The power crisis has hit some customers hard. Media reports have documented how owners of factories and stores in neighbouring Ajman have turned to private diesel generators in the absence of reliable electricity.
The shortage of power has played a role in slowing the growth of the emirate's property market. The UAE has four main utilities: the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA), the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), the Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA) and FEWA, with additional power and water capacity supplied by industrial users and some municipalities. In Abu Dhabi the power is brought from power lines to customers via the Abu Dhabi Distribution Company (ADDC) and the Al Ain Distribution Company, which interface with customers by collecting payments, reading meters and starting service. In Dubai and the Northern Emirates, DEWA, FEWA and SEWA take direct responsibility for customer service.
The procedure for setting up a utility account is only slightly different in each emirate, but before you take off half a day from work, check your lease agreement and make sure the landlord is not obliged to pay for power and water. In Abu Dhabi, about half of electricity accounts are held by residents and half by building owners, including landlords, said an ADDC official, who declined to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
In Abu Dhabi and Dubai, residents of one-bedroom flats need to take a copy of their lease agreement, passport, visa, and at least Dh1,000 to the nearest branch office. The deposit for multi-bedroom flats and villas is higher. In Sharjah, you need to bring the same documents, plus proof that your lease agreement is registered with the municipality and double the cash, as the deposit on a one-bedroom flat is Dh2000, and more for larger dwellings. In the other northern emirates, be sure to check with your landlord first to make sure utilities for your building are delivered by FEWA, and not the municipality. You'll need a copy of your passport or driving licence, and a "no-objection" letter from your landlord. FEWA determines the deposit amount a few days after you apply for the account, based on expected usage.
FEWA also asks that you bring a copy of a bill from the previous occupant of the flat. In all cases, it helps to bring a map to show the utility where you live. In Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi service should start by the end of the same day. Connections may well take longer for FEWA. Once the electricity and water are running, you can pay your bill in a variety of ways. In Abu Dhabi, you can send a check via mail, or pay in person at an ADDC office or participating bank (see www.addc.ae/en for list of participating banks). The company accepts online payment from some banks, with more to come this year. The company will also set up a direct online portal later this year. In Dubai you have a variety of options: mail, direct online portal, participating banks, Emirates Post offices, and ENOC and EPPCO petrol stations.
Sharjah has similar options, with SEWA offering payments online. FEWA provides the most limited array of options, with payment accepted at its branch offices and through EmPost locations. Even so, the level of service was fine in Ras al Khaimah, says Oualli Fares, a resident in the city who is originally from Algeria. "I pay the bill at the post office and generally in cash, never with a cheque. It is really simple and easy," he says. "I actually do not know to which company the money goes. I get the bill every month and pay."
In Abu Dhabi, the service was better and cheaper than in Italy, says Mimmo Catalano, who lives on Delma Street in the capital, even if the unreliable voltage of his outlets occasionally threatens to damage his equipment. "In Italy it is much more expensive," he adds. Residents in the country pay less for electricity than almost anyone in industrialised countries because prices are set by the Government.
ADWEA charges non-nationals Dh0.15 per kilowatt-hour (kW/h) of power (Emiratis pay Dh0.05). Residents of Dubai and the northern emirates pay DEWA, FEWA and SEWA Dh0.20 per kw/h for the first 2000kw/h they use every month. Compare that to Denmark, a leader in renewable energy, where electricity costs Dh1.45 per kW/h at current exchange rates. In the US, prices vary dramatically, but the average American pays Dh0.44 per kW/h.
The difference in water prices is nearly as dramatic, but prices vary considerably across the Emirates. Nationals in Abu Dhabi pay nothing, while expatriates pay Dh10 per thousand British gallons. In Dubai, however, expatriates pay Dh30 per thousand gallons. The average cost for water in the US is Dh12.36 per thousand British gallons, while Germans pay Dh37.3 per thousand at current exchange rates. The low prices in the UAE have had the unfortunate effect of driving up consumption rates to unsustainable levels, and prices would eventually have to increase, says Robert Bryniak, the chief executive of Golden Sands Management Consulting, which has studied the UAE power market.
"Longer term, unfortunately, we're all going to end up paying higher prices for electricity," he says. Eventually too, the patchwork of utilities would disappear, as utilities realised they could save resources by pooling their grids, he adds. "I think you're going to see Adwea and Dewa integrated at the national level," he says. "To me it makes a lot of sense to nationalise it in a sense and make your allocation decisions on what's best for the emirates."
Until then, however, residents are stuck with whatever utility they have been dealt. email@example.com