Slowly, the UAE is waking up to the benefits of energy efficiency.
Companies and organisations are starting to use simple measures such as switching off air conditioning and lights at the end of the working day to save power.
Some of the measures include keeping the air-conditioning thermostats at 24°C or above, and installing energy-efficient light bulbs. Others include optimising the operation of chillers and lifts.
However, these voluntary initiatives are yet to make an impact on overall energy trends. Demand for electricity in Abu Dhabi, for example, increases annually by 11 per cent. The emirate has the capacity to generate more than 13,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity. By 2020, peak demand is expected to nearly double, reaching almost 25,000MW.
Yet Tamara Withers, corporate sustainability officer at the Emirates Wildlife Society - World Wide Fund for Nature (EWS-WWF), said she is optimistic about the potential for energy-efficiency schemes to make an impact.
"We see an increasing interest in tackling energy consumption through efficiency," she said.
Through its Heroes of the UAE campaign, EWS-WWF is advising 46 companies on how to reduce their impact on the environment, with energy and water savings as top priorities.
Contrasted with renewable-energy technologies, which require substantial initial investment, energy-efficiency schemes do not require a lot of money, and can yield quick financial savings.
"The return on investment in energy efficiency is extremely high," said Ms Withers.
Organisations such as Tecom Investments, the American University of Sharjah and the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry have well-established efficiency programmes, and spreading the word about them is a key step toward inspiring others, Ms Withers said.
Efforts to cut energy consumption at the Dubai Chamber of Commerce building started in 1997, well before energy efficiency was fashionable, said Annelies Hodge, the chamber's senior corporate social responsibility and internal communications manager.
By switching off air conditioning and lights at the end of the working day, lowering thermostats, installing energy-efficient light bulbs and optimising the operation of chillers and lifts, the chamber was able to reduce its energy use by 47 per cent between 1998 and 2008. It also had energy savings worth Dh5.5 million, Ms Hodge said.
A third-party audit carried out in 2007 showed that while the average UAE building typically consumes 250 kilowatt hours (kWh) per square metre per year, the Dubai Chamber building was using less than half that amount - 120 kWh per square metre per year.
"This was entirely the result of simple changes in the way the building was operating, changes that could and should be implemented in all commercial buildings across the Emirates," Ms Hodge said.
While the logic behind efficiency initiatives is simple, implementing programmes requires high attention to detail. This was the experience of Concordia Community Management, which reduced by 67 per cent its energy use in a car park under its care.
The facilities management company is responsible for maintaining infrastructure in Jumeirah Lake Towers. The communal parking in the development consists of 25 parking areas with a total of 30,000 spots. Each parking area was previously using about 67,000 kWh of electricity per month, but this was reduced to 24,500 kWh after the changes, which involved switching off unnecessary lights.
"When we first came in here, it was twice as bright," said Eric Wessels, operations manager - master community, while showing The National around one of the parking areas. "It looked like you were living in the sunshine."
Engineers measured light levels, and decided which of the 40,000 light fittings were to be turned off. Emergency lights could not be turned off, and areas near building entrances or over driveways must be well-lit.
On the other hand, areas where more daylight penetrates needed less artificial lighting. Each light fitting in the facility has two bulbs and, in many cases, engineers have chosen to turn off only one bulb.
As simple as it sounds, the solution was a challenge: how were technicians to know if a bulb had been switched off deliberately or needed changing? The solution included placing colour-coded stickers - green if two bulbs were supposed to be working, yellow if one was to be working, and red if both were supposed to be off.
Fergus Appleton, Concordia's general manager, has calculated that over a year, the changes are saving Dh4.9million worth of electricity.
"It gives an example of what you can achieve without spending large amounts of cash," he said.