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Solar strategy to empower houses

For the UAE, solar power is an idea whose time has come, as anyone who steps outside in the daylight hours will agree. Now the idea of incentives, in the form of property owners selling power to the grid, is starting to take hold.

One thing the UAE has in abundance, in addition to sand and oil, is sunshine. This part of the world has a natural competitive advantage in solar power - and yet cloudy Germany and Denmark, among others, are ahead of us in solar-power generation.

To be sure, there are already significant solar projects underway, from the massive (Masdar City) to the minute (solar-powered display lighting on Abu Dhabi recycling bins). But more can and should be done.

So it's good news that the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa) is preparing for another step forward - seeking a practical way to involve the public in solar power generation.

Nobody doubts that in a few decades, most residential buildings in the UAE will have rooftop arrays of solar panels converting sunshine into electricity to feed the air conditioners, power the lights and keep the rest of the house running. But reaching that sunny future is a challenge. Converting a home to solar power can cost more than Dh35,000.

Requiring solar systems in new construction would help. But in general, say solar-power company executives, installation is still driven by government incentives - even though set-up costs can be recouped, in some countries, in as little as seven years.

What's the best way to encourage the changeover? Subsidies on installations? Low-interest loans? Dewa is looking into simply buying, rather than selling, power. If the panels on your roof produce more power than your home uses, you could be able to sell the balance into the national grid.

This is technically possible, and such "feed-in" payments can give households a real incentive to convert: the revenue could in theory even turn your monthly power bill into a power cheque. For utility companies, a slower increase in power demand means burning less natural gas. There are obvious environmental benefits, too.

Dewa is now trying to do the sums: what feed-in rate would be high enough to provide real incentives to property owners? We hope owners also take the long view about savings in terms of reduced utility bills.

This idea deserves both encouragement and emulation. More power to them, we say.

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