The freeze on utility prices in Dubai may be good news for consumers in tough economic times, but it sends the wrong message on conservation.
Best way to save energy is to value it
In the coming decades, the UAE hopes to dramatically decrease its energy consumption. This is a noble goal.
It is also an increasingly unlikely one, especially if residents never learn the value of the resources they consume. This week's news that the Government of Dubai will freeze the price of power for "years" may save consumers money. But it will send the wrong message on conservation.
As The National reported on Monday, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa) has announced that the Supreme Council of Energy, the body responsible for setting the emirate's energy policy, has decided to proceed with this plan despite a rise in the cost of natural gas.
In the near term this move will win praise from consumers. But such a magnanimous gesture may backfire over time.
Freezing, or reducing, the price of energy will inevitably lead to complacency among consumers, and drive power providers deeper into the red in the same way it has for the Emirates' northern oil companies.
It is a situation that had already raised concerns among the authorities in the capital, where the price for water has been unchanged since 1995 and for electricity since 2005. Since January, utility bills mandated by Abu Dhabi's water and electricity regulator have been highlighting the true cost of power generation - a move aimed at raising awareness so that people will remember power isn't free.
Electricity and water bills in Abu Dhabi and Dubai remain low in comparison to other major international cities, but consumers in both emirates continue to take this for granted. The UAE does, after all, have one of the world's largest carbon footprints for good reason.
Reducing this footprint will come with education and policies that inspire conservation, not reward waste. Installing smart metres, already a success all over Europe, could ensure that customers pay for only what they use. Tiered payment systems could also reward those who use less.
Cheaper power may make sense in tough economic times, but over the long term it will do little to reduce our energy consumption.