x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Residents must learn real value of water and power

Raising rates will not prove a popular move for many residents. But with the cost of powering a home or watering a lawn among the lowest in the world, there is growing realisation that people need to understand the value of these fundamental resources.

Residents of the UAE, and Abu Dhabi in particular, must learn the value of the resources they consume. Power is not free; fresh water is finite. Plans by the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority to raise rates on both will go a long way in ensuring these messages are heard and heeded.

Raising rates will not prove a popular move for many residents. But with the cost of powering a home or watering a lawn among the lowest in the world, there is growing realisation that people need to understand the value of the fundamental resources.

One might wonder why authorities do not simply produce more water. The Gulf has plenty of it, after all. The trouble is, water and power in the UAE are linked in a complex mix of technology, economics and necessity. Consumer subsidies do not only cost the Government money, they distort the economy across the board.

Desalination plants operate in partnership with gas-powered power plants, a costly and highly inefficient system. During the winter months, when the region's AC units are turned low, power stations keep churning at full speed to produce fresh water, which in turn costs far more to produce than the consumer pays. The public is totally disconnected from this energy-intensive process, and as a result does not value water enough to conserve it.

There is no easy solution. While Abu Dhabi's Executive Council has studied various options such as treating sewage effluent and groundwater recharge, neither is a viable long-term solution.

Regulations could help. Restrictions on well drilling four years ago reduced water consumption by roughly 16 per cent in the Western Region, and a study in 2009 found overhauling building codes and encouraging the use of efficient appliances could reduce power demand by the equivalent of about two nuclear reactors.

Abu Dhabi might also go the way of Sharjah and Dubai, which have implemented "slab" tariff systems that charge customers higher rates if they exceed certain levels of usage. Consumption in both emirates has dropped accordingly.

But the ultimate end must be one that encourages buy-in from Abu Dhabi residents. People need to "think more about using what they use" before they use it, says Humaid al Shamsi of Adwea. Making the linkage between water and power and one's wallet could help.