x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Calls for electricity in Dubai to be pay-as-you-go

If Dubai's soaring electricity demand is to be reduced, households and offices need to be charged according to how much they use.

The bright lights of Dubai Creek.
The bright lights of Dubai Creek.

If Dubai's soaring electricity demand is to be reduced, households and offices need to be charged according to how much they use. That is the opinion of a range of specialists, whose areas of expertise range from property to lighting to metering. "Each consumer should have their own meter," said Dr Abdalla al Amiri, general secretary of the Emirates Energy Award, which recognises best practices in energy efficiency.

Tenants in many high-rise buildings in Dubai are charged a flat fee regardless of how much energy and water they consume. Michael Nuyttens, the chief executive of ETAP Dubai, a lighting company, said this was particularly the case with office buildings. "One of the main problems is that tenants do not pay for their bills," he said. "This is the big difference with Europe. In Europe, everyone pays for their bills."

The lack of a financial incentive to save, he said, means few tenants would consider energy-efficient alternatives for lighting. An average lighting system in Dubai uses 25 to 40 watts of electricity per square metre of floor space. With new technology and smart design, eight to 10 watts per square metre could be "easily achieved", Mr Nuyttens said. "Lighting is the second-biggest energy consumer after air-conditioning. It deserves a look," he said.

The way users are charged for district cooling services also does little to encourage savings. In district cooling, chilled water is produced at a central plant and then pumped to the buildings that are to be cooled. This method is gaining popularity in Dubai, especially in high-rise developments in new parts of the city. "Metering for district cooling is uncommon and in the few communities where it is available, there is usually still a flat fee," said Jesse Downs, the director of research and advisory service Landmark Advisory.

The situation, she said, does not provide any incentives for people or companies to conserve water or energy. Economists have a name for this phenomenon, in which consumers will drain a resource that is jointly owned: it is the tragedy of the commons. "It's very difficult," Ms Downs noted, "to convince people to change their behaviour and conserve resources if they don't even know how much they are consuming."

Hans Altmann, regional manager for Techem Energy Services Middle East, a German metering company in Dubai, said district cooling can be "far more" efficient than unit-by-unit air conditioning, but the cost allocation is not regulated. This means that as much as 75 to 80 per cent of a district cooling bill is a fixed cost, with a small remainder actually reflecting how much a user consumes, he said.

On a cooling bill of Dh1,000 a month, with 80 per cent of the cost fixed, a 20 per cent reduction in energy usage would result in a bill of Dh960. That, Mr Altmann said, is not enough of an incentive. Mr al Amiri said the country needed a federal body to regulate district cooling companies and electricity and water authorities. Electricity and water authorities also need oversight, he said. "You cannot let the authorities set the price. They are the producers," Mr al Amiri observed.

The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority did not respond to requests for comment. vtodorova@thenational.ae