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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

UAE residents need to change energy habits - including air conditioning, Dubai green firms warn

Households across the region are taking energy resources for granted and must reduce consumption says Dubai Carbon

Ivano Iannelli, Dubai Carbon chief, says the GCC must take steps to reduce its energy consumption. Pawan Singh / The National 
Ivano Iannelli, Dubai Carbon chief, says the GCC must take steps to reduce its energy consumption. Pawan Singh / The National 

Households across the GCC are taking the region’s energy resources for granted and must reduce their consumption, an industry expert said.

Ivano Iannelli, chief executive of Dubai Carbon, said the “economics of excess” – where individuals ignored the financial cost of their actions – meant much of the Gulf consumed too much energy.

Speaking about a continuing project to monitor electricity and water usage in 10,000 homes in Dubai, he said changing customers’ behaviour for the better represented a significant challenge.

The biggest obstacle to a sustained reduction, he said, was the current low cost of energy use for homeowners and businesses.

“People in the GCC are taking the region’s energy resources for granted and are using it in high volumes without worrying about the cost,” said Mr Iannelli, whose company aims to help move the UAE towards a more low-carbon economy.

“Because it’s so widely available there is no restriction on its use.

“Resources are precious but obviously no business is going to say no to demand.”

Dubai Carbon was established in 2011 after an agreement between the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy and the United Nations Development Programme.

The company encourages a greater focus on greener technologies, helping the region to move away from its dependence on oil receipts.

As part of that effort the company is taking part in a project – headed by the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority – to monitor the energy consumption of 10,000 homes across the emirate.

The properties were selected at random and will be assessed for 12 months, with the results of the scheme released early next year. “What we have observed so far is that financial incentives [for consumers] seem to have little effect,” Mr Iannelli said.

“Saving Dh100 on a utility bill of Dh5,000 is not the right incentive. What does work in this part of the world though is social behaviourism. This means comparing your energy consumption to your neighbours.”

Mr Iannelli said Dubai Carbon’s plan was to make the use of energy more like a game or competition, where individuals and companies can measure their consumption against each other.

“We are working on an app that is user-friendly and competitive rather than simply one that provides you with a vehicle to read your bill,” he said.

“Our studies show this has more of a tangible impact than offering small discounts.

“Society is moving towards a situation where the consumption of high energy amounts will not be socially acceptable.”

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George Berbari, chief executive of District Cooling Pro Engineering in Dubai, which promotes the use of shared, centralised air-conditioning units rather than individual appliances in each home, said the UAE faced unique challenges in energy consumption.

He said the common use of glass as a building material had a direct effect on consumers’ reliance on air conditioning. The tendency to rent rather than own homes in the emirate also meant individuals were less likely to address energy inefficiencies where they lived, he said.

“There are a large amount of buildings here with a lot of glass in their architecture, essentially making them glass boxes,” he said.

“When an individual moves to a new building with lots of glass and inefficient energy saving systems they can only do so much as an energy user.

“They can turn off a tap or switch off the lights but they still need to cool their home.

“The way the buildings are being designed – with this fascination with glass – is leading to heavy use of air conditioning and at that stage it is too late to do anything about it.

“You can also only do minimal modifications, or none at all, if you are renting your home.”

Mr Berbari went on to question whether people in the UAE should leave their air-conditioning units running when away on holiday.

Doing so is common practice for many in the region who fear high levels of humidity will damage their property.

“I don’t think they need to worry about their furniture being damaged if they can buy a smart thermostat and leave the temperature in the thirties or as high as they can,” he said,

“People should try this out if they’re travelling for two or three days. If nothing bad happens, they will see they can continue this practice.”