x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Here comes the sun … but at a high price

Most investments in solar power are limited to home owners and work best on new buildings, experts say.

ABU DHABI // Businesses are starting to take advantage of the sun's potential, but individual residents still have limited options for solar power.

"I don't think there is much that ordinary people can do to integrate solar into their lives," said Marwan Char, co-founder and managing director of the Dubai-based consulting company FuGu Energy.

In countries such as Germany, Spain and Japan, governments offer incentives to homeowners to instal solar panels and generate clean energy on site.

A homeowner might be allowed to sell surplus energy to the grid at lucrative rates, for example. Or government might provide interest-free loans or subsidies to purchase solar equipment.

In the UAE such incentives do not exist, Mr Char said.

While a rooftop array of solar panels may be out of reach for most people, a solar hot-water installation is more feasible, said Deetish Budkuley, General Manager of Ecoval, a company that supplies such systems.

The company sells mostly to hotels and developers, but each month it instals solar hot-water systems in one or two private homes. "There are people doing it, but not on a mass scale," he said.

It costs up to Dh10,000 to fit a three-bedroom house with such a system, and it takes up to five years to recoup the investment through energy-cost savings, he said.

Ideally, solar hot-water systems should be considered at the home design stage. Retro-fitting can be difficult, he said.

The Dubai-based entrepreneur Anu Agarwal offers small-scale solar alternatives at her online store and new kiosk in Mercato Mall. Ekotribe sells everyday products able to harness the power of the sun.

The array, a first for the country, includes a lantern featuring a small photovoltaic panel that converts sunlight into electricity. The panel charges the device during the day so that at night it can give off light without being plugged into the electricity supply.

The company also offers a solar mobile-phone charger and solar bags and backpacks of varying sizes, which allow users to charge electronic devices while storing them.

The goods inspire what Mrs Agarwal calls the "wow response" in those who visit the stand. "People do not believe that these items can do what we say they do," she said.

Compared with what humanity needs to do to avert global warming, buying a solar lantern or a charger is only "a baby step", she acknowledged.

"But if everybody starts making these," she said, "in the long-run it becomes a big step."