Energy-saving tips in order as summer heat sends Saudi electricity bills soaring

Villas in Dubai’s Sustainable City are fitted with solar panels and designed to shade each other during the day.
Updated 11 July 2018
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Energy-saving tips in order as summer heat sends Saudi electricity bills soaring

  • Summer heat has sent power bills soaring, but with a few simple energy-saving tips you can keep your cool, save money — and protect the planet, too

DUBAI: Consumers around Saudi Arabia got a shock last month when they saw their latest electricity bills. A double whammy of increased tariffs from the Saudi Electricity Company and the arrival of summer heat, with air-conditioning set to max, sent costs sky-high.

So is there anything householders can do to ease the pain? The answer from experts across the region is, yes — a lot. And utility companies have an important role to play with transparent billing, sustainability programs and energy-saving advice.

The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) introduced itemized billing a few years ago, allowing customers to view their exact consumption of water and electricity, including their carbon footprint. Using the company’s smart app, residents can analyze their bills, and view monthly and yearly energy use via graphs and charts.

Abu Dhabi’s Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA) has also implemented new technologies and sustainability programs to help consumers. With UAE residents using an average of up to 20,000 kilowatt-hours annually and 550 liters of water per day, the changes are crucial.

“The UAE is working to create a more sustainable and energy-efficient country, but the success of these initiatives depends on household consumption,” said Fadi Nwilati, CEO of Kaizen Asset Management Services, which has worked with DEWA.

Both DEWA and ADWEA have adopted “excellence and creativity” to deliver smart services to customers, he said.

One of the key strategies is to create “consumption awareness.” After extensive research, both providers realized that many consumers read their utility bills but fail to understand what they were being charged for or were buying.

“DEWA’s green bill was launched in 2012 to protect the environment and promote sustainability. Consumers can access the bill from anywhere, analyze consumption and pay their bills online,” Nwilati said.

The bill provides a straightforward explanation on consumption, and offers energy-saving tips and advice on water conservation.

A tariff calculator also helps to explain utility use.

Nwilati said time-of-use rates were a key consideration for consumers. “Peak times are between noon and 5 p.m., so DEWA encourages the consumer to limit usage during this time. Dubai Municipality, meter service charges and VAT are fixed costs, so consumers need to look at the consumption cost, in particular, when analyzing their utility bill.” 

Consumers could compare their utility bill with neighborhood statistics, allowing them to set realistic energy-management goals.

“Seasonal strategies can be implemented in your household. A perfect example is limiting the use of aircon during summer. It’s essential the customer understand the make-up of their energy costs and possible energy wasters. This information is available on the DEWA app and the Internet. Consumers can start with simple energy-saving tactics which will help them fill their pockets and save the planet,” Nwilati said.

Tips include keeping the home thermostat set at 24 degrees Celsius or higher, and on “auto” instead of “on” since each degree can mean up to 5 percent savings on cooling costs.

Others mention LED bulbs, which are 85 percent more efficient than incandescent or halogen light bulbs. 

Sanju Kohli, executive director of Leme Lighting, said: “Two of the biggest household users of electricity are aircon, which is hard to reduce in terms of consumption, especially during summer, and the washing machine and drier. Many washing machines have a three- to six-star water-saving rating, which tells you it uses less water. Only certain brands are allowed to sell with a minimum star rating.”

Governments across the region are encouraging the use of LED lighting, both indoors and outdoors. “A lot of households like to light up their houses, so the issue has always been the cost of lighting up a villa,” he said. “With LED, you save 80 to 90 percent on your power consumption and it emits no heat, which reduces the time  you need to keep the AC on. When you’re saving on electricity, everything ties in together.”

In Dubai, the Sustainable City has taken energy saving a step further by offering residents live data access.

Karim Al-Jisr, executive director of the Social Economic Environmental Institute at the Sustainable City, said: “We’re still testing devices, but it is noninvasive monitoring, which has a much bigger effect on behavior. Itemized billing is important for consumers and for changing behavior, but when those bills appear only once a month, it’s not enough information to modify behavior.”

For Philip Sinclair, a British resident of Sustainable City, the savings are noticeable. “The different ways they are promoting sustainability is great. I enjoy the innovation and energy they bring in trying to do things a different way.”

After moving two years ago, Sinclair’s power bills are lower than anywhere else in Dubai, having paid 3,000 dirhams ($820) a month for a five-bedroom villa in Jumeirah in summer compared with 200 to 300 dirhams a
month today.

“Some months we even get money back from DEWA, so they’re producing electricity and putting it in the grid,” he said. “We noticed a massive difference, and there are also recycling and intelligent systems around water and waste management. The nice thing is it’s not a gimmick — it’s a realistic view to being sustainable, not just environmentally but also financially.”

Al-Jisr said reducing consumption at home was fundamental. “Unless we reduce consumption, we will continue to emit too much carbon, which goes against local and federal goals, and global targets,” he said.

Transparency in billing will help consumers manage their consumption and, consequently, their budgets.

“The price of water has increased recently, and water resources are vital for the country,” said Dr. Ahmed Murad, dean of the College of Science at the United Arab Emirates University. “All of us should work together to reduce consumption, especially during summer.” 

The Gulf’s dependence on desalination and non-conventional water resources is also costly in terms of production and treatment. The GCC aims to reduce water consumption by 22 percent by 2030. And while water in nature is endlessly available, only 2.5 percent is fresh water, of which 70 percent is in polar and glacier ice. The energy sector alone is responsible for 10 percent of global water withdrawal.

 “Energy efficiency is a growing challenge in the Gulf, and population growth is adding to high consumption rates that will (become) unsustainable,” Nwilati said.

“Policies need to steer consumers in the right direction, and governments will also have to educate them on the financial benefits they can gain from energy-saving technologies and behavior.” 

Dubai’s Sustainable City


How Saudis are adapting to fast-changing life in the Kingdom

Women and children attend Saudi Arabia’s first-ever jazz festival in Riyadh on Feb. 23. (Reuters)
Updated 16 July 2018
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How Saudis are adapting to fast-changing life in the Kingdom

  • A retired psychologist Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Sobihi, 53, explains why the recent big changes in the Saudi Arabia have been accepted so easily.
  • Umm Al-Qura instructor Abdulrahman Al-Haidari says what's even more amazing most of the Saudis who have taken up education abroad are returning to help in the Kingdom's modernization program.

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia is undergoing major changes to meet the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 objectives. These significant changes have had an impact on locals socially and psychologically. 

A retired psychologist Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Sobihi, 53, explains how humans adapt to change.

“Humans find it difficult to accept change. It is a human trait, humans face fear and anxiety when it comes to change, they want things to stay the way they are because they fear the changes may bring disadvantages and negative outcomes. For this reason, governments face many difficulties when implementing new programs and activities,” Al-Sobihi told Arab News.

To understand why the big changes in the Kingdom have been accepted so easily, Al-Sobihi said, one has to look at the social and psychological pressures before they occurred.

“What is beautiful and sad about this is that our society accepted this change so quickly. Why? because it went through a period called Al-Sahwa (awakening) and this period pressured society. Everything was forbidden, shameful and wrong, this long period pressured society psychologically and socially.

“So when the major changes happened, society found an outlet. Therefore, they accepted these changes so quickly. Not because our society adapts to change quickly, but because of the period spent in the “awakening” period. It delayed so many natural changes that happen in any other society. What happened to our society was that some things were permanent for so long — when the chance came to receive all these changes, most were very welcoming to these changes.”

Umm Al-Qura instructor Abdulrahman Al-Haidari said the Kingdom has changed amazingly in the last few years.

“The country keeps going from one amazing phase of development after another. Who would imagine that 70 years ago, this land had displayed the poorest statistics in terms of economy, population, life expectations, education, and individual rights. It’s amazing how one generation ago we went from teaching in ill-equipped huts, to reach some of the most advanced educational projects where our students get to send Saudi satellites to outer space.”

Al-Haidari explained that the country had welcomed women into their new empowered roles within a short period of time.

“Today, we are going even further and faster with neck-breaking speed. Saudi’s ability of modernizing, and yet keeping true to its own culture and origins makes this country the center of attention: In one day, Majlis Al-Shoura had third of its positions filled with Saudi women. Suddenly we had Saudi women as vice ministers, engineers, PhDs, doctors and nurses and in all other sorts of fields. 

“It’s amazing (when you consider) that my own generation was raised to not even allow a Saudi women to voice her thoughts in public, to let them share the wheel, steering the country’s march toward modernization.”

Saudis have embraced change, Al-Haidari added. “We can see how people are accepting change in the manner they approach the new festivals, we see musical events being sold out, (as well as) wrestling, cooking, even military and weapon production. However, I believe the most undeniable indicator for the Saudis’ welcoming attitude toward change is clearly displayed with the return of almost all overseas scholarship students.

“Just like myself, hundreds of thousands were sent overseas to learn, and almost none of them had any contract to be forced to come back to Saudi: But yet, they did, and still do. What could be more clearer than having the most elite and educated population of Saudi (if not even the world) wanting to come back home to advance both their careers and their country’s (future)?”

The majority of the nation adapted to the new social dynamics such as women working in the same fields and ranks as men, and the number of Saudi women in media, Al-Haidari added.

“Doubters were shown how much the community is longing to advance the role of the Saudi women. It would be so hard to even try to doubt that: Starting with Majles Al-Shoura having a third of its seats filled by Saudi women, having the issue of Saudi women’s right to drive as the first topic addressed, and now reaching the point where they will finally get some of their rights fulfilled finally. 

“You can also see the Saudi population welcoming this change: You can see that with the families that attended recent soccer matches in stadiums, families on YouTube supporting their wives, sisters, and mothers to drive, and not to forget: Thousands of Saudi girls going overseas to obtain their higher education. These are just a fraction of the current manifestations displayed by the Saudi community to show its welcome to Saudi women to take their rightful place, and to help the community grow with the help of all its members.”

Commenting about the General Entertainment Authority that changed much of the societal landscape, Al-Haidari said: “I find it to be amazing. Who would have thought a year ago that World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) would come and have an event here? Who would have thought that we would get (Algerian musician) Cheb Khaled or (US hip-hop artist) Nelly to come and perform in Saudi? Who would have thought that it would have been this easy and quick to establish cinemas, female gyms, even a whole opera theater a year ago? Of course, we still want more, and much more. But the trend is going so quick and so fast showing that we are to expect great events and functions to come in the near future.”

YouTuber Rahaf Jambi, 27, described how the country’s economy has diversified. “We just don’t count on oil now, the economy is growing better. It’s true that we are at war with Yemen, but this didn’t stop the Kingdom from growing and there are a lot of improvements, there are a lot of human rights fulfilled. Women driving, this is one of the main important things that happened and it will be good for the Kingdom because it will improve the market.

“Women will not have to rely on drivers. It’s a better opportunity for Saudis to work in transportation companies such as Uber and Careem, even the girls can work in this field, and girls can become police officers,” Jambi told Arab News. 

“Having cinema in the Kingdom is a good thing — we will have more Saudi movies and movies that will be produced in Saudi Arabia. It’s going to be a good environment for Saudi talent.”

With women working in the same fields as men and reaching high ranks, and the many women emerging in the media, Jambi added: “I see a bright future for women.”

Jambi said he hoped big name world brands such as Apple would come to the Kingdom. “We need the Apple store in the Kingdom, we need a lot of brands to open in the Kingdom.”