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PROFILE: Nick Carter, Abu Dhabi Regulation Bureau

Abu Dhabi's regulator has an ambitious plan to cut consumption.

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Nick Carter: We are doing a great deal to bring down per capita consumption.
Nick Carter: We are doing a great deal to bring down per capita consumption.

From smart meters to roof top solar panels, Abu Dhabi has adopted a variety of technological advancement that promotes sustainability much before any of its neighbours. Nick Carter, director general of Regulation and Supervision Bureau (RSB), which is the independent regulatory body of the water, wastewater and electricity sector in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, believes the emirate is far more advanced than any other in the region in terms of its water and electricity sector.

“It has a very transparent regulative regime, it is not managed on vertical integrative principles and it has never been short of power or water. Abu Dhabi attracts great investment and it is doing some really leading edge stuff in terms of seeking to bring about more efficient ways of consuming electricity and using water,” he said.

A report by Deloitte recently stated that GCC residents use more electricity domestically per capita than their US counterparts. But according to Carter, the theory that per capita consumption of power and water is too high is just a perceived one.

“We are doing a great deal to bring down this per capita consumption but I would stress that it is a perceived one and we are not convinced that we are accurately measuring the total consumption pattern,” he said.

Giving an example, Carter pointed out that residents in the region living in flats do not consume more electricity or water than their counterparts living elsewhere in the world. But people living in villas can distort the per capita rates and because there are comparatively more villas here than in any other country, the figure could be large.

“It is not that consumption is rampant or characteristically bad, it is just that we are measuring across a wide range of consumption patterns. Even if we did nothing, we know that the per capita consumption, when we can measure it properly, would go down and that is because more and more flats are being built as opposed to villas,” Carter said.

“So, the figures are high, but we are not absolutely convinced that we have captured all the information properly. But we are doing a huge amount.”

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RSB has been doing a lot of work through the Powerwise and Waterwise offices, which spread awareness on the rising demand for electricity and water in Abu Dhabi and thereby encourage conservation to ensure a sustainable future for the emirate.

One of the projects carried out by the organisation is a successful pilot covering nearly 400 villas, which had customers connected to the time of use display unit.

“The study provided with some enormously encouraging results in terms of savings as some customers saved over 25 per cent on their electricity consumption over the year. We are now looking to include some 5,000 new villas that are being built,” Carter said. RSB is working with Estidama and TDIC on this and also has a planning council.

“We are also remotely controlling AC units. We have got five building in the capital of which we are switching the AC units off at chunks of 20 per cent or 40 per cent of the peak so that we can reduce the peak without affecting the building. We are entering into an arrangement with a Canadian company to spread that out to around 30 buildings before we go full scale on it in two or three years time.”

The organisation is also about to launch a makeover programme in which about ten villas will take part. A lot of money will be invested in upgrading the ACs, improving the windows or doors, replacing LED bulbs and replacing old fridges, to find if these changes can have a major impact on electricity consumption. For example ACs are one of the highest power consumers and clearly the older ones are not as efficient as the new ones.

“We are very happy that incandescent lamps are being banned in the UAE. It is absolutely a great move in the right direction and next on the list are inefficient AC units. It’s kind of a market thing that will gradually write itself over time. But the reason why we are doing the ten villa-makeover is to look exactly at those things, particularly ACs. That’s why we are not looking at brand new villas; we are choosing villas which are 10-15 years old, where we are sure we can make an impact.”

Further there is also an executive affairs authority with ADWEA, which is running a small trial on AC maintenance upgrades and replacement. “We know all this can make a massive difference. Further, the villas that are being built now are according to the Estidama Pearl standards, which means that they are more proofed against insulation and AC leaks than in the past.”

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In the area of water conservation, RSB has done a small, year-long pilot with five homes. The project which involves installing in-line data loggers, is said to have recorded some very interesting usage statistics. “We learnt a lot from this study. We do not have a lot of data, but we know that in villas probably 70-75 per cent of the water never returns to the sewer, which is a very important measurement. We don’t know where that water is going, may be into irrigation, and that is the point of this entire study,” he said.

About 150 more houses are expected to be fitted with such in-line data loggers to measure how the occupants use water.

“We do not want people to change how they use their water at all; we are not testing people’s reaction. We will have the full data in about six to nine months, and if we find out, for example, that a lot of water is being used in irrigation, we can introduce smart irrigation system and may be go into an irrigation make over.”

According to Carter this is not a costly system and for very large consumers, they are looking at connecting a recycle water provision rather than using drinking water. “Because using one gallon of recycled water means saving one gallon of drinking water, thus it has direct feedback on the production of water.”

While RSB has been proactively looking at ways to optimise the use of these essential commodities, Carter doesn’t believe in increasing prices or penalising consumers in any other way to increase awareness about sustainable use of the same.

“Generally, the view is, with the increase in prices there is this initial pull back, but people tend to get used to it and just carry on, so we are taking a slightly different approach. Powerwise and Waterwise are trying to educate and promote the wise use of water and electricity more than penalise people for using it," he explains.

"One example is the bills that are issued publish the actual unit cost that we calculate every year; the unit charged to the customer, which is lower than the actual cost; and the difference, which is the government subsidy. So having made it clear as to how precious a product it is, coupled with all the other work we are doing, we are sending across as powerful a message as putting the prices up.”

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Government policies have a huge role to play be it in terms of deciding the prices of water and electricity or in deciding what kind of renewables will play a huge role in the future of energy generation. A huge reduction in the use of fossil fuel is imminent especially with four nuclear power plants being readied.

“Though much of that would depend on the government policy, I would include waste to energy plants on the list. Though they are not fully renewable, they are certainly carbon neutral. They only release carbon that is already being released. So we certainly see some waste to energy plants coming, maybe 100 to 200 MW of that.

“We are also currently conducting a 2 MW trial over 15 buildings of PV panels at customer site and we do have sufficient information to produce feed-in tariffs. So in the next five year there may be some incentives to produce feed-in tariffs or some incentives to build customer site PV, which they are very supportive of, which is also the case with customer site solar water heating. We too are working on small pilots to promote that.”

In this area, RSB has also just established a smart grid development group which will allow them to integrate PV in the distribution system and manage it more effectively. Unlike its neighbouring emirate Dubai, which is just embracing smart metering, Abu Dhabi has fully implemented it with about 450,000 electricity meters and 250,000 water meters. “That is why we are launching the smart grid initiative because with smart meters, we have the means of reading them and the means of disconnecting or reconnecting the customers remotely,” Carter said.

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