The path to sustainability

Rising energy consumption calls for greater efficiency in the UAE.


The UAE’s gross domestic electricity consumption has more than doubled over the past 10 years, and is expected to grow even more rapidly over the next five years as the country undergoes substantial growth.

A recent forum organised by the Energy Working Group of the UAE-UK Business Council and facilitated by Strategy&, highlighted three key aspects of energy efficiency which comprise of smart cities, building efficiency and water usage. Although numerous initiatives have already been launched in the UAE, implementing additional measures can help reap the full benefits of an improved energy efficiency strategy.

The UAE needs to have integrated infrastructure planning as a prerequisite to any urban master plan. One of the best ways of doing this is through the so-called ‘smart city approach’, which allow city planners to improve efficiency at the intersection of different infrastructure sectors, such as electricity, water, transport, telecoms, cooling and waste.

A second essential aspect to consider is improving building efficiency. In Dubai, the government has issued a set of green building regulations and specifications that cover planning, the use of resources, materials, and waste. Notably, the regulations are intended to improve the sustainability performance of buildings throughout their entire life cycles, from design through construction, operation, and ultimate tear-down.Government authorities still need to develop more detailed regulations and frameworks that dictate energy efficiency in buildings, particularly during construction.

The third aspect of energy efficiency involves water consumption and desalination processes. Water consumption in the UAE is roughly 50 % higher than the world average. Also, the energy required to desalinate seawater represents approximately 30% of the country’s total power consumption.

The majority of the country’s water is generated as a by-product of thermal energy plants, through combined water-and-power infrastructure. Electricity and Water have different demand cycles: electricity has large peaks in demand, whereas water demand is relatively flat, limiting the optimisation of the infrastructure. The introduction of nuclear energy could help break the connection between water and electrical infrastructure, creating opportunities to select more efficient desalination technologies such as reverse osmosis. Additionally, the study also suggests increasing water tariffs to reduce water demand as well as the softer approach of awareness camapigns.

The study suggests four strategic priorities that will help implement a more sustained energy efficient program in the UAE. These consist of (i) The need for an overarching strategy that joins individual sectors and their respective value chains around a single set of goals and objectives; (ii) Ensuring a regulatory framework that addresses demand/market challenges, in order to change behaviors and maximize benefits; (iii) Introducing communication and information campaigns to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and obtaining support from all stakeholders including consumers: (iv) Identifying and promoting region-specific R&D and technology that will create an innovative ecosystem to help meet energy efficiency goals while also boosting the overall economy.

For decades, the abundance of hydrocarbon resources meant that energy efficiency was not a pressing topic in the UAE. However the steady population and economic growth have changed attitudes. Today, sustainability is a critical issue, and the UAE government needs to reinforce its efforts to create a more sustainable future for the country and for generations to come.

Per-Ola Karlsson is a senior partner with management consultancy Strategy&.


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