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Abu Dhabi eyes smart meters to ease demand peak

Up to 500 villas to be fitted with smart meters in pilot project

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Abu Dhabi is set to switch from conventional metering.
Abu Dhabi is set to switch from conventional metering.

Up to 500 villas in Abu Dhabi are to be fitted with “smart” meters in a proposed scheme aimed at slashing peak electricity demands in the capital, Arabian Business has learned.

Home owners taking part in the voluntary scheme would benefit from cheaper tariffs during off-peak hours. On-peak usage - typically between the hours of midday and 6pm - would be more expensive to incentivise consumers to run their appliances in the morning or evening.

The pilot project, announced on Monday by the Regulation and Supervision Bureau (RSB), which regulates the capital’s water and electricity sectors, is one in a slew of measures aimed at chipping away at the emirate’s energy use.

“We will ask customers to be cautious,” said Ali Qasem Al Mashjari, production manager at RSB. “Prices will be higher so we would ask consumers to try to shift their activities to other times of the day. The savings could be significant.”

Air-conditioning is the biggest drain on electricity, Al Mashjari said. Peak demand – when electricity use is at its highest – is significantly higher in the summer.

Abu Dhabi soaked up 38,543 GWh of electricity in 2008, a figure that is expected to rise by more than seven percent annually over the next five years as the emirate’s population grows.

The emirate has traditionally built power stations to meet rising demand, but it is keen to look at more efficient ways of saving energy, said Nick Carter, RSB’s director general.

Expat tenants currently pay 15 fils per kilowatt hour, three times more than Emirati residents. Villa owners participating in the trial could pay three fils during non-peak hours and 45 fils during peak hours, said Carter.

“We want to see how much money we have to charge at the peak to really get people to say; ‘Yes, I’m going to cut my energy use.’ And we would need to reduce it heavily on the non-peak. It will teach us the price trigger point for people changing their behaviour.”

A second trial will target large industrial buildings, such as government offices, to encourage them to cut their air-conditioning usage during peak times. The aim is to cut 250 MW, or four percent, from the grid’s peak by 2012.

At least 50 percent of the power used by commercial buildings is used for air-conditioning, Carter said.

“A large company could save five percent or more on their electricity bill if they miss [peak times],” said Carter.

“They’d also be rewarded by having cheaper tariffs in off-peak times.”

The trial will likely run until the third quarter in 2011, and could eventually allow RSB to retire the emirate’s older power plants, that are largely used to back up the grid during peak times.

One Al Ain-based power plant is used just 10 days a year, during the summer demand.

“The real saving is when you don’t have to build more capacity,” Carter said. “That is the real saving, but it’s not immediate.”

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