Easy steps to save as Dubai's utility bills begin to bite

By cutting down on your consumption, you are not only helping your bank account but also Mother Nature.

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As we say hello to 2011, residents of Dubai will also say hello to higher water and electricity bills. Starting this month, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) is raising fees by about 15 per cent. There will also be an extra fuel surcharge, displayed separately, that will change based on the authority's power generation costs. Consumers will be charged more during peak hours in an effort to ease demand when the cost of production is at its highest.

DEWA had no other viable option. It has to rely on imported fuel for much of the electricity it produces. Unlike Abu Dhabi, Dubai has no significant fossil fuel reserves to rely on for power generation. Dubai's total oil production is equivalent to roughly 2 per cent of that of Abu Dhabi. So as consumption goes up, so does DEWA's fuel bill.

And despite the global economic downturn, power and water usage in Dubai has not slowed down. This past summer, electricity demand in Dubai was 9.6 per cent higher than in the summer of 2009, with water demand jumping 5.9 per cent during the same period. The trend is expected to continue, with the research firm RNCOS anticipating that electricity demand in the UAE will rise by a compounded annual rate of 10 per cent until 2013.

More demand means more imports. Rather than burden the state coffers with more debt, Dubai's Supreme Council of Energy, under the astute leadership of its CEO, Nejib Zaafrani, made the sensible decision to share the burden with end-users.

At first sight, this may seem unfair. But is it? Even with the new pricing structure, Dubai's residential utility rates are still ranked below those of Britain, the United States, France, Germany or Japan. So by international standards, water and electricity in Dubai are still cheap.

Not surprisingly, Dubai has some of the highest levels of water and electricity consumption in the world. Per capita, UAE residents use 550 litres of water each day. This is the equivalent of every resident consuming more 1,000 small Masafi water bottles every day.

DEWA hopes that the new price structure will help encourage residents to conserve more and waste less. So what can you do to reduce your water and electricity consumption? There are simple steps like taking shorter showers and turning off the air conditioning before leaving the house. Beyond that, there are a handful of long-term changes that you can bring to your apartment or villa that will result in major energy (and economic) savings. Here are four easy steps:

Turn your refrigerator down. Refrigerators account for about 20 per cent of household electricity use. Most refrigerator temperature settings are labeled 1-5 or 1-9, with freezers sometimes labeled A-E. The best setting is usually around 3 and 4. If your settings are letters A-E, then B or C should be suitable.

The best way to check is by sticking a thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer. Your refrigerator should be around 3°C. Your freezer should be at zero. These adjustments will not only cut down on your electricity usage, they also help prevent the growth of bacteria and keep your food from spoiling.

Another major consumer of water and electricity in your home is the dishwasher. Make sure your dishwasher is full when you run it and use the energy saving setting if available to allow the dishes to air dry. You can also turn off the drying cycle manually. Not using heat in the drying cycle can save 20 per cent of your dishwasher's total electricity use, which means lower utility bills.

Phase out conventional light bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs. Although they cost more, they save money in the long run by using only a quarter the energy of an ordinary incandescent bulb and last eight to 12 times longer. They provide an equivalent amount of bright, attractive light. Only 10 per cent of the energy consumed by a normal light bulb generates light; the rest just makes the bulb heat up. And the last thing we need in Dubai is more heat.

For those who have a garden, there are simple ways to cut down on water and electricity usage. Other than installing an irrigation system instead of manually watering your grass, you should consider planting desert-friendly trees that provide good shade. One example is the ever-present date palm. Another option is the Afghan pine, a relatively fast-growing tree that can reach 20 metres high and 10 metres wide, while requiring very little water. Reductions in energy use resulting from shade trees will save money and, as an added bonus, your tree will directly absorb about 12 kilograms of carbon dioxide from the air annually.

By adopting these measures you would be taking a big step towards lowering your monthly utility bill. It's worth remembering that whenever you save energy, you also reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, which is the primary cause of global warming. So by cutting down on your consumption, you are not only helping your bank account but also Mother Nature.

Vahid Fotuhi is an energy and environment commentator based in Dubai