FAB Properties announced an agreement with Abu Dhabi Energy Services earlier this week to retrofit properties to help deliver better energy efficiency.
This is a significant partnership. FAB Properties runs a large portfolio of 20,000 properties and is a division of the UAE’s largest bank, while Ades is part of Taqa, the Abu Dhabi National Energy Company, and specialises in developing sustainable practices.
Officials at this week’s signing ceremony said they would introduce the latest energy saving techniques into FAB Properties’ portfolio and that the deal would deliver reductions in water and electricity usage and CO2 emissions.
It chimes with the country’s broader stated energy and emissions goals.
Last year, the UAE made a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050, becoming the first Arabian Gulf state to make that pledge in the process. The UAE will also host the UN Cop28 global climate talks next year.
FAB Properties deserves praise for seeking to find reductions in emissions and in reducing energy waste, but achieving the 2050 goals will require concerted action from all sectors of society, including encouraging residents to take the train when Etihad Rail begins operating passenger services in years to come and switching to more energy efficient transport more generally.
Traditionally, policymakers around the world have raised energy tariffs in an effort to reduce consumption. The UAE’s petrol prices have been linked to the oil price per barrel since 2015. Fuel prices at the pump rose by 10 per cent on Tuesday after their regular monthly review by the Fuel Price Committee.
While there will always be discussion about making changes to the domestic electricity and water tariffs for consumers, and generally prices are low in this country, the current energy crisis in Europe, fuelled by political uncertainty in eastern Europe, shows there are potential pitfalls in high tariffs as a starting point
In the UK, for instance, wholesale gas prices are significantly higher than they were at the beginning of 2021, which has translated into energy bills that have also risen sharply as a consequence.
There may, however, be other ways to help us towards energy saving, rather than raising consumption tariffs to curb consumption.
One idea would be to incentivise private landlords and tenants to make energy-saving improvements to houses and flats, whether that is via installing better glazing to deflect heat and improve the efficiency of air conditioning systems or via the installation of rooftop solar panels to heat water tanks or, even, by swapping out sanitaryware for more efficient water saving options.
Currently, there are few motivations for landlords, especially private owners, to make these changes to their properties when these represent costs rather than tangible financial benefits. Tenants may also feel that they do not want to fund this sort of work from their own pocket if they are not sure how long they will live in a property.
Inevitably, that leads to a stasis, in which, by definition, houses get older and dwellings become progressively less energy efficient. Incentivising change through subsidy would help change that narrative.
In the data driven world we live in, today’s energy bills are full of information about consumption habits and how these compare to previous months. Those statistics can help move us forward.
Dubai Electricity and Water Authority said this week that its high-usage alert system had saved its customers more than Dh400m in the past three years, by quickly diagnosing leaks and defects and sending notifications to consumers when higher than normal usage was identified. That type of intervention also reduces strain on the grid.
Schemes also exist for some customers to upgrade inefficient air conditioning units in properties with the help of subsidies and grants. If such initiatives were more widely adopted they would serve two purposes. First, more efficient units would mean less demand on the network and lower bills for consumers. Second, it would encourage private landlords to shift from a default ‘no maintenance’ mindset into a place where housing stock, whether old or new, uses modern energy saving technology. It is in everyone’s interests for this to happen.
With more people buying property – Dubai registered Dh300bn worth of property transactions last year and Abu Dhabi stock has risen to its highest value in five years driven by demand – those mindsets may organically change in time if owner-occupiers are keen to save money on their household bills or improve their property. They may not, of course, especially if a landlord is absent or stubbornly refuses to consider updating their property.
Building regulations could also play a part. Some properties may still get finished with poorly fitted windows or energy inefficient fixtures. Enforcement may hold the key here, by holding contractors to the highest standards and ensuring that every new build is not signed off until it is fit for the future.
Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City has led the way in that regard for years, with its buildings being energy efficient and attaining high standards in green certification. In addition, Aldar has also recently announced its intention to build a sustainable city on Yas island. New builds are important but can only carry us so far.
Greater energy efficiency will deliver gains across our economy. If we are to make those steps forward, they may well need to start from home.