Volunteers wanted for cheaper-electricity test in Abu Dhabi

A government programme will encourage volunteers to save energy by charging them more for electricity during times of peak demand, and less when demand is low.

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ABU DHABI // The emirate's Government is looking for volunteers to test an energy savings programme that will charge participants higher rates for electricity during high-demand periods, and less when electricity use is lower.

Officials are looking for 400 volunteer households that will be allowed to pocket any savings they achieve from the trial.

The initiative by the Regulation and Supervision Bureau (RSB) began yesterday. Participants for the 16-month trial will be selected from villa owners in Al Reef Village, Golf Gardens and Sas Al Nakhl.

Homes in the programme will have special meters and electronic displays installed to help residents keep track of electricity consumption at any time of the day.

Simple measures such as switching off air conditioning when leaving the home, or using washing machines during off-peak times, can yield significant savings, said Ramiz Alaileh, the manager of Powerwise, an energy efficiency office under the control of the RSB.

"The aim of this trial is to collect data," Mr Alaileh said. "We believe we will empower consumers to use electrical power in a much smarter way."

During the trial, volunteers will continue to pay their bills based on standard rates by the Abu Dhabi Distribution Company. But if they manage to save money by using more energy at off-peak times, they will be reimbursed the savings.

Volunteers must meet certain requirements. "The volunteers have to be personally responsible for paying their utility bills," Mr Alaileh said, adding that the RSB hoped to select all volunteers by the end of next month.

Other requirements for participants include that they must reside in the villa for the duration of the trial, and that the energy use of the air-conditioning units is part of their overall energy bill.

The experiment is centred around a concept known to experts as peak demand. In Abu Dhabi, peak electricity demand reaches 9,000 megawatts in summer and drops by a third the rest of the year. Although the peak only lasts a few months, the emirate must invest in expensive infrastructure to accommodate it. The large difference sometimes involves the use of add-on facilities, and it means power plants are working less efficiently at other times of the year.

Emiratis pay a flat rate of 5 fils per kilowatt hour (kWh), and non-nationals pay 15 fils per kWh.

The trial will charge higher energy rates between 2pm and 8pm, when electricity demand is highest, and lower rates the rest of the time. Emiratis will pay 10 fils/kwh during peak time and 3 fils/kwh during off-peak hours. Non-nationals will be charged 30 fils/kwh and 9 fils/kwh, accordingly.

Experts welcomed the initiative.

Tanzeed Alam, the policy director at the Emirates Wildlife Society - World Wide Fund for Nature, said that variable-energy rates have worked successfully in other countries. Through the study, local utilities will, for the first time, have data on how customers are responding here.

"It is an interesting and good initiative," said Mr Alam. "It tackles a really important issue."