Tarsheed is Kuwait’s national energy consumption awareness program. Although well intentioned, I believe that the program alone will not solve our energy problem. This is evidenced by our recent need to import power from Qatar, which has agreed to supply Kuwait with 500 MW of electricity this summer. Kuwait has reached an electricity consumption of about 15,000 kilowatt-hours per capita, which is amongst the highest in the world.
Awareness and public discourse is a wonderful start, but it is not having the desired effect. This is a battle that has to be won through a radical change in our energy diet. We don’t just need to shed a few kilowatt hours from our annual consumption, we have to fundamentally alter the way we consume power.
The Ministry of Electricity and Water estimates that the electricity subsidy is nearly 13 times the price residential electricity users pay for their electricity consumption. This means that at its true market value, we should be paying 13 times more in electricity bills. What do we gain with cheap electricity?
We begin to understand that the problem is with the dissonance in Government actions; on the one hand selling ridiculously cheap electricity and on the other pleading with the public not to waste it. It’s as if you feed your child nothing but sweets and candy, and then complain to the dentist that the toothpaste isn’t working.
The first act the Government should take is to gradually and progressively reduce the electricity subsidy until it is no longer in place. The benefits of the subsidy have long been outweighed by the detrimental disincentives it creates. People will never consider living in smaller houses to save energy. No one feels obligated to switch to efficient light bulbs and reduce the total number of lights in our homes. A pretty picture in a newspaper pleading with us to do so will only convert the soft of heart. We need a system that would alter the national behavior towards energy to bring a truly radical change.
A Smart Grid energy solution that is being implemented in progressive countries such as Australia, Canada and Italy can be applied in Kuwait very effectively. What is a Smart Grid? We all heard President Obama calling it the future of energy, but what does it really mean? A Smart Grid is an electricity grid that creates a two-way communication between the utility company and the appliances you own. In traditional systems the utility company has no idea how electricity is being used domestically. The only way they can charge you is by physically reading the meter outside your house (which only shows the total energy use). A Smart Grid system would have the utility install a Smart Meter in every house (currently costs about $150) which would link all the major appliances in your home together. What this means is that all the AC units, boilers, laundry units, cookers and so on will record their consumption and usage patterns in the Smart Meter which will coordinate their electricity consumption. This would then communicate automatically with the servers in the Ministry of Electricity and Water. This would allow the MEW to create detailed pricing structures and staggered usage patterns to help reduce consumption and increase efficiency.
The thing about electricity is that it’s not easy to store it and generation is very gradual. You don’t just turn a knob and increase production to meet demand. What the MEW can do in a Smart Grid is allow for non-essential elements such as laundry and water boilers to simply delay their activation, or power on only during times of low demand. This would fill the ‘valleys’ in the daily electrical consumption graph and lower the ‘peaks’. It would also easily create market driven pricing that’s based on real time demand. It can provide consumers with detailed personal consumption bills, so the consumer would know exactly which appliance is costing the most. This would no doubt educate people far more than a mere advertisement ever could. People react to incentives if they can affect them personally.
Eventually, this system would allow for homes to sell back to the grid any energy produced locally. What this means is that people could invest in solar panels and install them on their rooftops. This would lower their electricity bills, and excess electricity would be automatically sold back to the MEW at market prices. The Government can subsidize this (as it is has positive incentives). I would also create a new national public-private partnership and build massive solar panel production facilities and research centers. Kuwait could become a global leader of solar energy technology.
(Tesla Roadster – Electric Car with a top speed of 200km/h)
You could also purchase an electric car, which would charge at night when prices are low, then go to work and come back and sell whatever electricity is still charged in the battery back to the grid while prices are highest. All of this is done automatically, of course.
The whole point is that a Smart Grid allows for a much more efficient distribution of energy which rewards reduced consumption and punishes waste. Nothing will change if prices remain low. As long as the Government maintains the subsidy, people will never stop their wasteful habits no matter what you tell them. Our great advantage is that we have a nationlized utility company and none of the regulatory problems that exist in America and Europe. We can implement this system by decree. The only thing we lack is leadership with a vision for progress.