Posted by: Barrak Al-Babtain | June 18, 2009

Smart Electric Grid

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.

tarsheed

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?

tarsheed2

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.

smart_grid_network_image

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.

800px-TeslaRoadster-front

(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.


Responses

  1. I totally agree! Most people are not aware how much electricity they’re using. They think all of this is simply from our AC in the summer months! But the key is to remove the subsidy slowly and over time. Equally important is that people pay their bills. What’s happening now is people get cheap electricity, don’t pay their bills and then expect a rebate! We’ve had this kind of precedence before unfortunately. But I do believe the government is being extremely wasteful. In the middle of summer, at 9pm you’ll find the school in our neighbourhood brightly lit! Every night! Why?!
    A campaign like this has to be seen through all the way. It should become part of our national psyche and not just be the latest ‘fad’ or buzzword that everyone talks about but doesn’t follow.

  2. “A campaign like this has to be seen through all the way. It should become part of our national psyche and not just be the latest ‘fad’ or buzzword that everyone talks about but doesn’t follow.”

    I agree with you Aisha on the importance of the psyche part, we need to educate rather than simply inform. I see the constant electricity shortages and outbreaks are a sad but important way for people to realize the consequences of their actions.

    But we need to also look at another factor, the design our built environment. We need to consider energy saving and utilizing our resources fully. It is important to ask people to act responsibly, but equally important is to design responsibly as well.

  3. Yes, but frankly, as long as electricity remains cheap there is very little incentive for that. Sustainability with regards to power consumption is only really feasible if it saves the client money. Right now, the client doesn’t care because electricity is so cheap. If it wasn’t cheap, they would be the one demanding sustainable solutions. Otherwise, only the environmentalists have a stake in this. The electricity subsidy is wrong and helps no one.

  4. @ Jasem: I agree, the built environment has to be at the heart of this campaign for it to be effective. We do have to educate people; and there has to be a fundamental shift in that people realize the time to do this is now and not 20 years in the future. We’ve put issues like this off for too many years, too many times.

    • I disagree with the idea that we have to educate people for there to be any change. We don’t. We just have to give them incentives to change. Even highly educated people would find it very hard to adopt new habits and change living and consumption patterns.

      There has to be a very visible incentive with financial and legal consequences to being wasteful. Otherwise its just a dream.

  5. Aisha, Barrack, I think its a bit of both; the system does need to change to one that provides the economic incentives for efficient energy use. The reality is, it would be very difficult to move to that kind of system in the first place without convincing the public that everyone is better off under such a system. That is where education comes in. Unfortunately we are a myopic, welfare society in which people resist uncomfortable change (in the short term) that may very well be beneficial in the long term. This is exacerbated by a parliament that has a habit of pursuing socialist legislation for popular support at the expense of the country’s long-term best interest (dropping consumer loans, “inflation allowance”). In practice, it would be difficult/impossible to drop an electricity subsidy and move to a smart grid without the public understanding that this is in their best interest.

  6. I wish we had a benevolent dictator.

  7. This is a recent article, could any one please find out for me if the Kuwait Government has any plans in the near future to do this?

    • The government has started studies and will implement something similar for public schools at first, and hospitals too if i’m not mistaken. It will be an interesting experiment, but you really won’t make a real impact unless its mandated for all residential buildings as well.

  8. we talk too much on Energy saving in Kuwait.
    Unless people change their attitude and feel social responsibility they wont fnd time to bother about this.

    But let us start doing something to it.Each one of us , stayin gin Kuwait is responsible for Saving Energy.

    1.Let us shutdown computer and Monitor after work hours.
    2.Let us not switch on Lights in Day time.
    (This is normal practice in Most offices, remember day light is good for yoru eyes)
    3.Let us not chill to maximum , 22 to 24 deg setting is ok.
    switch off AC after work hours.

    All this can be practiced at home also.

    Er.Sreekumar Pattathil,
    Chartered Engineer,Kuwait
    reachme.skumar@gmail.com

  9. Let me join the discussion, i have noticed that kuwait is wasting a lot of energy on street lightings alone all over kuwait, in the morning these lights are still working eventhough the sorroundings are bright, and in the afternoon it is energized early, this can be avoided thruogh innovation that, if given a chance kuwait will be able to save millions of wattage every single day. as a professional practitioner it is always my concern to help save our mother earth, reduce emmission and pollution, reduce cost.

  10. Let me join the discussion, i have noticed that kuwait is wasting a lot of energy on street lightings alone all over kuwait, in the morning these lights are still working eventhough the sorroundings are bright, and in the afternoon it is energized early, this can be avoided thruogh innovation that, if given a chance kuwait will be able to save millions of wattage every single day. as a professional practitioner it is always my concern to help save our mother earth, reduce emmission and pollution, reduce cost.

    rdennis50@yahoo.com
    Registered Master Electrician


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