We’ve all read the news last week that the country will begin phasing out water and electricity subsidies starting from January 2021. This decision won’t have been an easy one to make, but it’s a necessary one. Electricity residential tariffs have not changed since 1987. Subsidy costs have grown significantly, from RO650mn in 2016 to RO750mn this year. Electricity subsidies account for 5 per cent of the state budget. This isn’t sustainable, and the government has had to take action as part of a wider initiative to be more financially prudent.
I see this change as a positive one. It’ll cost us all more initially in electricity and water, but I hope this decision spurs us all to rethink how we both build and live more sustainably in our homes, to save our own expenditure as well as the climate. Let’s begin with how we construct the places where we live.
The construction industry has been slow at adopting sustainable technologies, but this is now changing. Globally, buildings are responsible for 40 per cent of energy consumption and carbon emissions. But it doesn’t need to be like this. We can build homes that are energy efficient and are zero carbon. The homes of the future won’t just be carbon-free, they’ll cost nothing when it comes to energy. Yes, our future homes will use renewable energy to produce their own power as we transition to clean energy.
There are three simple steps that construction firms [and owners] can take to make their buildings more energy sustainable:
We’re using more electricity than ever, and this will accelerate into the future. Today we use electrical power mainly for air conditioning, lighting and running home appliances. Electric vehicles are going to become commonplace on our roads in the next decade, and we’ll be using electricity from our homes to power these new vehicles.
There are two ways to look at electrification. The first is to better seal a building and use better energy-efficient materials or systems, such as smart air conditioning and more energy-efficient appliances. The second big electrification trend globally for homes is the installation of photovoltaic (PV) systems, which is ideal for our region given the abundance of sunshine.
In short, this means putting solar panels on the roof. It’s unusual to see this, but with national initiatives like ‘Sahim’, I expect that PV-covered housing will become commonplace. Not only will your home be net-zero and you’ll pay little to nothing in electricity costs, but your transportation costs will drop drastically as you use the power of the sun to fuel both your home and your electric car.
The benefits for both builders and home dwellers are obvious. Many homebuyers are often willing to pay more for sustainable features such as solar panelling; they see the long-term benefits of lower electricity bills and higher asset values compared to traditional buildings.
Digitise energy management
How we manage energy is changing, and that’s thanks to digitisation. Homebuilders will need to think about implementing active energy management systems that residents can use to better understand and control their energy usage.
Connected home technologies such as WISER will give home-users a view into their energy usage and provide recommendations on how they can reduce their consumption. Algorithms can communicate with your lighting, air conditioning, heating – pretty much any electrical device – and help residents reduce energy usage automatically. Home energy management systems put the power in the hands of residents, saving them money over the medium to long term.
Retrofit existing buildings
Let’s talk about our existing homes. We’re going to be using them for decades to come. Based on an International Energy Agency’s report, half of the world’s current buildings will still be in use in 2050. The good news is that current wireless technology can provide a basis for homeowners to make their buildings much more energy efficient without making major building modifications.
Others are going further. The European Union has not only introduced new targets on energy efficiency for 2030, with stated goals of at least 32.5 per cent improvement in energy efficiency and 40 per cent cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, but they’re also providing funds for building owners to retrofit their housing with more efficient technologies. The short-term costs of this will be far outweighed by the medium to long-term savings for both governments and homeowners. This is one concept we may soon see in the Gulf region.
Let’s see this shift in subsidies as an opportunity to think differently about how we build and live in our homes. Now is the time to create and implement initiatives that reduce our energy costs and lower our carbon emissions.
A commentary by Sridhar Sharma, general manager – Oman, Schneider Electric