The objective of this pilot project was to see how much energy residents of Abu Dhabi could save by making reasonable changes to their homes, even before changing their behaviors for additional savings. Like with all Powerwise projects, the results would lead to potential recommendations for residents, government and policies to improve energy efficiency throughout the emirate. Our example could show proof-of-concept that the government or others could scale up for implementation or wider study.

Together with an energy efficiency contracting partner, we recruited ten volunteer villas (houses) with high energy consumption, performed energy audits, implemented customized energy conservation measures, and monitored the changes in energy consumption for a one-year period.

The official project page can be found here: www.powerwise.gov.ae/homemakeover >>

Energy conservation measures (ECMs) included:

Our main targets were:

  1. Performance: At least 25% energy savings, on average, compared to the previous year and adjusted for variables
  2. Payback period: Savings would pay back the investment within 3 years or less (all ECMs bundled together)
  3. Behavior: Changes in residents’ behavior should be minimal or none at all
  4. Budget: The budget was an average of AED 37,500 per home, but varied depending on the size and needs of each home, determined by the energy audit. For example, one extra large villa required a larger share of the budget to achieve similar relative savings. Other villas required less investment for similar results.

Results:

As of December 2015, Powerwise and the Bureau have not released the project’s final report or project summary video. But after the first three months (Aug-Oct 2014), preliminary results showed the project to be on-target:

  1. Performance: Villas were saving 26% energy on average. The highest was near 51% and the lowest was near 11%. Causes would be investigated further throughout the rest of the year-long monitoring period.
  2. Payback period: Estimated to be about 2.5 years, on average, if similar trends continued
  3. Behavior: Residents reported no to minimal changes in behavior. Those who did acknowledge changes cited increased interest in saving energy, teaching their children, and their children telling their school and classmates about the project.
  4. Budget: The project has remained within budget, within a small, pre-planned overage allowance.

Resident reactions

These are a few still frames from our video interviews with residents:

My role

I provided support to the Project Manager, May Al Hosani, and we worked together to carry out the project, reporting to the Head of Powerwise, Ramiz Alaileh.

I was responsible for the following:

  • Advising project planning and adaptation throughout the course of the project, especially regarding communications, user experience and customer service
  • Directing communications content, recruitment materials and designs made by the Bureau’s communications team
  • Visiting homes to recruit volunteers, conduct energy audits, perform energy conservation measures, and follow up for periodic inspections, trouble-shooting and customer service
  • Managing the creation of project videos with a video production company, drafting scripts, interviewing residents and providing creative direction from the client’s side

Top 3 Lessons Learned

(In addition to the ECMs and results above)

1.  This project was probably easier than most to recruit for, because residents respect government entities like the Bureau and because it was more like giving away a prize than asking a favor—we would be saving residents money in exchange for a little disruption and the chance to monitor their consumption for a year. Residents were all quite happy, even through some technical difficulties in some homes, which we treated with good, fast customer service.

2.  Attention to detail is critical, but can be extremely difficult to get from contractors and extended team members if they don’t agree with the need. Data must be recorded correctly and thoroughly the first time. It burdens participants to go back for anything we missed the first time, and some data is time-specific and can’t be recovered after the fact. No matter how doggedly a project manager needs to press the issue, good data and attention to detail are crucial to the quality of all work that follows. Some mistakes will be made by all members of the team, including project managers, but these need to be keystone values throughout, in order to maximize the credibility and value of the effort.

3.  English as a second language can be understandably difficult for clear and understandable reporting. A lot more effort is required between first drafts and final reports. There may be a big gap between the quality clients and contractors each expect, and who each thinks should be responsible for it.

Bonus lesson, learned through this project and my wider work with Powerwise and Waterwise:

4.  Regarding energy efficiency in Abu Dhabi, residents are used to cheap energy prices due to generous government subsidies. They are also used to a high quality of life with abundant electronics and extreme air conditioning use because of high temperatures and often inefficient buildings. The government subsidy was reduced in January 2015 and will likely continue to decrease over the long-term in a stepped approach to re-establish consumers’ own financial responsibility and motivation to conserve electricity—easing their own financial burden, the government’s, and stress on the emirate’s energy infrastructure.

Residents seem happy to embrace efficient technologies as long as they are practical and affordable, like anywhere in the world. However, there is a wide spectrum of income throughout the emirate that must be considered, from very low to very high. Generally speaking, here and elsewhere, investments in efficiency that can be paid back within 3 years can still be considered reasonable or attractive; greater than 3 years tends to lose people’s interest. And many people rent homes here, which gives tenants much less control over efficient appliances, fixtures and the building itself, while owners have less incentive because it’s still the tenant who pays the electricity bill and would receive the savings for energy efficiency improvements.

These are some of the major takeaways, but there are many more. I would be happy to discuss them in more depth if contacted.

Please also see my full work description for Powerwise & Waterwise >>

Credits:
Primary energy contractors: Al Futtaim Technologies
Graphic design of recruitment materials: French Vision