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Dubai: Solar power for homes and buildings has been made available in Dubai since March. Although demand for it has doubled since March, industry experts say it is still low compared with other countries.

The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa) launched the Shams Dubai initiative in March to enable individual homeowners and buildings to tap sunlight to power their homes and buildings. During its launch, 11 establishments and households signed up. Altogether, they can produce 8.5MW of power. This figure has increased to 15MW as of September, six months after the launch.

Gulf News spoke to industry experts to provide the lowdown on going solar. Among these is Gundeep Singh, a champion of sustainability and owner of the world’s most sustainable commercial building in the world, The Change Initiative on Shaikh Zayed Road.

Signh, who walks and talks sustainability, said the UAE has all the advantages when going solar. So there is no reason for it not to capitalise on its resources through harnessing solar power, which has been a maturing sector in European countries, particularly Germany.

“The amount of radiation average that is received is 1,500 watts per square metre from the sun, of which the applicable radiation for solar is between 900 to 1,200 watts per square metre in the UAE, compared to Germany which is around 500 to 800 watts per square metre,” Singh told Gulf News.

“The UAE has 1,900 hours of sunlight in a year while a place like Germany could have, depending upon which way you look at, between 1,100 to 1,250 hours in a year,” he added.

Producing solar energy is incentivised in many countries. However, in Dubai, once a household produces solar energy, it can automatically use it. Any surplus energy will be sent back to the grid and used to offset the producer’s next bills.

The biggest incentive for Dubai residents is that investing in solar is investing in the future. It produces clean energy and has a long life span that can give you returns on investment after a few years.

“Solar will last you 25 to 30 years minimum, and produce electricity every day. That would be less fuel consumed from carbon resources and that would mean that you have made a contribution,” Singh said.

1) WHAT is solar energy generation?

Solar energy generation is harnessing the power of the sun through solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and converting it into electricity without burning fuel, hence making it a zero-carbon alternative.


WHAT can solar energy power?

It depends on the number of solar panels you have. Each panel produces 250 to 270 watts of electricity. Depending on the number of panels you have, it can power refrigerators, televisions, music systems, chargers, and lighting.

“For a medium-sized villa, lighting is around 1,200 to 2,000 watts, depending on what you’re using. So if it’s 2,000 watts, and you want to light up the entire house, each solar panel produces 250 watts and it’s 1 metre by 1.5 metres, so it can take, say, six panels and four batteries,” Singh said.

Powering air-conditioning needs a huge amount of input electricity for its starting load so a few solar panels will not be enough. You will probably need at least 50 panels, Singh said.

WHAT to do before going solar:

“Greening” your house is essential before going solar. This way you are able to make prudent use of the green energy you produce. This can be done by:

- If and when you’re repainting your house, use heat-reflective paint

- If expense permits, you can put heat-reflective films on your windows. If not, you can at least seal the windows

- Install door closers to keep cool air from escaping from the house

- Replace your lights with energy-efficient lighting. As much as you can, bring the sunlight in to reduce the number of lights you use

- Next time you buy appliances, buy energy-efficient appliances

- Keep the temperature in the house from whatever it is to at least 24 degrees Celsius. If not 24C, at least 22C to 24C, depending on how comfortable you feel

- Outside the house, if you have black tiles, try to see if you can change them to white tiles so that the sides of the house don’t absorb and reflect heat

- Put grass. (If you have a paved backyard or frontyard, turn it green instead). It reduces the overall heat in the house. At the same time, be aware of how much water is required for the grass and its maintenance).

2) WHO is best suited to going solar?

Villa owners with disposable income, schools, manufacturing companies or buildings with a single Dewa account

Currently, Singh has so far installed solar systems for 20 clients in the past three years. They are mainly government agencies (in Abu Dhabi and Dubai), villa owners, mostly in Emirates Hills. Emiratis, Westerners and Asians (mostly Indians) are the common takers.

“A lot of them are very good-intentioned and they would like to make a difference. Then there’s a reasonable commercial outcome to it. I think if they can even break even, they’d be fine. Emiratis are very determined, hats off to them. They definitely want to make a change,” Singh said.

Amin Lakhani, general manager of DuSol, the first solar manufacturing company in Dubai, said since utility charges in Dubai are not based on a flat tariff, it makes most sense to go solar for people with high energy consumption. He refers to residents with electricity use in the red slab with consumption of 6,0001KWh and above, which essentially has pricier tariff rates at 38 fils/kWh. After that, they can work their way down to the orange slab at 32 fils/kWh.

“If you are operating in the red slab, then it makes a lot of sense to be operating on solar. Essentially, what you’re doing is shaving off the most expensive electricity. So, if you save more, then you’re going down the orange and yellow path and you’re saving on the yellow,” Lakhani said.

How about apartment owners?

The current legislation does not have a provision covering solar power for different apartment owners. According to Dewa, a building owner can install solar but can only offset electricity consumption of the common areas of the building (lighting, air-conditioning, elevators etc) measured by his own meters. Individual tenants can install solar systems for their own use but charging has to be tied to their own Dewa accounts.


3) WHEN is it best to go solar?

Singh said the “when” depends on the individual. Part of the consideration is how energy efficient the villa or the building is in the first place. So start “greening” your villa or building first before thinking solar.

“If you add solar to an inefficient building, you are just exacerbating the inefficiency,” Singh said.

“Every change in the right direction is a positive change. And we should try to make a difference. But, very frankly, there’s no ‘when’. But if the government helps a bit more, then the ‘when’ could become sooner. The ‘when’ could be now,” he added.

4) WHERE is it best to go solar?

- Villas in Al Barsha, Arabian Ranches, The Palm; it doesn’t matter where you are. Depending on how much power you want to produce, a small-sized villa will need at least four solar panels, a medium-sized villa will need at least six, while a large-sized villa will need at least eight.

- They can be integrated into the design of your place. You can have them on your roof, as a terrace shading, canopies, saddle roofs, shopping cart roof, container roof, garden shed roof.

- Outside the home for developers, it can also be a bus stop roof or bicycle storage roofing.

- According to Dewa, the most optimum orientation for fixed solar cells in the UAE all year round is in the south and the optimal inclination is about 24 degrees. This typically allows an annual irradiation of about 2100 kWh/square metres for Dubai, when both direct and diffuse radiation is considered.

5) WHY go solar?

- According to UK’s Energy Savings Trust, the most basic 4kWp system can generate around 3,800 kilowatt hours of electricity a year in the south of England. This is roughly equivalent to a typical household’s electricity needs in the UK that will save nearly two tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. That’s equal to the carbon emissions of an average passenger vehicle that’s driven 4,762 miles (7,663km).

Singh said the main reason for going solar is to save the planet from greenhouse gases that are the culprits of global warming.

“We must reduce our overall carbon footprint, as human beings, in terms of ecological footprint, in terms of being better citizens, being more responsible. Sometimes investing in the future, the returns are not so visible, but it is investing in the future of our next generation, our children, the people who are going to take over the planet when we’re gone,” Singh said.

“So beyond the fact that it’s a feel-good factor, it’s a human responsibility to ensure that we are a part of nature, not against it,” he added.

6) HOW much is the cost?

Solar costs have dropped considerably over the last years, making it a good incentive for those who want to shift to solar but with limited funds. “Five years back, it was around somewhere between $1.8 (Dh6.61) and $5 a watt at the panel level. Today, at the panel level, it is $0.50 to $0.80 per watt,” Singh said.

For Dubai homes, there is no single answer to how much solar would cost as it depends on many factors. But here’s a sample calculation:

According to Kevin Hsu, general manager of Almaden MENA, a three-bedroom villa in Dubai Silicon Oasis can have a 5kW system consisting of 20 panels, depending on the space. This produces 25kWh of electricity per day, which can cover roughly 20 per cent of energy needs. The whole system will cost roughly Dh35,000 with a return on investment in eight years.

In terms of energy savings, Singh said if you have a 3,000 square foot house, your monthly bill will roughly be between Dh1,500 and Dh2,100. A solar system will enable you to save between Dh250 to Dh300 monthly. This has been true for Singh for the past five years.

Other costs to consider are:

- Cleaning cost: Because of dust, solar panels need to be cleaned every 15 days

- Automated machines (10 per cent additional to the entire cost)

- Manual cleaning through specialised cleaning services (Additional 6 per cent to the entire cost but this is a recurring expense)

- Steel structure for the roof bracing (additional 7 to 12 per cent of the cost)

- Additional Dh1,500 cost to install the meter that measures the electricity generated by the PV system from Dewa as part of the one-off connection fees

HOW can I go solar?

Applications can be put in for free and may take between a week for small systems producing 10kW or 20kW, and four to eight weeks for larger, commercial, or industrial systems.

As of September 13, Dewa has enlisted 23 companies who have enrolled with it as consultants and contractors for the Shams Dubai programme.

The process, according to Dewa, consists of four stages: (We can reproduce Dewa’s INFOGRAPHIC)

1. The No Objection Certificate (NOC) stage

2. The Design Approval stage

3. The Inspection and Connection stage

4. The Generation stage