Monday, August 23, 2010

Going Green in Kuwait

The other day I was reading about how farmers in California were getting tax breaks from the IRS just by installing and using Green technologies like Solar Collectors on the roof of their barns, energy-efficient irrigation systems, Flex-fuel automobiles, Solar-powered water heaters and so on. It got me thinking about our situation here in Kuwait, where Solar energy and heat are almost always available, all year round, and how very little of it is actually being used by anyone.

That made me thing about something that happened while I was on vacation in London a few years ago. Once we had arrived we sifted through the tons of mail that had accumulated on our floor while we were away, and I was thrilled to find a parcel containing four energy-efficient light bulbs free of charge for us to sample. They were sent by British Gas, one of the many Energy suppliers in the UK, and it was part of their strategy to switch new and existing users over to them. They were spending money in order to have their customer save money AND consume less energy, which then allows them to provide cheaper energy, since less power is consumed, and therefore, it's demand is reduced, further reducing it's production costs. It's simple economics, and it's worked for many households.

I then started thinking about all these power cuts that have been happening in Kuwait for the past 2-3 years, due to rising demand for electricity and (apparently) very little demand-forecasting, or even energy conservation initiatives being made by the Government. In fact, not even the local agents are marketing their merchandise properly, had they been smart ( and not relied on old, Grey-haired accountants to do their sales and marketing for them!) they would have immediately initiated a sales and marketing campaign to sell as many of those energy-efficient light bulbs as their warehouses can hold! And with the arrival of both the regular "White" neon lights as well as the new "Warm White" ones, from all the major producers in Kuwait, the customers would be more than willing to make the shift from regular incandescent light bulbs to energy-efficient neon ones.

Moreover, cost would be secondary, since these new neon lights pay for themselves in the long run. To prove the case, here's a scenario;
Assume that 1 Watt of power costs 20 fils in Kuwait,
Assume that one light fixture in your house holds up to three 60W light bulbs
Assume that this light fixture is constantly on for 6 hours each day.

My simple (and probably faulty!) math looks like this:

1 Day: 20fils * (60W * 3) * 6hrs = 216 Watts total power consumption
1 Week: 216 Watts * (6h*7) = 9072 Watts (9 Kilo Watts) total power consumption
1 Month: 9072W * 30days = 272160 Watts, (272 Kilo Watts!) power consumption

Remember, this is for ONE light fixture of 3 normal incandescent light imagine how much electricity your whole house consumes. Also, remember that the average regular light bulb has a life span of around 2-3 months, maximum, and costs around 200 fils each, or somewhere around that neighborhood.

For a new, energy-efficient light bulb, rated at 11W but produces the same amount of light as a 60W light bulb, the figures would look like this;

1 Day: 20fils * (11W *3) *6hrs = 39.6W total power consumption
1 Week: 39.6W * (6hrs * 7days) = 1663.2 Watts (1.6 Kilo Watts) total power consumption
1 Month: 1663.2W * 30days = 49896 Watts (49.8Kilo Watts) total power consumption.

In other words, the energy efficient light bulb consumes around 18% of what a regular light bulb consumes in order to put out the same amount of light in a room.

So I decided to jump onto the Green bandwagon and get myself a few of those marvels of technology.
In one hallway of my house there are four light fixtures spanning the entire length of the hallway, each capable of holding up to 3 60W light bulbs, that's 12 light bulbs in one hallway. In the past, I would  need to replace all three bulbs in some or all of the four fixtures, which takes a lot of time, effort and grief (lots of dust and small insects accumulate inside the fixtures!), only to repeat the process again whenever any one of them burns out.

So I went and bought myself a brand-name bunch of them,  (none of those el-cheapo imitation rip-offs!) rated at 23Watts, but produce 100Watts' worth of light, and installed only two in each of the four fixtures.

.....And then there was light!!

In one of the connecting rooms, there are four light fixtures, each one holds three 60W light bulbs, and when I compare the hallway to that room, the hallway is not only brighter, but also cooler than the adjoining room.

Here's the real kicker, they are actually cheaper in the long run than the regular bulbs! And here's the math;

Assuming that an energy-efficient light bulb lasts for 6 years, like it says on the box, whereas you'll need to change a normal light bulb once a month, as it is in my house;

1 normal light bulb = 200fils
1 Energy-efficient light bulb = 1 KD (1000fils)...It's actually slightly more, but the assumption here's just for illustrative purposes.

Say you would need to change, on average, one light bulb every month for 5 years,(and not 6, for argument's sake), that's 12 bulbs a year, which is 60 bulbs. At 200 fils a bulb, that's 60 * 200fils  = 12 KD (12'000fils)

Whereas, for an energy-efficient bulb, it's 1 KD for 5 years, that's around 16 fils a month, and that's a 16% in my monthly costs saved, from light bulbs!

Factor in the energy saved by the reduction in overall heat generated within the household, (since the central AC's require less energy to cool the house during the summer) as well as the reduced maintenance cost derived therefrom, the numbers add up to a very energy (and cost!) efficient lifestyle.

I'm now so happy with this setup that I'm gradually replacing all the light bulbs in my house with energy-efficient ones, including the ones outside the house, like the garage or the fence. I sometimes catch myself admiring 'my work' whenever I'm walking around the house, proud of my achievement. Moreover, I can now keep some of the lights on without worrying too much about wasting energy. It's a well-spent investment, and a good message to deliver to my kids; Spend wisely wherever you can, and waste-not want-not.

The funny thing is, I've already tried out this theory in the past while studying abroad, and it did cut my monthly electrical bills by around 30%. I just never thought of reproducing it when I came home until now, and that's partly my fault.

I say 'partly' because when I was abroad I had been exposed to various energy-saving initiatives, and I don't mean the Tarsheed crap of a few years ago. I mean actual newspaper ads, authoritative word of mouth and a general awareness within a consumption-conscious government that responsibly invokes upon it's subjects the value of an earned buck!

One may ask how such things as the cost of electricity can be such a trying subject  to someone who lives in a country where a litre of gasoline is cheaper than a litre of water (65 fils/litre of Gasoline versus up to 500 fils/1.5 litres of water, if you're curious!). But consider if only 50% of the population cut their electricity consumption by over 18% from just light bulbs alone, how would it be if more 'Green' projects were encouraged by the Government? It would mean more funds that can be reserved  and re-assigned for any number of Government-funded projects, or even for the Future Generations Fund itself! It makes logical, economic and common sense  for the everyone to take the 'Green' route.

As for Kuwait, it's the same old story every year since 2005, whenever summer's around the corner, some loudmouth MP's start hounding the Minister of Electricity and Water about power outages, then they happen, then those MP's cry bloody murder just to accumulate political clout and votes. Thinking about it simplistically and wisely, energy conservation can be very cheap and simple....use less energy!

But no, we're Kuwaitis, we need to splurge and spend just to show off, while the Government suffers the indignity of facing rude, obnoxious and racist MP's as a result of the electrical shortages.  And to throw salt onto an open wound, the energy conservation campaigns brushed everyone the wrong way! Instead of people doing their bit and switching off their lights when they don't need them, some started shouting "Why me?" and "Why don't you tell so-and-so to switch off HIS lights first?". Some of the more affluent families have went so far as to install an extremely expensive diesel-powered electrical generator in their homes just to tackle the shortages, while the less affluent of them started to complain about the lights remaining on in government and private buildings at night while  at the same time they're being asked to conserve.

I'm not saying that the Government should start spending more money on energy-saving light bulbs for all of Kuwait's households (although that won't be such a bad idea!), and I'm not promoting one product over another (at least not here, anyway!), I'm just saying that the Government should 'encourage' people to use green technologies more, either by subsidizing their costs, or by subsidizing their advertisements, or simply by publicly promoting their uses and benefits and creating an awareness of them.

Light bulbs are just for starters! There are solar-powered fence lights, solar-powered water heaters, solar-powered portable tech chargers (mobile phones, Laptops, etc.) wind-powered home electricity generators, the list goes on and on, and everyone in the world is talking about these innovations and riding the Green wave, whereas here in Kuwait, the lights are always on, but no one's home! :)

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