Vacant government position: Sun wanted

For almost a century, people have been digging deep into the ground searching for sources of energy. Just recently, when the oil reserves started to fall short of the increasing demand for energy, and with the possible catastrophic impact of pollution, has humanity turned its collective face upwards, and started to notice the immense power of sunlight.

Nowadays, solar energy is considered to be among the most promising alternative energy sources. It is renewable, durable, natural, and most importantly clean. The only problem is it is not yet a cheap energy source, at least not as cheap as oil.

Many countries around the world have already started to benefit from solar energy, and Kuwait has just decided to join this promising and expanding club. The Kuwaiti government recently announced a plan to start using solar energy in ministries and government buildings, with a new joint committee to be formed comprising senior officials from many ministries, as well as governmental and non-governmental organizations to put these plans into actions.

In theory, it might appear to be easy for a country so rich in this resource like Kuwait to start making proper use of solar energy. In practice, however, the journey is quite a long and problematic one.

KISR word

Kuwaiti Institute for Scientific Researches (KISR) carried out a techno-economic assessment research into the efficiency of using solar energy in the Kuwaiti climate. “We discovered numerous technical problems that we hadn’t been aware of,” says Dr Esam Omar, a former member of Department of Building and Technology at KISR. “These pieces of equipment (solar energy panels) are very sensitive to heat and dust,” he said, explaining, “Heat affects the durability of solar panels, while both heat and dust reduce their electrical power generation capacity.

Omar claims that photovoltaic technology, which is the direct transformation of solar energy into electric through the use of solar cells, converts on average 20 percent of solar power into electricity, in the ideal circumstances, which is already a very low percentage.

At its current energy production ratio, solar energy technology is very costly to install, and it requires constant maintenance, so if we are to consider the economical factor alone, it will take us years to start using solar energy, but by adding the environmental factor the equation changes completely,” explained Adel Al-Mumin, Assistant Director of
Kuwait University’s Construction Program.

Al-Mumin argues that there are many other steps that Kuwait could take right now, without taking the risk of jumping into utilizing a technology that is still in development phase.

We can start by optimizing new buildings and making them ready to implement solar energy whenever it is efficient enough,” he said. “For example, we can build the roofs of buildings to tilt at a certain degree, and on certain direction, so that installing future solar cells will be easy and efficient,” he explained.

Al-Mumin said that it would not make any sense to install solar panels on the roof of a building that wastes energy. “Constructing a building that faces in the wrong direction, is built with the wrong materials, bad isolation and so many windows, that will require a lot of energy to air-condition, and then installing solar cells on its roof, would be like attempting to fill a punctured tank with water,” he asserted.

To reach a stage where buildings will be constructed in a ‘green-friendly’ manner, the Kuwaiti government needs to adopt a number of important policies, Al-Mumin continued. “In the US there is the LEED certification system for building, which is given to green buildings, according to their ‘greenness,” he explained. “In the UAE they have a
very effective system of their own to evaluate the greenness of buildings, and we should also have our own system to encourage people to use these technologies.

Al-Mumin suggested that the government could also introduce conditions for construction, for example that each building should produce at least 10 percent of its electricity consumption through renewable energy sources. This scheme could be assessed for effectiveness by the Ministry of Electricity and Water (MEW) through the use of virtual simulation models before issuing licenses to build.

Awareness is the key

Al-Mumin believes the government need to start by raising public awareness of the importance of power-saving strategies, and the impact each individual could have on reducing emissions. Additionally, government could encourage people to use solar panels at home by assigning some of the money it is currently subsidizing for electric
power to subsidize solar panels’ prices.

According to experts, the government also needs to get busy rebuilding its infrastructure. In many developed countries, like Germany, those who have solar panels at home can make money if they don’t use the power they produce, because it goes into the national grid. In Kuwait, electric grid is not yet ready for the introduction of such technology.

In Abu Dhabi I think they are now using a smart grid, one that is able to take electrical energy from numerous sources, which allows for lots of different technologies to be integrated into the grid, Kuwait needs to upgrade to a smart grid too,” said Esam Omar of KISR.

Omar says that it is up to the government to make it attractive for regular citizens to use solar power. “You know why people use power-saving bulbs? It’s not because they save energy, or anything, they are actually more expensive than regular bulbs, but people use them because they are durable. That is exactly how the government should be
thinking; they need to come up with reasons that are good enough for the end user according to his own definitions and his own reasons,” he said.

Take it

There are some citizens, however, who are not willing to wait for the government to make it more attractive and beneficial to use solar energy, who’ve already started using solar energy in their own homes. Jassem Al-Awathi, is one of them. A young Kuwaiti entrepreneur, with a diploma in electronics, Awathi is already using solar panels to provide electricity for one room of his house. For him, solar power is a hobby.

I’ve studied electronics, and I’ve been interested in solar energy applications for a while but I didn’t start until the summer of 2007, when the shortage of electricity in Kuwait started,” said Al-Awathi. “At that time, I wanted to find an alternative; it was ‘boring’ without electricity, so I started to go online and learn about it, and I started to buy these instruments and use them at home,” he said.

Al-Awathi has two systems installed in his home, solar and wind power. He says that because solar energy production is noticeably reduced during dusty weather, wind power is a great solution to compensate for the shortage of energy.

Whenever there is dust in Kuwait, the wind is relatively strong, so installing both of these systems can guarantee a certain level of stability in the amount of energy generated,” he explained.

Al-Awathi also built motion detectors from scratch for certain areas of his house, so that lights will only turn on if someone enters the room. “This way I can reduce electricity consumption, and this is also beneficial, regardless of the fact are we using renewable energy or not,” he said.

Al-Awathi asserts that it is the role of the government to increase awareness among people about the importance of rationalizing power consumption, as well as the importance of adopting new sources of energy. “This is the most important thing at this stage,” he concluded.

© Kuwait Times 2010

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