A population of just 2,000 in 1950, Sharjah has witnessed unprecedented growth. Now the third largest city in the United Arab Emirates, its population exceeded 900,000 in 2010, and is set to surpass 1.5mn by 2020. To cater to such increased demands on its utility services, Sharjah is increasingly implementing new projects, technologies and partnerships to attract and retain talent in the region and further boost its economy.
One such area of focus is the demand for electricity, particularly within peak hours. This is in addition to the growing need for reliable gas and water supplies to accommodate the city’s expansion.
Responsible for regulating the power industry in Sharjah, the Sharjah Electricity & Water Authority (SEWA) has undergone a significant change. The first utility provider in the Emirates to secure ISO50001:2011 certification in Energy Management Systems, SEWA harnesses renewable resources and has undertaken a number of strategic projects to support the green growth of the city.
Whilst its power capacity has been increased and indeed stabilised, the business remains determined to provide the best value and services, exploring new business models and processes to cater to the increasing expectations of its customers.
Appointed as Chief Efficienology Officer in 2016, Eng Afra Alowais explains that SEWA is developing ‘green growth’, alongside a strong sustainability approach across all of its operations. Responsible for driving the initiatives relating to efficiency and technology, Eng Alowais will thus contribute to the sustained adoption of best practices in the entire UAE power sector, spanning generation, transmission and distribution.
Overhauling its water lines in Sharjah has been the first step of SEWA’s sustainability strategy.
“After careful analysis, we determined it was more cost-efficient to retrofit the old water lines. These are expected to last more than 30 years and continue to meet the highest environmental regulations,” Eng Alowais says.
“SEWA is one of the main supporters of the national agenda for demand side management endorsed by the Federal Ministry of Energy. This is also a policy to ensure water security and is the cornerstone of SEWA’s Strategic Plan.”
The projects will also seek to ease any water shortages experienced, and increase the capacity of traditional water lines.
In 2017, the company installed over 80,000m of new water lines, which will deliver over 100mn gallons of water per day. Its projects will also utilise new materials and technologies to increase water conservation, such as digital tools to detect, and help to alleviate potential water leaks.
Fostering or establishing strategic relationships with more than 35 international companies has enabled SEWA to participate in knowledge sharing to guarantee best practices. The company has also recently been in talks with GE to further reduce its emissions as part of its 2020 Vision, promoting clean energy and advancing Sharjah as a City of Conservation.
“SEWA has started an Energy Efficiency Program in line with the vision of H.H. Sheikh Sultan Al Qasimi for Sharjah to become the Sharjah City of Conservation, with the aim to save 30% of energy through energy efficiency initiatives,” explains Eng Alowais.
“Recently, we have launched an ambitious Retrofit Programme under the mandate of the Energy Efficiency Program. We also aspire to create a sustainable shift in consumer behaviour and their energy consumption practices. This will achieve a consequent reduction in energy and water resources used and provide financial savings for the participating companies.
“Furthermore, The Clean Energy Business Council have supported our endeavours.”
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By regularly hosting customers in the Majlis of the many Happiness Centres in the emirate, SEWA is committed to understanding their needs and works to extend this dialogue with them through social media and ad hoc projects.
“We held some productive focus groups during the innovation projects and will sustain these interactions,” adds Eng Alowais.
“Our customers are prosumers who want to have a voice in how their utilities are managed and operated. We have introduced a channel for customers to communicate directly with the SEWA Chairman and the new insights this has enabled are invaluable.”
Utilising the FORTH Innovation Method, SEWA recognised that customers were behaving differently in the way that they had historically interacted with utility providers.
“Customers were becoming ‘time-poor’ and welcomed the chance to perform business online,” notes Eng Alowais.
“We gained a far deeper insight into customer needs through a series of customer focus groups. We received excellent co-operation from a number of our business customers who participated and helped us understand how to enhance our services and to investigate future opportunities.
“Several new business cases were presented, at the conclusion of each innovation project, and SEWA was the first organisation in the Middle East to use this new innovation method,” adds Eng Alowais.
Listening to customers’ concerns surrounding sustainability, and their desire to access and pay bills online, has prompted SEWA to implement Green Billing.
“Green Bill has been optimised for use on a mobile app and customers have the flexibility to use a variety of channels to scrutinise their bill. It was a ‘no-brainer’ for us to adopt this because it reduces our overheads and immediately contributes to our global sustainability goals,” says Eng Alowais.
Through the Green Bill campaign, SEWA reduces emissions by eliminating the need to print invoices, and which additionally improves security of customer data. Invoices can be delivered monthly through a number of digital platforms, and grants over 400,000 subscribers the ability to pay their utility bills securely online.
SEWA has received unwavering support from H.H. Sheikh Sultan Al Qasimi, who has placed increased value on the learning and development of human capital and the quality of life of inhabitants in the emirate, which is coupled with the vision and sustainability leadership of SEWA Chairman Dr Rashid Al Leem.
Beyond this, SEWA will continue to partner with external stakeholders to enable long-term success and strong employee engagement.
“SEWA is an approachable company with a willingness to embrace new ideas, transform and grow,” concludes Eng Alowais.
“Over the next year, we will align our stakeholders and drive the focus towards preparedness for achieving planned energy efficiency.
“We will be on track to achieve a 30% reduction in consumption patterns in Sharjah emirate by 2020. The business of our customers will be able to continue to grow but energy waste will be reduced considerably as awareness of the processes spreads.”