The increase in oil prices in the 1970s created a movement in the developed countries toward energy efficiency and finding other sources of power generation, such as Nuclear and Renewable Energy. In most developed countries, there is governmental support for Renewable Energy Technologies (RETs) in the form of feed-in-tariffs or incentives. The governmental policies to support energy efficiency and rigid regulations have changed people’s habits regarding energy consumption in these countries.
But, the situation is completely different in Middle Eastern countries. Most of the companies that handle the oil business in the region are governmental and national companies, leaving no space for the private sector to flourish. So, most people consider fossil fuel reservoirs as national assets and, being in an oil-rich country gives them prestige. Consequently, they assume it is their right to consume fossil fuels without considering the consequences. In addition, the subsidized price of energy has exaggerated this issue and, has contributed toward maintaining the existing lifestyle and behaviour of the people in this region.
I observed the effects of these differences in my previous projects in Iran. We had a project to install a solar hot water system in a rural area of Iran. Initially, we experienced a lot of resistance from the local people. They insisted that the installation of these solar hot water units would delay the government’s development of gas pipelines in their area. They were especially concerned since their country is the second largest gas producer in the world. They were not happy to have the solar device on their roofs even though, with the government’s support, they were getting it free. Because of the high insolation in their area, they could have had more than 90% coverage of their heating demands, but they still resisted. It was a very interesting experience for me to see that those people consider gas as their national asset, while they failed to appreciate the high solar insolation available in their country. Despite the resistance and dissatisfaction, the project proceeded in different rural and remote locations in Iran for the heating demands in public baths and dwellings. Due to the lack of maintenance and technical education of the users, in the end, there have been no satisfactory results and so, currently less than 10% of these systems across the country are properly functioning. Even though this had a nine million-dollar support from the government for this project, it still failed.
In my opinion, the two key causes for this failure are: (1) the final users got these units free, so they did not appreciate them and, consequently, did not adequately maintain the systems, (2) the lack of education and knowledge about the system discouraged their application across the country.
I also think the root cause of the problem in this project lies in the mentality of the people and policymakers. They do not consider energy efficiency improvement as a matter of necessity; they look at it as a sort of cosmetic development since their country is rich enough in fossil fuel. Policymakers look at these issues as short–term projects and have not considered the long-term life cycle assessment for energy efficiency improvement. On the other hand, the people in the rural areas think that the government wants to postpone their demands for gas pipelines by using these temporary renewable energy solutions.