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Kuwait texts residents as power grid strains

Kuwait uses mobile text message campaign to ask residents to conserve electricity.

Kuwait is using a mobile telephone text message campaign, for the second year running, to ask residents to conserve electricity as the desert summer heat peaks and air conditioning units strain the power grid.

The OPEC member, like its oil-producing neighbours, is struggling to meet rapidly rising power demand as its economy expands on the back of record oil export revenues.

As temperatures reached 46 degrees Celsius on Monday, consumption hit 9,290 megawatts, the ministry of power and electricity said on its website. That left just over 7 percent of spare capacity in the 10,000 MW grid.

Kuwait is trying to avoid a repeat of power shortages seen in 2006 as residents demand more of cooling systems in summer.

Power demand hit 96 percent of total capacity last summer, when Kuwait narrowly avoided outages by using text messages and phone calls asking residents to turn off air conditioners and water boilers.

Kuwait has witnessed isolated outages in some areas this summer, including hospitals, but Electricity and Water Minister Mohammad al-Olaim has said this was due to technical failures and not capacity problems.

"The situation is much better this year than last year," Olaim told reporters in parliament last month.

The world's seventh-largest oil exporter has boosted capacity to around 10,000 megawatts (MW), from 9,000 MW last year, and plans to increase it further to around 16,000 MW by 2012, an official at the ministry of electricity said in June.

The country plans to spend more than $2.5 billion to meet power demand through 2015.

The ministry's conservation campaign teaches basic measures such as turning off electronic devices when leaving the house. Some residents do not switch off air conditioning units even when travelling abroad.

According to a survey by Kuwait University, conducted after last year's campaign, 85 percent of participants said they are now more conscious of saving energy by switching off lights when going out.

Researchers found it was mainly expatriates, who make up two thirds of Kuwait's population of 3.2 million, who seem to heed the calls.

"Non-Kuwaitis....they are the most influenced by the conservation campaigns," the study said.

Kuwait is building facilities to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) during the peak summer period beginning next year. It is also considering importing gas from Iraq and Iran to meet demand from power plants.

Gulf states are looking at nuclear power as a potential solution to rapidly rising power demand. (Reuters)

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