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‘District Cooling Is The Perfect Underpinning For Smart Grid’

IDEA President Rob Thornton comments on the theme of the upcoming IDEA Conference in Qatar and on the value district cooling can bring to the region.

| | Jul 30, 2010 | 2:47 pm
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IDEA President Rob Thornton comments on the theme of the upcoming IDEA Conference in Qatar and on the value district cooling can bring to the region.

I earlier spoke to Fayad Al Khatib asking him about the IDEA Conference in November. Could you now share with the readers the IDEA perspective on the event?

Rob Thornton

Rob Thornton

We would really like to stay consistent with the mission, which is to collaborate and share information. We are going to focus on smart grid and green buildings. We want to see electric utilities operating more efficiently, and district cooling is the perfect underpinning for smart grid.

In the US, we are going to move to time-of-day rates and more efficient allocation of power. And this enhances the value of district cooling, because district cooling removes the bad cholesterol. In Qatar, 70% of the power is used for air conditioning. We want to put people together who have direct experience in industry. The issues are cost recovery and value proposition. People look at district cooling and then look at price, and it is not the appropriate way to evaluate district cooling. We want to bring business models, and structuring contracting arrangements between providers and clients. We want to help people not only understand district cooling but also communicate it. We want to help customers of district cooling to be effective consumers. We want to look at energy efficiency and maximise the efficiency of plants. Further, we want to look at utility master-planning, both from a physical asset and a capital asset point of view.

What lessons learnt in UAE, do you think, can be applied in Qatar?

In Dubai, we came out fine, but in the mindset of the downturn, people rightly had to focus on issues at hand. There is a lot of experience that can be shared. I am not talking about importing IDEA experience; we will look to be collaborative. IDEA is about sharing experiences. We learn from colleagues from Europe on how to make buildings as efficient as possible and on how to manage assets.

What kind of conference do you hope to experience in Qatar?

We are going to be conservative in our expectations of attendance. It’s not the robust pace of growth of the past three to four years. People are looking ahead at different technologies, they are looking at renewable energy. Our members here are looking at renewable energy. CHP may make sense there (in the GCC) at some point in time. Efficiency in central plant will grow in importance, as fuel continues to be a valuable export commodity. We are coming, because we made a commitment to the industry. It’s not a Qatar conference but just happens to be in Qatar. District cooling remains a universal opportunity. Qatar is a willing and engaging host. They have invested substantially and, I think, will continue to grow.

With Qatar Cool as host, we certainly want to focus on what they have done and are doing. Just like here in Indianapolis, the host is Indianapolis, and we want to shine the spotlight on them. But the content should be of universal value. Sometimes, we will address issues that are pressing, like water and power. This is a conference hosted by Qatar Cool in Doha, and we hope that people come from everywhere to participate.

At a recent district cooling event in Dubai, Mohammad Abusaa of ADC Energy Systems said that the district cooling industry ought to take note of the fact that the air-cooled market is not sitting still and that it is, in fact, building better efficiencies, which is a challenge for district cooling providers. How big a challenges is the development from a district cooling perspective?

District cooling in the US has never had the default advantage that it has had in Dubai, so we know how to compete. Is the pendulum swinging? Yes, quite possibly, but I haven’t been focused on current issues in the Middle East, and certainly not like Mohammad, to comment on this.

In the US, we have never operated under the premise that if you build it, they will come. We have operated on the premise that it has to be economically competitive.

People should not over-react and throw the baby out of the bathwater. You just can’t be short term. If you are talking of segments of development as opposed to masterplanned developments, I understand the approach is different. I have encountered plants on nodal basis that were later interconnected. We have all lived through economic ups and downs in the US and through substantial buildout in cities. The important thing is what is in the best interest of stakeholders, and we can bring value to the discussion. You need to look at individual contexts; there is no silver bullet. You need to look at every city and every region on an individual basis. It’s a matter of adapting to different challenges.

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