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Masood Raza, Head of Engineering of Abu Dhabi-based PAL Technology has experienced the boom and downturn in UAE. Here, he says that while district cooling is based on sound technocommercial principles, which are independent of an economic boom or downturn, the industry is not without its fair share of challenges.

| | Jul 30, 2010 | 3:14 pm
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Masood Raza, Head of Engineering of Abu Dhabi-based PAL Technology has experienced the boom and downturn in UAE. Here, he says that while district cooling is based on sound technocommercial principles, which are independent of an economic boom or downturn, the industry is not without its fair share of challenges.

My background

Masood Raza

Masood Raza

I was born in a small village in the land of Buddha. I studied in many government schools, owing to my father’s frequent transfers in his job. I completed my secondary school examination with highest marks in the district, which stayed as a record for another six years. I also represented the district in many scientific exhibitions, debates, singing competitions and, above all, cricket.

After schooldays, I qualified in a competitive examination to join a graduate programme in Mechanical Engineering from India’s second oldest technical school, which prior to Independence, was an affiliate of Prince of Wales University. For a short time, I studied in Asia’s largest mining college at that time; I did not continue owing to personal reasons.

After passing out with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, I appeared for competitive examination and was selected for many prestigious organisations. I spent a few months as a Graduate Trainee with Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL). Later, I joined MECON (Metallurgical and Engineering Consultants (I) Ltd). At that time, MECON had 2,500 engineers working in the field of designing and installing blast furnaces, sponge iron plants, SMS (steel melting shops), coke ovens, power plants and other metallurgical plants and ancillaries. I spent about seven years at MECON, working as a design engineer in the Environmental Engineering Section.

In 1991, MECON became the first consulting firm in India to obtain ISO 9000 accreditation. During this process, I played a crucial role of formalising the departmental Quality Manual. The experience contributed extensively to my perfectionist attitude. Today, nothing exits my office unless it has been reviewed and approved by at least two team members, other than the one who performs the designing or report generation. During my time at MECON, I also completed an 18-month postgraduate diploma in Management.

After spending seven years at MECON, I took a decision to seek fresh opportunities in the GCC. My first port of call was Saudi Arabia, where I joined TEP-6, the largest telecommunication expansion project in the Gulf at the time. Having worked in the Environmental Engineering section of MECON, I had a good knowledge of HVAC systems and, thus, joined the Stone and Webster team from Canada in finalising the HVAC system capacities at TEP-6.

The experience gave me an in-depth knowledge of HVAC systems and practices, considering that TEP-6 involved expansion of existing exchanges and satellite stations. The scope involved the survey of existing capacities, estimate of available capacity for expansion and the design of additional air conditioning capacities for the expansion.

Gerry and UAE

In 1997, I shifted to the UAE. Naturally, given my background, I was offered projects relating to the UAE telecommunication provider, ETISALAT. I joined Shankland Cox, a consultancy firm based in Al Ain that was involved in many projects for ETISALAT.

With Gerry McGuire

With Gerry McGuire

I spent eight years with Shankland Cox, and those were my careerdefining years. I was involved in many prestigious projects that came with great design challenges: a 50m x 50m call centre for 500 agents with raisedfloor air conditioning; and a large atrium in Sheikh Zayed University for Girls, air conditioned without air nozzles or conspicuous grilles/diffusers. Speaking of which, one of the first condensate-collection systems for cooling tower make-up was designed for the same university.

The Etisalat office and commercial tower in Dubai was yet another project I was involved in. It was designed and constructed with high-end electromechanical services, despite posing serious problems, owing to the fact that each floor was different from the other.

Gerry McGuire, my mentor and Technical Director of Shankland Cox, made my professional life very colourful by providing new challenges every day. Some of his suggestions sounded outrageous, but we somehow achieved an excellent success rate.

At the time of my coming to Dubai, water-cooled chillers were a nonstarter as an option, even though lifecycle analyses clearly showed a marked advantage for large watercooled plants. When, one day, Gerry brought a design report for a district cooling plant, we were taken aback, as this was a paradigm shift in the way air conditioning systems would be designed. Water-cooled chillers, very large capacity plants and large delta Ts… nothing was conventional about the report. This was the start of my deep and long-term association with district cooling plants. In association with Kattner FVB, the first district cooling plant in a commercial area was built in record time for Tabreed. The existing vegetable mall was, thus, converted to Al Jimi Mall, a star attraction in Al Ain.

My association with Tabreed projects continued for many years, and I was actively associated with their Fujairah, Towaisah (defence), Muroor (Abu Dhabi) and Sheikh Zayed Sports City plants.

PAL Technology

My next stop in the journey with district cooling was the Dubai Festival City plant. At the time of handing over of this project, I received an offer from PAL Technology in Abu Dhabi, which appeared to me to be a natural progression from consulting to DC provider.

I have been working with PAL Technology for over three and a half years. PAL Technology, at this point in time, is involved in about 400,000 TR of district cooling projects that are in various stages of completion. A 90,000 TR district cooling plant is on the verge of supplying chilled water to Al Reem island’s Tamouh Development, which has about three million square metres of air conditioned floor area.

PAL Technology belongs to Pal Group, a part of Royal Group of companies in Abu Dhabi, and is active in many fields, like construction, RO plants, IT services, media, dredging and trading. PAL Group, together with Royal Group, is one of the fastest-growing companies in UAE.

I consider my present stint with PAL Technology as the most “youthful” years of my life. The company is dominated by an aggressive young brigade of professionals, for whom nothing is un-achievable. For example, we have taken up the challenge of completing a Dh 1 billion project, involving 500 villas and infrastructure work, all in the span of 10 months.

At PAL, in addition to advising on the technical aspects of the district cooling division, I am also heading an in-house consulting firm, called PACE.

Life in the UAE

I have completed over a decade of the best period of my life in the UAE, and I would not change even a bit of it, given a choice. The UAE is at the crossroads of the East and the West. It is a virtual United Nations. With over 150 nationalities living here, there is no lack of variety of life styles. The UAE is full of opportunities and, thus, represents a destination of choice for millions like me.

I have learned a lot from the UAE and wish to keep contributing to the growth and development of the country as far as possible.

District cooling, then and now

As I mentioned in one of the IDEA panel discussions, the business of district cooling is based on very sound techno-commercial principles, which are independent of such factors as an economic boom or downturn.

The downturn that is visiting us has forced district cooling providers to take a breather and rethink some of the old strategies. While I was with MECON, we used to have a very interesting saying, which was displayed on the wall near the boardroom: ‘In MECON, all managers are engineers first’. District cooling is a technology-intensive business; even though it is not rocket science, some of the aspects require a specialist’s opinion, if profitability is to be maintained.

Challenges ahead

District cooling is here to stay, as it has benefits for users, providers and the society at large. Sure, there are challenges, but please name one aspect of life that is free of challenges.

Water definitely is a challenge for district cooling. At the time of starting off with water-cooled plants, the big question was, “Where are the resources to make up losses from cooling towers?” As a result, at the time, even a 2,000 TR plant was done with an air-cooled system. Fortunately, today, we have technology in the market that will enable us to use seawater for cooling.

Another challenge for district cooling is how to do the piping network, particularly from a finance point of view. Piping is something that goes deep into the earth, and the return on investment comes after a long time. I mean, we have several instances of buildings that have not been connected even after a decade. Reem Island has a capacity of 90,000 TR. The working capacity is 45,000 TR. The network is already ready for 90,000 TR, but the off-take had not started, even after four years. This is the same story elsewhere, be it Dubai Festival City or Yas Island.

A feasible solution would be one where the developer owns the chilled water network. The developer should construct the network along with the one for water, sewage, etc. I say it is feasible, from a mindset point of view, because in the case of a network for water and sewage, the developer builds for the whole capacity, though the entire capacity is not immediately used.

So what is stopping the developer, then? Well, they have their share of constraints in showing profitability. They don’t want to invest unless they have a clear picture of profits.

It would be a better scenario if they invested in the piping network, though, because when it comes to financing an infrastructure project, banks do think in terms of 15 years of finance. For district cooling providers, it is not easy to raise the funding, but in the case of a developer, the collateral for the land is already there.

Another challenge facing the district cooling industry has to do with a negative perception in the minds of end-users. The end-user is not getting the benefit of the efficiencies that district cooling schemes yield. From the point of view of end-users, the capacity charge is a stumbling block. It is a financial charge for district cooling plants for 25 years. Now, if the capacity charge can be collected as an upfront payment, perhaps at the time when the end-user buys a residential unit, say, the burden will be less.

So what of tenants, then? They, too, feel strongly against paying the capacity charge. A possible solution would be to have them pay for electricity charges for the use of AHUs and FCUs. That way, the chilling cost alone could be added to their annual rent.

Yet another challenge for district cooling is the over capacity of district cooling plants. When developments were taking shape during the boom time, the only independent player was the district cooling provider; and in all the meetings, the provider was being forced to build the capacity within a limited period, with no incentives or off-take guarantees. This, in my view, was detrimental to the interests of the industry. Plant capacity should have been following demand load, instead, and not the construction of buildings. If the demand load is 5,000 TR, and if your capacity is 4,000 TR, you are in a position to manage with that. We would have been far better lagging behind and modularising to meet a growth in demand. We could have provided even temporary cooling, if required, rather than put a lot of money in the plant upfront. This should be the model that should be followed even when things improve.

There is another aspect – I won’t call it a challenge – I would like to address about district cooling, which has to do with existing buildings. I do believe the first ever attempt to provide district cooling for an existing building happened in 2000, at the Al Ain Civic Centre. Kattner carried out an analysis for a whole project, but it could not be realised because the costs were too high, and so the building owner did not want to proceed.

From a technical perspective, existing buildings pose another deterrent. Existing buildings have low delta T; converting them to a high delta T scenario will consume a lot of money. Who will pay for that? In my opinion, district cooling in existing buildings cannot be realised in the near future, unless the cost of electricity increases according to the cost of producing that electricity and is not subsidised. If the cost of electricity becomes high, the cost of changing from an air-cooled system to a water-cooled system will be more effective.

Mentors in life

My parents are my greatest mentors. My father has a unique habit of resolving serious issues by coming up with rustic aphorisms. It was typical of him to say, “Do not equate a donkey with a horse, even though both are equally important”, and “Stay clear of the front of powerful men and the back of a donkey”!

My intellectual leanings come from my mother. Her ability to adapt to challenging situations, learn a new thing every day, perseverance and patience have contributed to the development of my overall personality.

My family

I am married. I have been so for over 19 years, and have three princesses for daughters. The eldest is a student of medicine. The other two, born in the UAE, have an entirely different perspective on life. Once, we were driving past one of the buildings I was associated with, and I heard a heated argument in the rear seat between the little ones. Eventually, they stopped arguing and asked me to intervene to confirm how the building was constructed. One of them said the blocks were kept one on top of the other and, then, painted. The other’s contention was that the blocks had been painted before they were placed one on top of the other. I had a difficult time adjudicating! They had picked up some of my dreadful (as stated by my wife) habits of reading books and carried them to an extreme. My wife, in addition to being a successful teacher, loving and caring spouse and mother, is my perennial critic. Constructive as they are, her criticisms motivate me to excel in my work.

Interests

I enjoy reading all genres of fiction and non-fiction. In my view, reading a book is the most relaxing activity.

I also like soft music and do watch a lot of films. As mentioned earlier, I was a serious cricketer while at school; today, my love for the sport is undiminished. I do wish sometimes I could go to the gym and workout, but it remains an ambition; I’m unable to exercise as regularly as I read books!


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2 comments on Mas-Appeal

  1. Gerry McGuire says:

    Hi Masood,
    Thank you for the compliment. It was a pleasure working with you and watching you develop into a well rounded and competent engineer.
    I wish you continud succes in your career and look forward to working together in the future. Always remember there is nothing already done that cannot be improved upon and that change is essential for growth and development.
    Best Regards Gerry McGuire

  2. Dharmesh Sawant says:

    Hi Masood,

    It was good to know a bit of you. After reading about you and your experience, i appreciate that you are still open to know about new Air-conditioning technology like you did in case of LG VRF system. Keep it up..
    Dharmesh

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