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The R word

So much water has flowed under the bridge since January 2007, when the International District Energy Association (IDEA) grandly debuted in the Middle East with its first ever show, in Abu Dhabi

| | Oct 15, 2010 | 10:34 am
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B Surendar

B Surendar

So much water has flowed under the bridge since January 2007, when the International District Energy Association (IDEA) grandly debuted in the Middle East with its first ever show, in Abu Dhabi. The mood at the Emirates Palace Hotel (the venue of the show) was buoyant, then, and the focus of the discussions was on how to meet the tremendous projected demand for district cooling in the region, estimated at the time to be 15 million tonnes of refrigeration by 2015. While some thought the figure to be ludicrous even then, several believed it as a fair estimate, which led them to the next question, ‘How will the large chiller manufacturers gear up to meet the demand?’

Truly, it was heady times, then. The buzz was in the air, not just in that IDEA conference but also in the subsequent one, held in Dubai in 2008. Ditto for the monthly meetings conducted by the ASHRAE Emirates Falcon Chapter.

Cut to the present, and the clear shift in focus of discussions cannot be more obvious. At the recent MEED conference (see the cover story on page 54), a substantial period of time went to discussions on issues like regulation, finance and risk management. It was as if an industry, chastened by the downturn, had woken up to the need for a regulatory authority to weed out the excesses, which seem even more unpalatable in these most constricting of times.

While the downturn has played it part in sprouting nay-sayers of district cooling – this is a fact and not a figment of the imagination – the end-users, so routinely ignored during the boom time, are becoming more audible by the day. And their questions and convictions cannot any longer be sidelined. The industry cannot afford to.

The sentiment change towards district cooling is most pronounced in the UAE – understandably so, considering that the country was the first to invest in the new paradigm, risks, warts and all. This does not mean that the country’s neighbours are immune to the situation. True, Qatar has its gas reserves to bank on, and Saudi Arabia has always been the region’s looming financial giant. In addition, the Kingdom has a pent-up demand for housing. According to various sources of information, the Kingdom will need in excess of one million new houses by 2015. With the cost of setting up new power stations not getting any lesser and with power subsidies not a sustainable option, district cooling is it. While these factors may seem as robust factors for boundless optimism, there is no better time than now to talk of regulations and the need for an authority body to anticipate and prevent bad practices. No one wants plants overdesigned to capacity. No one wants kilometres of pipelines lying buried in the sand and waiting for chilled water to flow through them.

– B Surendar


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