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In the face of lingering challenges the signs of a determination to overcome is evident in the region’s district cooling industry, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar are at the forefront. Story and photographs: B Surendar

| | Nov 19, 2010 | 11:46 am
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Spotlight on IDEA’s 5th International District Cooling Conference & Trade Show, Doha, Qatar

In the face of lingering challenges the signs of a determination to overcome is evident in the region’s district cooling industry, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar are at the forefront. Story and photographs: B Surendar

District cooling in the region is not out of the woods; far from it, the challenges remain firmly in place. If the MEED conference on district cooling in September (related story in the October issue of Climate Control Middle East) revealed road-bumps emerging in Abu Dhabi, the recently concluded 5th International District Cooling Conference and Trade Show only confirmed the situation that the UAE has quite a way to go to emerge from the crisis.

Without the slightest doubt, a lot of crease lines need to be ironed out, and the two-year-old lament, post Lehman Brothers, about the delicate nature of the industry still resonates in the desert air. At the same time, there is a resolve to make things happen in the region. And Saudi Arabia and Qatar are at the forefront.

Qatar, for the first time, hosted IDEA’s conference. The icing on the cake was the inauguration of the conference host, Qatar Cool’s 130,000 TR-capacity integrated district cooling plant (IDCP) on The Pearl-Qatar, so indicative of a political will in the peninsula to support district cooling. This was in evidence at the inauguration, considering H.E. the Deputy Premier and Minister of Energy and Industry, Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, cut the ribbon to the plant.

While there is a possibility that Qatar could see a supply glut of residential units, much like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which will result in an inevitable slowdown of the district cooling industry, Qatar is pressing ahead with optimism and, in some cases, an approach that is different from that of UAE and Bahrain.

District cooling providers in the two countries have faced an enormous challenge with relation to piping networks alone. Speaking about this on the first day of the conference, Bernt Andersson, the CEO of Bahrain District Cooling Company, said, “The developers want us to finish the piping network immediately, which is a huge challenge if the pipes are going to wait for five years.” In direct contrast to this, Anderson’s fellow delegate, Jean François Chartrain of GDF Suez, said that the Lusail project was following a different approach to district cooling in the sense that the developer had taken upon himself to ensure the availability of district cooling infrastructure, thus reducing the financial burden on the district cooling provider.

Saudi Arabia is also trying to adopt a different approach to district cooling. In the course of speaking at the conference, Abdul Salam Al Mobayed, Vice President – BDO of Saudi Tabreed, said that his team and he were sparing no efforts to educate different stakeholders on the benefits of district cooling. “In Saudi Arabia, we have a big challenge to meet the demand of power consumption,” Al Mobayed said. There will be a big boom in Saudi Arabia, which means there will be a lot of demand on power. Without district cooling, it will be very difficult to meet the power needs. Our minister for power and water understands this and is very supportive of district cooling. He has said he will try to support the industry.”

Saudi Arabia has already started the process of helping the industry. The Saudi government recently announced that it is going to establish a night rate, which will open up the opportunity of installing thermal energy systems and reaping the benefit from them. Saudi Arabia has arrived at the decision as much out of necessity as out of a need to support the industry, said Hisham Hajaj of Stanley Consultants at the conference. “Air conditioning systems consume 60% of the total energy in the region,” he said. The government recognises this to be a big number. The government had a wake-up call last summer in Jeddah when they had a few black-outs. The peak was so high. They realised that with preferential rate, they can cut down on peak demand for air conditioning through thermal storage.”

Much in the same way, Hajaj said, there has been enlightenment to use treated sewage effluent (TSE). The powers that be have contracted the National Water Company to supply TSE with irrigation and district cooling in mind.


Today, we have mega-cities, with population exceeding 10 million. We can no longer continue to do what we have done, which is to rely on traditional infrastructure to provide growth and energy to these cities. An entire Manhattan has been built in a decade here, so the pace of development is enormous. So there is more population, more density, more development and more carbon. How do we supply the energy requirements of a growing population? When you look at the towers in West Bay and in Dubai and the cooling requirements of them, how can you provide them so much electricity?

– Rob Thornton, IDEA President

Two-third of the electricity is wasted as heat, and so there is tremendous opportunity in CHP. We can no longer afford to waste the two-third of the electricity. CHP is the way forward. An opportunity exists with district cooling. The infrastructure we build in district cooling will help us to use CHP more effectively. To reduce greenhouse gases, we have to get there most cost effectively through energy efficiency, which is the low-hanging fruit. District cooling and district heating are significant opportunities. In the G8 Summit, CHP was called out as a solution. So they are looking at us as an industry, and we have a lot of work to do. District energy is community scale heating and cooling. Underground network of pipes combines heating and cooling requirements. The challenge, however, is in its being underground; we are the greatest secret! These are not spinning wind turbines or big blue panels, so we have to up the visibility and build awareness. But the proof is in the pudding, and we have performed. Peak power is the bad cholesterol, and we deliver the solution.

– Rob Thornton, IDEA President

Qatar is a dynamic country. It is 11,437 square kilometres in size and has the highest per capita income in the world. It has an expected GDP growth in 2011 of 22%. The total worth of the projects is 150 billion dollars. It is important for our industry that we meet to discuss the opportunities and challenges to district cooling.

– Fayad Al Khatib, General Manager, Qatar Cool

I think that our customers are starting to recognise energy efficiency as an investment. They are spending a lot of time understanding the implication of their systems, not just chillers and cooling towers but the whole. They want to make chilled water systems operate at their optimal level through their life. District cooling systems will rely only on equipment providers, but now, university campuses want complete services through its lifecycle.

– Randy Newton, Trane

This region still subsidises power. Subsidies and night tariff do not go together. The utilities people are aware of this fact. I think once they start charging electricity, then yes, thermal energy storage (is viable).

– Maroun El-Khoury, Dar al Handasah

Collecting the data is a challenge, because people who design the IT system are not experts in district cooling.

– Adib Moubadder, Emicool

Snatches from the discussions

What was the nature of the interactions during the conference? Here, we provide glimpses…

Moderator (Rob Thornton, IDEA): Are you calling for more education?

Adib Moubadder, Emicool: The model for district cooling has been based on a b2b approach. District cooling companies, to protect their interest, worked with the master developer. The end user was the least of their worries. They said the master developer is my client, and they failed to educate the end user.

Fayad Al Khatib, Qatar Cool: Here the individual users are our customers. We treat each and every client as an individual user. Every individual apartment owner, and now extended to the villa owner. We are having more and more awareness campaigns for the end users.

Moubadder: True, but the change has taken a long time. It took them up to 2007 to start working with customers, to educate and to install BTU meters. Earlier, the focus was on big master developers.

Thornton: The focus was on master developers, because we were building networks, because at that time, there was no occupancy, so it was natural to interact with them.

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