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Three times as big

Imad Kaba of Trane talks to B Surendar on the market for district cooling in Saudi Arabia and of the company’s approach to rising demand

| | Nov 19, 2010 | 10:13 am
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Imad Kaba of Trane talks to B Surendar on the market for district cooling in Saudi Arabia and of the company’s approach to rising demand

Among the GCC entities, Saudi Arabia seems to be in robust shape. There is massive demand for housing – according to reports, the country needs 1.5 million new houses by 2015. How is Trane responding to this situation?

Imad Kaba

Imad Kaba

Yes, Saudi Arabia is in good shape, and it is different from even Qatar, another country that everyone is talking about. A major difference between Saudi Arabia and Qatar is the population. In the case of Saudi Arabia, there is a large domestic population, which can sustain development and growth in the country. If Qatar gets the World Cup, things will change. Saudi Arabia has a large population and huge funds from oil and gas and chemical industries. Further, the Government is taking profits and investing in infrastructure and housing.

Most of the projects in Saudi Arabia are going ahead; we don’t hear of cancellation of projects. Two years ago, there was a little weakness and a slowdown in the private sector, but the public sector energised the economy. District cooling is coming to Saudi Arabia in a big way. Maybe the market for district cooling is three times as big as Dubai and is going to last, owing to the population. And in Jeddah, you can build towers along the corniche, for as long as the eye can see.

District cooling makes sense in big complexes. There is big savings to be had, and there is the diversity factor that you can benefit from, too. So, district cooling is here to stay in Saudi Arabia, at least for double the time it lasted in Dubai.

As for Trane’s involvement in the Kingdom, the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) project is the biggest for us. Also, we supplied 100 air-cooled chillers to only Madinah. It is the same with Makkah, where we have supplied DX units. In Madinah, we will use air-cooled systems, because it has been designed for that purpose.

Do talk me through the King Abdullah Financial District project, which you surely view as a milestone.

The King Abdullah Financial District is our first major district cooling project in Saudi Arabia. The plant has a capacity of 100,000 TR, of which 20,000 will be supplied by means of thermal energy storage and 80,000 TR through 16 chillers modules of 5,000 TR capacity each.

We won the project on efficiency. It is our major plant room to date. We are testing the first chillers, wherein the customer will travel to the US to test them for zero tolerance. The full-load efficiency of the chiller is 0.608kW/TR at zero tolerance. On site, the chiller should have the same efficiency, as long as water is maintained as clean as the test water. On site, the design data is maximum, and so on site, it is going to perform in slightly better conditions.

Historically, Saudi Arabia has been averse to using water for cooling. How do you see the trend now? With National Water Company coming in, do you see a firm reversal in thinking?

People in Saudi Arabia were always hesitant to use water, so they went for air-cooled systems. Ever since the crisis in Dubai, there has been a migration of consultants to Saudi Arabia. These consultants supported water-cooling systems here, and they are doing the same there in Saudi Arabia. Water-cooled is now an acceptable option in Saudi Arabia. And National Water Company has said that it has the network to supply treated sewage effluent.

The robust nature of Saudi Arabia notwithstanding, is Trane treading with caution? The crisis in Dubai has resulted in delayed payments, plus a shortening of targets. Where a client earlier needed 100,000 TR of district cooling, today it is, perhaps, one-fifth of that. What strategy have you adopted for Saudi Arabia? Do you have a measured approach?

In Dubai, we never manufactured equipment that we did not get paid for. We got paid for all our deliveries. We did not supply chillers to fake projects. We have the same approach in mind for Saudi Arabia. Real projects and reputable contractors will determine our direction.

Is there any change in your approach to doing business in the Kingdom?

Trane works through its distributor, Dallah, in Saudi Arabia. The strategy is to support Dallah and to elevate the capacity of the engineers there. In the UAE, we have a team that specialises in district cooling, and we are establishing a team similar to that in Saudi Arabia through our distributor. We will continue to work with our distributor and not open a separate office. They performed so well on the air-cooled chiller side, and now we are preparing them to work well on district cooling.

Are you promoting your products as being green and talking about their ability to earn vital LEED credits for customers? What has been the response at the ground level from clients?

We believe in sustainability. We have very efficient chillers, and we do witness tests for customers. Sustainability is not only about energy efficiency but also about low emissions – the chances for refrigerant leakage are minimal. If there is a leak, the refrigerant will get sucked in rather than be expelled.

We have a green strategy in place. We are doing a seminar in Saudi Arabia, called ‘Trane Earthwise Chiller: LEED and how Trane can help’. We are talking about how you can achieve LEED points and how you can achieve higher efficiency in the plantroom.

Until recently, Saudi Arabia was proceeding with air-cooled systems. However, there is so much grey water that can be recycled, and also the water that is used for ablution. At the time, there was no segregation between grey water and sewage. We did try to speak to consultants on using water-cooled systems. We bring a lot of speakers who have, in their lifetime, worked on designing water-cooled chillers. They can tell consultants where they can save maximum energy.

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