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A Shift in Perspective

Albert Einstein once famously said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

| | Jun 30, 2011 | 1:17 am
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B Surendar

B Surendar

Albert Einstein once famously said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” He also said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” While the circumstances that provoked him to make the two statements were different from the ones we find ourselves in, post Lehman, there is much to learn from them.

An immediate challenge is securing finance for district cooling schemes, though it must be added that the progress of the Saadiyat project in Abu Dhabi has proved that there is a way out and that banks will lend as long as the right boxes are checked in the list of parameters, including a guaranteed offtake mechanism. Other challenges include evolving a system that clearly defines who takes ownership of piping networks, and forecasting occupancy – a case of balancing demand with supply. At different levels, there are challenges that have to do with end-user satisfaction and a proper sub-metering regimen, plus the willingness of different players in the industry to share operational data, which will be a first step towards putting a strong case for district cooling, which in turn, will convince the public utilities to offer support. The last point is crucial – as was discussed at a district cooling conference in Qatar in November 2010, the industry simply has not done enough to present a convincing case to the authorities to warrant support.

It is true the financial fog has not lifted, and that the uncertainty it continues to engender is responsible for the inertia in thinking. New construction projects are few and far between, even in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to lift an entire industry up to pre-Lehman levels, or at least to a notch below that. Existing buildings, though, well… they do exist, don’t they? Dubai has proved that district cooling can be a reality in existing building neighbourhoods, such as a long stretch of Sheikh Zayed Road. The argument will go that Sheikh Zayed Road is not as congested as that other Dubai neighbourhood – Deira – where it would be infinitely difficult to dig up roads and reconcile with the subsequent traffic snarls, plus not to forget, the need for footprint to set up plantrooms, even if they are smaller facilities, set up in a modular fashion. But that’s where Einstein words need to find resonance, and that where the industry needs to approach the issue differently. Chicago and Paris have shown the way that it is possible to install district cooling schemes in thriving, throbbing cities. While Qatar has opened up an opportunity for itself by progressing with its Heart of Doha project, which will essentially see it replacing the old central Doha district with new buildings, which makes it easier to incorporate a central cooling scheme without disrupting traffic and commerce, Dubai and Riyadh, as of now, don’t have such projects. The capital of Saudi Arabia is dense with buildings that use old air conditioning technologies. Most of them require an upgrade, which translates into heavy capex. Under these circumstances, given the chance, they would choose district cooling, which would do away with equipment expenditure and, at the same time, if the plants are run properly, will ensure a substantial shift for the better in energy efficiency. And if the model is replicated across the vast country, it will eventually have a substantial impact on the current power consumption profile of the Kingdom, which is increasingly becoming a cause for alarm, considering that a substantial volume of the crude oil produced in the country has to be diverted for domestic consumption, of which power generation is a major activity. Out of district cooling, and cogeneration, can emerge a solution for the power security challenge the Kingdom faces. And that would be no small achievement.

B. Surendar

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