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‘District Cooling is at the heart of conversations surrounding climate change mitigation’

Bader Al Lamki, CEO, National Central Cooling Company (Tabreed), discusses how District Cooling can address the global energy-efficiency conundrum, the move to enhance operations through integration of artificial intelligence, and how the UAE is poised to export its knowledge and expertise of sustainable cooling solutions to other countries. Excerpts from an exclusive interview he gave to Hannah Jo Uy of Climate Control Middle East, on the sidelines of the 24th World Energy Congress (WEC), held in Abu Dhabi from September 9 to 12…

| | Oct 16, 2019 | 7:19 pm
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Bader Al Lamki

As Tabreed, what sort of contribution do you foresee District Cooling utility providers as making in addressing energy efficiency and sustainability issues being discussed in the Congress? Could you speak about the company’s decision to participate in the World Energy Congress, which is especially significant, with the UAE hosting it for the first time? Is this indicative of the country’s aim of taking a leadership role in the global energy transition?

Absolutely! First of all, we are proud and delighted to be participating in WEC to showcase our experience in the District Cooling space. We play into the demand-side management and energy-efficiency pillar under the energy conundrum, and we have a wealth of experience in this space that we have attained over the past 20 years. Today, we have a portfolio of nearly 75 District Cooling plants, serving communities with our sustainable cooling solutions.

The impact that District Cooling can contribute to this topic is quite significant and substantial. Today, if we look at the energy produced, especially in the hot areas in the Middle East and North Africa, and in some other countries experiencing harsh summers and hot conditions, nearly 50%, on average, and 70%, at peak hours, every day of the energy produced is consumed by cooling requirements. As such, if you are able to find a solution that provides cooling to communities and societies in a way that is also consuming less, you are basically immediately helping sustain energy for the longest time possible. You are helping to make energy more sustainable by virtue of reducing its carbon footprint. Today, with our portfolio of 75 plants, the carbon emission avoided per annum is nearly one million tonnes, which is quite a substantial figure. So, you can see that the contribution from District Cooling is something that is at the heart of the conversation of climate change and mitigation of rising temperatures in the planet.

We are proud to be among the earliest companies to play in this sector. Since 1998, Tabreed has been providing sustainable cooling to our clients. Year after year, we are not only increasing our portfolio but also increasing our knowledge, our experience and our know-how, which I believe, today makes us more credible than others in this space. As such, we look forward to seeing even more penetration of District Cooling in the future, as urban planning starts to grow further and societies continue to demand for cooling across the globe.

Considering that a number of stakeholders have identified inefficient and outdated installation and design of conventional mechanical cooling systems as a heavy burden on the energy grid and a strong contributor to Urban Heat Island effect, how can District Cooling help overcome challenges of conventional frameworks? As District Cooling requires more urban planning, how important is stakeholder engagement, especially among the public and private sectors, developers, consultants, contractors and even technology providers, to ensure the most efficient plant design and operations are in place?

This is very important, everybody has to contribute. Awareness has to increase, and stakeholders need to be more aware of the solutions out there. That’s why a platform, such as WEC [is important], and that’s why Tabreed is also here to demonstrate the solution, demonstrate the facts and the impact that it has, such as the one million tonnes per annum of CO2 avoided. It doesn’t only take efforts from developers like Tabreed, the financial committee also has to contribute to this by providing smart financing and technology.

We are proud that last year in Tabreed, we managed to raise sukuk, which was a successful one; it provides us with the liquidity to fuel our growth. We raised sukuk of nearly USD 500 million, which is something that demonstrates that District Cooling is also understood by the financial community and, as such, should continue into the future. But we also need to have policy-makers to really push the right frameworks to promote District Cooling as a solution for new urban planning involvement. We also need to bring in technology and innovation into this sector.

As Tabreed, we take pride in the fact that we are at the forefront of technology. For example, our plant in Bahrain utilises seawater for cooling. This is something that is more sustainable than the alternative of using potable water, which is scarce and costly.

We are moving into the next industrial revolution of digitilisation and artificial intelligence, and we operate our plants, some of them, unmanned, because they are fully automated. We have artificial intelligence tools and knowhow. We have engineered the solutions in-house, and they allow us to plan our maintenance and to predict downtime. That way, we are more efficient and are able to increase our availability. Also, it increases our efficiency to our clients. Integrating digitalisation and artificial intelligence into operating procedures is something we are already exhibiting on the ground.

We have reached an Emiratisation target of nearly 40%. Again, we also have a commitment to knowledge transfer and education. It’s part of the corporate social responsibility of the company, and this is a commitment we take very seriously.

It takes all those stakeholders – developers, policy-makers, financial institutions, technology and innovation solution providers – to really help accelerate the penetration of District Cooling across communities. We are proud to be one of the pioneering companies in this space that has the know-how that we can take forward to our clients, wherever they are.

Moving forward, do you see the UAE taking a leadership role in District Cooling, globally?

Absolutely, without a doubt.

Do you feel that one day, the UAE could potentially export the knowledge and expertise it has gained over the years to other countries with a similar need for sustainable cooling solutions, such as Australia? Also, what are the company’s expansion plans in the region and beyond?

Fantastic! Definitely. I think the UAE and Tabreed would be at the cornerstone for this leadership. The UAE is probably one of the countries that has the highest District Cooling adaptation, and we are proud that today, our contribution is nearly 1.1 million tonnes of refrigeration that is installed. So, the UAE is already showing leadership by example, and as a company, we are also proud that we are not only domestic. Today, we have a footprint in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bahrain. We are in India. We are looking to expand further in Egypt, hopefully, and in other North African countries. We will follow the business opportunity, wherever it is. In time, our know-how and experience makes us again credible. I think we can demonstrate our value proposition to our clients, wherever they are, but it is a journey. Today, we are starting in the Gulf and across the Middle East. In time, we will expand where it makes sense for us to expand.

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