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‘Want to pursue new markets, broaden range of services’

Khalid Al Marzooqi, CEO, Tabreed, in conversation with Surendar Balakrishnan of Climate Control Middle East

| | Dec 12, 2021 | 5:21 pm
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What key goals have you set for yourself in your tenure as CEO of Tabreed?

I want to pursue new markets and broaden our range of services – we do more than provide district cooling, and Tabreed will play an important role in the UAE’s drive towards carbon neutrality and sustainability. Tabreed also has an all-new corporate look and feel, only recently unveiled, which we will build upon over the coming months and years, increasing our reach to global audiences and marketplaces.

Khalid Al Marzooqi

The GCC region is looking to use Green Hydrogen as a fuel. There are a number of initiatives afoot in Saudi Arabia, in particular. Do you see Green Hydrogen as part of a mix to fuel district cooling plants? And if so, what are the implications in terms of emission reduction and lowering the total cost of ownership (TCO) for building owners connecting to district cooling schemes?

Tabreed’s main source of energy is electricity from the grid. In remote areas, however, where electricity is not readily available, hydrogen could, potentially, become part of the fuel mix for district cooling plants that due to their physical locations, need to be powered by internal combustion engines.

From the initial years of District Cooling in the UAE, in the late-1990s, till now, what has Tabreed done as a district cooling provider that would be considered innovative, even transformational, to lower opex and make reticulation networks more last-mile reliable?

We created the first smart meters for district cooling, and Tabreed’s commercial structure has been incredibly innovative. Everything, from the way we finance developments to the contractual agreements we have in place with clients, has been streamlined, and we have led the industry in this region with our business model. The impact has been a dramatic reduction in energy consumption over the past 20 years, which is hugely beneficial for the environment.

Today, Tabreed is leading the industry in district cooling plant design and engineering. The company has been continuously innovating by designing its plants with latest technologies, such as thermal energy storage systems and utilising sea water in plant processes. Our collaboration with industry has enabled us to introduce technologies such as magnetic bearing chillers and carbon nano-coating in heat exchangers.

We have also invested heavily in our legacy plants to bring them at par when it comes to automation and process efficiency. For example, Tabreed has set up several programmes for uplifting efficiency, including investing in upgrading plant automation and chilled water management systems, and retrofitting older plants with VFDs on chillers, pumps and motors. We have also worked with world-leading data science and optimisation firms to implement advanced machine learning and optimisation software, further optimising DC plant processes.

What R&D projects is Tabreed currently investing in?

Earlier this year, we announced the launch of four pilot projects that are part of Tabreed’s R&D funding commitment, which will improve operational efficiency while enhancing district cooling plant life and reliability.

‘Future of Cooling’ is the first of the four initiatives and aims to introduce new concept design and control philosophy as well as innovative and disruptive technologies into each district cooling plant, resulting in material improvements in plant performance as well as a prolonged life and lower plant lifecycle costs.

The second is ‘Carbon NanoTube’, which has the potential to drastically enhance the performance and life span of plant and equipment as well as reduce plant and energy transfer station (ETS) footprints using carbon nanotube (CNT) material, which has outstanding properties in terms of heat transfer.

Then, there’s ‘Wet Bulb Forecasting’, designed to drastically enhance demand side management, more accurately forecasting customer demand for the next 24 hours to allow for a more efficient operation by optimising production of cooling. The last of the four involves redesigning the district cooling plant’s condenser circuit and its cooling tower, which is one of the critical components in the plant and has a significant impact on the plant’s performance.

Tabreed has also embarked on a digital transformation journey, where the company is migrating all its IT infrastructure and processes to state-of-the-art IT systems. This programme is made up of several ambitious projects that are designed to build new IT infrastructure for the company and capitalise on more than 20 years’ worth of OT data and business information repository.

Are there any plans to interconnect reticulation networks of district cooling schemes, to be able to use greater capacity and avoid investment in plant-related expansion?

Tabreed always carefully considers the locations of its networks and, whenever it is feasible, we connect to existing infrastructure. Prime examples of this are the Downtown District Cooling Plant and the Sheikh Zayed Road Scheme in Dubai, as well as the facility in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi.

Do you see a substantial role for Tabreed in the event of making Abu Dhabi a carbon-neutral city, where district cooling is one of the pillars to achieving that?

Tabreed has to demonstrate to all its stakeholders the benefits of district cooling – compared to conventional cooling solutions – in supporting the vision of UAE’s Energy Strategy 2050 to reduce carbon emissions and promote energy efficiencies. Tabreed is keen on engaging with relevant authorities to work together to define the contribution of district cooling in achieving the targets set in the local vision and energy strategy frameworks.

Being mindful, too, about the impact of refrigerants on climate change, Tabreed is proactively engaging with relevant stakeholders to develop and promote use of refrigerants with lesser GWP (Global Warming Potential) and Zero ODP (Ozone Depleting Potential).

Do you see the integration of solar and nuclear power in achieving carbon-neutrality in Abu Dhabi?

Tabreed welcomes any and all initiatives that reduce carbon emissions, and we are fully supportive of the UAE government’s objectives, not only in Abu Dhabi but across the entire country.

Tabreed relatively recently divested its shares in Qatar Cool and assumed complete ownership of Abu Dhabi’s Al Maryah Island plant. Could you shed some light on these developments?

Regarding the company’s divestment of shares in Qatar Cool, our stake in that operation had been 44%, and we sold this to Qatar District Cooling Company QCSC on August 4 in a deal worth AED 417 million. The disposal of these shares is perfectly aligned with Tabreed’s long-term plans for sustainable growth, and the additional cash balance will be used to finance expansion of our portfolio in other ventures. Tabreed is set on a focused course and is a leaner, more agile company as a result of this divestment.

As you mention, expansion recently came in the form of our acquisition of the remaining 50% stake in Al Maryah Island plant in Abu Dhabi, from Mubadala Infrastructure Partners (MIP). This strategic development means that Tabreed is the exclusive provider of district cooling to one of the UAE’s most prestigious and notable developments. Al Maryah Island has quickly become the leading business district in Abu Dhabi and is home to Abu Dhabi Global Market, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, The Galleria Mall, Rosewood Abu Dhabi and the Four Seasons Hotel.

There are exciting times ahead for Tabreed, and we are well positioned to achieve planned, sustainable growth for the good of the company, its people, its stakeholders and shareholders alike.

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