Qatar Cool will be hosting IDEA’s International District Cooling Conference & Trade Show in November in Doha. Climate Control Middle East caught up with Fayad Al Khatib, the company’s General Manager, during IDEA’s 101st Annual Conference and Trade Show, in June, in Indianapolis, during which he spoke about what to expect in November, about the district cooling provider’s progress in Pearl Qatar and its willingness to accept alternative sources of water.
What does it mean to Qatar Cool to play host to IDEA’s 5th International District Cooling Conference and Trade Show in November in Doha?
We at Qatar Cool support a conference like this not only for the sake of Qatar Cool but also for building more awareness of district energy in the region. An IDEA conference is an opportunity to hear from district energy experts, suppliers and so on. The people at IDEA are established and solid. They have opened doors for us, and we want them to open doors for others in the region. I feel we don’t do justice to district energy in our region, in terms of explaining it. We are five years old, IDEA is 101 years old.
The conference is not about Qatar Cool but about IDEA. We are only a tool for IDEA to come to the region. We want the district energy voice to be heard.
What prompted you to choose the theme, ‘District Cooling: Greener Buildings, Smarter Grid’?
Operating a grid is a very important issue for operators, because it impacts reliability, bottom-line and efficiency. We talk about our intranet grid, but there is also a client’s grid. It’s important to talk about their grid, because it affects our grid. So it is really linked and a fascinating subject.
Qatar Cool’s district cooling plant in Pearl Qatar is the largest in world. At this point in time, it has a unique character in that while a part of it is under operation, another part is being commissioned and yet another part is being constructed. How do you manage to reconcile the three rather divergent activities?
The group operating the plant is concerned that the service should be reliable, the equipment is reliable, consumables are available, utilities are as they need, and that tools are available for routine maintenance. The group that is commissioning has a work-profile that is zonespecific and is more task-oriented, which means the work stops and starts. The construction group has the task of completing MEP-related work. The people in the group use specialised equipment in the plant. They have to bring in welding equipment. Against this background, the challenge is to ensure that these groups work independently and yet jointly.
The construction group is working above, below and around. It may be using power and water. The group operating the plant is working in a previously commissioned area. So there are common areas, and so safety is a challenge.
Another challenge is logistics. Bringing in materials and not affecting the facilities team is definitely a challenge. The storage area may not be completed. We have to make sure we have the required tools, spares and personnel.
And all the while, the client should not feel any of the behind-the-scenes activities; they only need reliable service.
Yet another challenge is that different entities may want to protect their own interests. So for us, the challenge is that all activities are coordinated. We have weekly (formal) meetings and informal meetings, what we call as toolbox meetings. The last thing we want is a clash of activities. We have made them realise the importance of safety and commissioning.
It’s a nice challenge, really. The plant is very well run, though, and I am proud of that. There are lots of people interacting… contractors, master developers, suppliers and operators. So far, there have been no interruptions and no incidents or issues. It doesn’t happen on its own, so a job really well done.
Where have you reached regarding the use of alternative sources of water? What about TSE?
The TSE network is being commissioned. The network was in place sometime last year. We are working in close coordination with Kahramaa, and we are waiting for them to provide that. Kahramaa are as much anxious to use TSE as we are. We want to try TSE out and make its use a success. My personal goal is to use TSE and, further, use it for irrigation. We are in talks with treatment suppliers, and we are in a position to engage them. It is an opportunity to conserve water usage, and I look forward to it. In Plant 2 (West Bay) and in the Pearl Plant, we can easily integrate ourselves to TSE; in Plant 1 (West Bay), though, it will not be so easy; with some modifications, we may be able to use TSE.
What about seawater? In an earlier interview, you did say that the shallow water posed a challenge.
We are not closing doors on seawater. We will continue to look at new technologies for seawater, potable, TSE. Part of the reason we come to such conferences (IDEA) is to try to stay close to latest developments and to designers. It is important we stay engaged and plan for the future. We don’t want to wait till somebody says, “You don’t do it.”
As far as water conservation is concerned, we have been operating Plant 1 since 2007; and we have done a remarkable job in reducing water and power use by 20%.
We measure and analyse lot of data, and we take small steps; the trend is going in the right direction, which is very interesting. In Plants 1 and 2, the crews are competing over efficiency and reliability; and we reward the best team. We have achieved below 0.9kW/TR for both plants combined.
Rob (Thornton) did ask this question during the panel discussion, and I am going to ask it again – do you get credit from the Government for your achievements?
I see it as a two-way communication. We are a group of engineers and financial professionals who did not spend time on publicising our achievements. But I think we realised two things: We need proper training in presenting our achievements and that we need to make sure that the data is sustainable and not a onetime occurrence. Today, we have solid data that we can present. Earlier, we were very number-oriented, we were very detail-oriented, but now, we are able to connect better. And we are starting to receive proper credit. A month ago, during a meeting with the water planning department, they were asking us about our water experience in district cooling. We presented the actual data from our plants, and they were impressed. We are trying to do that with other utilities, as well. Communication is a two-way process. If you want to be recognised, you need to show to be recognised.
What data are you showing?
We are putting information that end users can understand. We are presenting to them water- and power-related data, whatever is relevant to them. If they want to talk about environment, then we talk about emissions. If they want to talk about water then we present only water-oriented data. People have a 20-minute attention span; maybe, it is just 12 minutes. Our subject is new. In the past, we overdelivered information, we gave a complete crash course for an hour and 30 minutes; today, we are to the point.
In view of the shale gas phenomenon in the US, how is Qatar reacting?
Fortunately, I was in the steel industry, and we used natural gas. The demand equation for natural gas is growing worldwide. Seven to eight years ago, natural gas was a very hot commodity. It was considered a clean and cheaper energy, and so it peaked to $15 MMBtu. So investment in technology started. Then, people started looking at alternative forms of energy, like wind and nuclear, which caused the use of natural gas to go down; but it is a fantastic fuel. Shale gas is comparable in cost, but everything goes in cycles. People will move from coal-fired to gasfired. Even if there is a supply glut, demand will catch up. End users are very clever and have learnt to be flexible. So I don’t see shale gas impacting Qatar. The worldwide demand for natural gas will increase. And besides, Qatar has its Vision 2030, the goal of which is to diversify the economy. LNG currently accounts for 70% of the country’s GDP. But it is Qatar that is at the forefront of using natural gas as jet fuel. So Qatar is very proactive. The leadership in Qatar is visionary. What they have planned is outstanding. We are not just developing projects, we are making history.