In the context of the Middle East, Dominic McPolin, the Chief Planning Officer at the Central Planning Office in the Ministry of Works in the Kingdom of Bahrain, is a rare voice. He speaks his mind out and minces no words. In early 2009, I had the opportunity of listening to him at a conference in Dubai, during which he held court on the need for regulation in district cooling. The conference was held against the backdrop of the burning embers of Lehman Brothers – that cataclysmic event that quite turned out to be the defining moment of a crisis that continues to cast a shadow of disquietude on the globe. All the delegates at the 2009 conference listened to Dominic in a manner suggestive of children lining up for ice-lollies at a country fair on a scorching summer’s day. It was as if they were searching for answers to the morass in which the district cooling industry suddenly found itself.
Dominic spoke recently at a conference that I did not have the privilege of attending but, all the same, heard about from long-standing colleagues who went as delegates. Based on their accounts, Dominic caused quite a stir, when he spoke of the cliff that district cooling in Bahrain was hurtling towards, owing to wrong approaches taken in the recent and the not-so-recent past, primarily the mother of all follies – over-designing to capacity.
Across the sea, Qatar is building district cooling plants and, based on initial accounts, seems to have adopted a more conservative approach, with modular plants in the vicinity of 40,000 TR each. While over-designing to capacity is one issue, an equally pressing one is the pricing of chilled water, which is, in many ways, linked to over-designing to capacity and which continues to anger customers of district cooling in the GCC. To characterise the pricing strategy as a relic of past follies of district cooling providers alone would be too simplistic a route to take, though. Granted that district cooling presents itself as perhaps the most energy-efficient cooling approach in large developments and, by extension, is a compelling answer to countering a seemingly ever-growing demand for power in the GCC, more parties ought to have put their hands up in setting up the plants and the infrastructure. In Denmark and Sweden, the public sector set up the schemes and, after establishing public acceptance on the pricing of heated water/chilled water, passed on the task of running the plants to private players.
What has already been set up in the GCC is arduous to reverse, but surely all future district cooling plants ought to attract a deeper collaborative approach in their set up, and also in the availability of power at preferential rates. Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno (One for all, all for one) is a motto worthy of pursuing.
– B Surendar