Integration of renewable energy is an aspect that District Cooling providers are looking into, in a bid to enhance efficiency and lessen the plants’ burden on the energy grid. Ismail Almarzooqi, CEO, South Energy, said that there is strong potential for solar in this regard, not only because District Cooling is evolving but also because the solar industry is rapidly changing. “Prices are dropping, and capacity is increasing per square metre,” he said. “We used to install one megawatt for 1,000 square metres; today, we can install for 5,000 square metres. It can affect, eventually, how we design future plants.” Fares Ahmad, General Manager, Emaar District Cooling, said the company is also exploring integration of solar in projects, where applicable. “I don’t think it’s only solar, driven by the District Cooling provider or developer that can make a difference,” he said. “Utilising solar developed by the Dubai government, connecting the solar to the DC plant is something we see coming in the future, as well.” However, Ahmed emphasised that initiatives have to be scaled according to the plant, and challenges do exist in terms of the commercial aspect of integration, as well as in terms of obtaining necessary approvals from relevant authorities, which, he said, can be challenging.
Dr Yousif Al Hammadi, Senior Vice President – Business Development, Tabreed, said the Abu Dhabi-headquartered utility is working closely with colleagues in Masdar to explore existing technologies that can be implemented. He pointed out that a number of factors must be taken into consideration when it comes to utilising solar. “You have to have the right area, right support and right fit,” he said. “There is no one size that fits all needs and demands. I would cautiously say that there is a future, there is hope. The UAE is increasing targets to utilise clean energy, and we need to help and support them to achieve that target, but like I said, it requires a lot of elements.”
Dr Adib Moubadder, CEO, Emicool said he is optimistic about hybrid plants, adding that the company has done a plant of five- megawatt hybrid, and succeeded in the first stage of two megawatts capacity. “It will come in stages,” he said, “but the hybrid of solar, it’s coming for sure.”
Sougata Nandi, Founder & CEO, 3e Advisory & 3e Apps, offered a more cautious view. “When you talk about supplementing or supporting District Cooling with solar, you are talking of something scientifically challenging, because you are trying to support a high- density energy activity with a low-density source.” Even if solar power can be brought in from a different location, Nandi said issues related to transmission and distribution would have to be addressed. “Then, it becomes a holistic project, rather than a DC provider and his solar plant,” he said.
Almarzooqi said he believes there are opportunities for a more diverse mix of renewable energy. “The use of tri-generation with LNG and solar, and others, are feasible,” he said. “Especially for us at South Energy. We have 145,000 square metres and abundant land. Our strategy is to supplement DC with any sort of renewable energy in the coming 20-25 years.” Almarzooqi said that the use of geothermal – another form of energy under consideration – is largely dependent on cost and that it must make commercial sense. Ahmed echoed this when he said: “There are a lot of challenges when it comes to geothermal and a lot of limitations. But, I think we are focusing on only one aspect of renewable. Electricity plays a major role, but also we should not ignore water, and there is a lot of things we can do. We are relying too much on potable water.” Ahmed pointed out that the industry must also look into opportunities for TSE and into addressing potential challenges related to its availability to further enhance efficiency.