The August 2021 edition of Climate Control Middle East magazine carried a detailed post-event report on the DC Dialogue conference, in June 2021, which I found interesting.
The most thought-provoking comments were in the point-counterpoint section of the report, on what participants wished to see to improve the district cooling industry in the GCC region. I found all the panelists and commentators very knowledgeable in their respective fields of expertise. I want to follow up on two of the wish-list items in this article. Both are available and can be utilised immediately.
First, in a discussion relating to the building user side of district cooling, George Berbari, CEO, DC PRO Engineering, stated that connected buildings need to operate efficiently, pointing to a law in New York City, in which buildings are required to report data.
George mentioned that he would like to see this implemented in the GCC region. In the same vein, Nasar Bin Jarsh, COO, Emicool, stated that Emicool is reporting monthly Kwh, and that putting all this in one bucket and looking to see a building’s cross-section of building energy use would be amazing.
Regarding the law that George was referring to – New York City Local Law 87 – it requires that all buildings over 50,000 square feet report energy consumption annually. Now, the technology to analyse this reported data that Nasar requested is currently available and can be implemented in any building in the GCC region.
All that would be required are the utility bills of the past three years and subsequent monthly utility bills. This data needs to be loaded into a software program, and you have all the information and analysis you need at your fingertips. At US Chiller Services, we already use a technology that performs this and other analyses and calculations, in New York and the GCC region. The program finds, tracks and proves energy savings for buildings. At a macro-business level, the information helps answer the business questions that lead to better-performing buildings.
Whether it’s one building or large portfolios, the technology uses utility bill data to answer four key business questions:
How are your buildings doing? It is about understanding performance at a building or portfolio level. You can see performance in simple metrics and benchmark a building against itself, a portfolio, its peers and ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. Are buildings getting better or worse? The technology helps prioritise where to focus attention on, by watching building expenses, and use with weather patterns and changes in your building. You can then spend time finding solutions for those buildings with the greatest needs.
Where are the best opportunities for savings? The technology will help implement solutions that will change building performance. It will enable you to identify low-cost operation and maintenance changes, and plan for improvements with a good return on investment.
Have past improvements paid off? The technology will help measure and prove the results. Every investment – large or small – should yield results. Tracking changes and improvements will allow you to build best practices and save more. Participants in CPI Industry’s district cooling conference, in June 2021, shared comments that formed an interesting wish-list. Well, guess what? Some of the solutions are readily available.
At US Chiller Services, we collect, input and validate all necessary monthly utility energy data for our customers to help find, track and prove savings.
Additionally, the technology:
- Documents cost, consumption and carbon
- Benchmarks building against themselves, their peers, and similar buildings
- Compares utility cost and consumption metrics across utilities
- Normalises for the effects of weather and correlates energy to business variables
- Quantifies cost savings achieved (managing to ASHRAE and IPMVP standards)
- Allows seamless integration with ENERGY STAR
- Shares visibility with building professionals, who can offer and deliver solutions
The program, called Utility Insight, yields a simple, easy-to-understand building performance report, delivered as a cloud-based software application that enables building professionals to understand, manage and implement efforts to reduce energy usage and expense. The technology brings visibility across entire portfolios – making buildings comparable not only to themselves but to their peers, to ENERGY STAR and to business factors that matter. This readily available and in-use technology covers the requests for reporting and analyses that George and Nasar discussed in the DC Dialogue wish-list.
The second wish-list item I would like to follow up on was a question by Sekhar Reddy, Managing Director, Lexzander: “Why aren’t we using gas, which is in abundance in Dubai?” I found the question very reasonable, as I have not seen any gas-driven or hybrid gas/electric-driven centrifugal chillers at any district cooling plant in the region.
In January 2017, the UAE launched its Energy Strategy 2050, according to which the country would diversify its energy mix and include 12% clean coal, 38% Natural Gas, six per cent nuclear energy and 44% clean energy (solar power, wind power and biofuels).
The strategy aims to increase the share of clean energy in the country’s electricity generation capacity to 50% by 2050 (44% renewable and six per cent nuclear). Having gas-driven centrifugal chiller plants or hybrid-operated centrifugal chiller plants would seem to fit with this strategy and allow the electric utility a more remarkable ability to meet demand in the summer, when the District Cooling plants either switch over to gas-driven mode or are operating fully on gas-driven technology.
In addition, advances in Natural Gas/hydrogen (NG/H2) blending are fast developing. As the name would suggest, NG/H2 blending integrates concentrations of hydrogen into existing natural gas pipelines to reduce the carbon intensity of the methane. This blending carries the hydrogen and natural gas mix to the intended location.
Gas-driven chillers cool water using energy provided by a natural gas engine. They operate similarly to electric chillers, substituting the electric motor for a gas engine to drive a compressor.
The engine that drives the compressor in a gas-driven chiller can operate at multiple speeds, which means that one unit can handle multiple loads. Gas-driven chillers are used to provide larger tonnage cooling loads in areas with medium to high electric rates. In particular, they are installed in hybrid systems with electric chillers. Such systems are optimised to provide the most economical cooling, often depending on the time of day. Gas-driven machines are used during on-peak electric times, and electric-driven might be used off-peak.
With Natural Gas in abundance in the GCC region, having a district cooling plant operating fully on Natural Gas chillers, or at least hybrid plants, could make sense. You can even have a hybrid chiller, whereby the chiller will work as a Natural Gas-driven compressor and as an electric-driven centrifugal compressor, installed in parallel. The chiller can operate on either energy drive.
District cooling must be regarded as mission-critical in the GCC region. In other words, there ought to be no room for outages or failures. Gas-driven chillers, installed along with electric-driven chillers, can offer better reliability and plant uptime. If a power failure were to occur at the district cooling plant, the gas chillers and backup generators for pump and tower fan loads would give the plant full redundancy and reliability and provide cooling during an electrical outage. This technology is available to be utilised in new district cooling plants or to be integrated into existing district cooling plants.
I found the points about reporting/analysing building energy data as well as the point of utilising Natural Gas in the district cooling industry very thoughtful and impactful. I am excited that these technologies are currently available, and given that major professionals in our industry are bringing both technologies into the forefront of discussions, we should all begin the process of considering and implementing them.
Dan Mizesko is Managing Partner/President, U.S. Chiller Services International. He may be contacted at email@example.com