How district cooling helps the Gulf to beat the blistering heat

The Gulf’s scorching temperatures mean that efficient indoor climate control is vital for both domestic accommodation and the working environment. Traditional air conditioning systems use around 60% of the total power generated in high temperature surroundings, resulting in high operating costs and energy wastage. To combat this, developers and building owners are turning to district cooling as a more economical and environmentally friendly option, as CW reports.

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By  Zoe Naylor Published  July 9, 2005

How district cooling helps the Gulf to beat the blistering heat|~|AC4200.jpg|~|Traditional air conditioning systems consume around 60% of the total power generated in high temperature environments such as the Gulf.|~|Air conditioning units have dominated the market in the UAE since the 1970s when they originally arrived to replace traditional wind towers. But now district cooling schemes are gaining increasing market share in the UAE and the wider GCC, with a raft of major deals signed in recent months. Empower is developing a 70 000-tonne cooling system at Dubai International Financial Centre; Drake & Scull won the contract for the 60 000-tonne plant at Jumeirah Beach Residence; and Tabreed (the National District Cooling Co.) signed five contracts with the UAE Armed Forces worth US $163.5 million (AED600 million). Given the region’s inhospitable climate with summer temperatures reaching the low 50s, efficient indoor climate control is vital for both domestic accommodation and the working environment. District cooling can be traced back to the U.S. in the nineteenth century, where it was introduced as a scheme to distribute clean, cool air to houses through underground pipes. The first known district cooling system began operations at Denver’s Colorado Automatic Refrigerator Company in 1889. During the 1930s, large district cooling systems were created for the Rockefeller Centre in New York and for the U.S. Capital Buildings in Washington D.C. The system is still a relative newcomer to the UAE, with the country’s first chilled water system being installed in Dubai in 1999 by Tabreed. “Back in the ‘90s when DCS first arrived here it was difficult to convince building owners that it could save them capital costs,” says Sleiman Shakkour, assistant mechanical engineering manager, Tabreed. “But district cooling is becoming increasingly accepted as more and more people begin to appreciate its benefits.” Traditional air conditioning systems consume around 60% of the total power generated in high temperature environments. This makes a significant impact on the power generating network, resulting in high operating costs and energy wastage within buildings. DCS is a centralised system whereby central plants cool water and distribute it through a network of piping systems, making it a much more effective and efficient cooling system compared to installing individual air-cooled plants in each building. “The system uses essentially the same components and flow for energy as traditional air conditioning systems; the difference is in the way it’s manufactured and put together,” explains Luay Khdair, business development engineer, Drake & Scull. “Most of the private developers here, such as Nakheel and Emaar, now use district cooling as it offers a win-win situation for both the developer and the end-user.” The set up of centralised plants used in DCS achieves economies of scale, which have a tangible impact upon energy consumption, building space requirements and capital expenditure. “DCS offers two types of financial savings: capital and operational,” explains Shakkour. “Owners don’t have to buy lots of chillers and pay for contractors to install them. Then, there’s the saving on power consumption. To give a rough idea of savings, one DCS saves approximately AED5000 per tonne of installation. For a 40-storey building this could mean around 1000 tonnes of installation, which equals approximately AED5 million in initial cost savings. In terms of operational costs there’s also less maintenance involved and less electricity consumption.” Traditional compressor technology, as used in most air-conditioning systems, requires large amounts of electricity. Moreover, harmful substances are evaporated in the cooling process. With DCS, refrigerants are kept contained in a system that requires half the energy or less, thus improving operating efficiency and protecting the environment from the release of CFCs linked to ozone depletion. Centralised plants employ tight emission controls — much more so than individual buildings — and this provides air-quality benefits. “Centralising the cooling means less power consumption. More efficient equipment can be installed, which in turns means a reduction in CO2 emissions from power stations,” says Shakkour. Building owners and managers are particularly attracted to the maintenance-free and cooling benefits of the technology. Rather than having to worry about individual units on each building, with DCS there is just one central system requiring less maintenance, monitoring and equipment permitting. Upfront capital requirements and ongoing, operating and labour costs are reduced, so there is less financial risk and a more favourable rate of return on investment. Additional residential benefits include greater design flexibility and space saving — DCS eliminates the need for cooling towers or chillers, which means space can be freed up for roof top terraces or storage needs. Tenants also benefit from reduced ambient noise and improved temperature control in their homes. “If you look at the cooling market in the Gulf over the next five years, district cooling will dominate,” says Khdair. “There will still be some bureaucratic interference and there will always be some people who don’t want the option — and it’s not a suitable option if you have scattered buildings — but it is without doubt the way forward. “It’s a booming market and is a niche for us at Drake & Scull. We’ve submitted many tenders recently for various towers and hospitals. Summer is always a bit quiet, but things will pick up again shortly. The big one we’re waiting to hear about at the moment is the Burj.” Shakkour agrees that the market for district cooling in the region is growing all the time. “It’s definitely on the rise and has picked up considerably from a few years ago, especially in Dubai. The trend is definitely good news for people looking for big developments, as it saves lots of money on a building’s utilities. “The future potential in huge — it’s now a really booming market. We’re currently working on projects right across the region including the West Bay Complex in Doha, the Blue Pearl building in Bahrain and Bahrain’s World Trade Centre.” Tabreed is also making inroads to the current real estate boom in Fujairah, where it recently picked up the contract to supply district cooling to the emirate’s tallest building, the Al Jaber tower. The scorching climate of the Middle East holds huge potential for district cooling development, with owners, developers and residents alike set to benefit. As mega construction projects such as the Burj, the Palms and the Pearl-Qatar take shape and edge towards completion, DCS is a surely a step in the right direction when it comes to national power consumption and responsible environmental management. ||**||

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