Stellar performance will keep us cool in the heat

With the air conditioning on at full-blast during the summer, power consumption across the Middle East is huge. So when one company drives into the market with systems which are designed to save power at peak times, it has to be a cool idea, right? Zoe Naylor meets Trevor Richter from Stellar Group, to find out just how to chill, the American way.

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By  Zoe Naylor Published  January 14, 2006

|~|104int200.gif|~|Economically chilling: Richter says that district cooling companies are reducing the maximum power load required during the summer months.|~|Can you explain the background of the Stellar Group and its areas of operation? Stellar Group is a 20 year-old company based in Florida in the US. We started as a mechanical contractor and grew into a design-build firm; we now have engineers who carry out the initial design of projects, plus a team who build them. As a company we have several different groups. We carry out general construction, we build food-processing plants, and I work within with power and utilities sector. It is this sector that has located in Dubai, which focuses on building small power plants and district cooling plants. What major projects are you currently working on in the region? In Dubai we’re working on two projects for Palm District Cooling: Jumeirah Lake Towers (JLT), and the trunk of the Palm Jumeirah. For the JLT project we’re building the first three (out of four) district cooling plants. It is designed as a phased system, so we’re building three concrete shells and putting in the first phase of chillers for each of those three buildings. But as more power comes on line at JLT, hopefully we’ll be called to bring in more chillers to fill out the plant. On the trunk of the Palm Jumeirah we’re working on two plants. It’s the same phased approach concept, so there is room for chillers that aren’t, as yet, being used. We’re also working on a project at a power plant in Riyadh where we’re building a central chiller plant. The chilled water isn’t used for air conditioning: It’s used to cool the inward air to the gas turbine. That actually allows the gas turbine to make more power during the summer months. The summer is a tough time for power because gas turbine power plants make less power than they can when the air is cold, and at the same time the power demand is at its highest because everyone’s running their air conditioning. On one side, district cooling companies are reducing that maximum load in the summer; and on the other side, cooling gas turbine power plants are increasing the output that the power companies can provide. In terms of the amount of power that can be generated for Dubai, do you think we’re in line for more power cuts this summer? I couldn’t say — I don’t know enough about the power supply system and the power generation capacity. But we can advise a client who asks us how an individual plant can produce more power in the summer. What are the advantages of district cooling versus conventional air conditioning systems? It lets the individual clients get on with what they do best — they don’t have to worry about maintaining a cooling system or using up floor space for chillers. It is also a more efficient system in terms of power consumption. One of the driving forces behind district cooling in Dubai is to reduce the total power demand, as the emirate is growing so fast. Air conditioning is one of the biggest single consumers of electricity — but by using district cooling, the power consumption can be cut by around 40% per building. What is the ‘plug and chill’ concept? It’s a modular chiller plant design concept whereby all the chiller plant components are skid-mounted and enclosed in four walls and a roof. They are then trucked or shipped to site and set up on a concrete pad. You then plug them in, hook up the water, and you’re chilling. We can customise the basic standard design for each client. What are the benefits of this system? It integrates proven chilling technology, efficient systems design and state-of-the-art controls, to produce and distribute chilled water in the most energy efficient and cost effective way. A big advantage is that we’re building these plants in our fabrication shops — it’s a basic, standard design, so they’re being built over and over again, which means you get reliability and quality control. It’s also cost effective to build and we can actually build these plants faster than a brick and mortar traditional type of plant. We’ve been building these for about 10 years but it really caught on about five years ago. What new technology and innovation is coming to the marketplace? People are beginning to pick up on the concept of thermal energy storage, which is what we’re using on the Riyadh project. Thermal energy storage allows you to store energy like a battery. We run the chillers, fill up a huge tank (the project in Riyadh is actually the largest capacity thermal energy storage tank in the world). Then when you do have the demand, you can pump from that tank. There are advantages with this: Firstly, energy costs more during the day, so you can run the chillers at night, fill up the tank and then pump the water during the day when you need it. It can also help you to downsize your system and buy fewer chillers which are the most expensive part of a chiller system. Anytime you’re not at full load, you can be filling the tank with chilled water. So when you do get to peak load you don’t necessarily have to have all of it covered with chillers — you can be supplementing what your chillers are doing by pumping chilled water from the tank. What are Stellar Group’s plans for 2006? The Middle East is still a new market to us (we’ve only had offices in Dubai for one and-a-half years). We’re also looking at Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait, but for the moment, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are markets that are really exceeding our expectations. What marks you out from the competition? As far as the design-build approach, I don’t think that anyone has been doing what we do for as long as we have. We are a contractor who takes responsibility for all our engineering and construction; so we’re single source. We also fabricate our own modular systems, and having all that expertise under one roof makes it a safe bet.||**||

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