Dubai is believed to be the only city in the world where all new property developments must adopt green practices

Companies in Abu Dhabi and Dubai are aiming at new markets with a cooling technology that could help countries in the Middle East to tackle an alarming rise in peak electrical loads.

David Hayes, UK

Dubai’s Empower – also known as the Emirates Central Cooling Systems Corporation – this year expects to become the Gulf’s largest district cooling provider in terms of customers. By the end of 2010, the firm forecasts it will have 16 000 clients, up from 10 000 at the end of last year, and the company anticipates substantial further growth in its operations.

Empower’s client base is now soaring in line with an upturn in the Dubai economy and its construction sector, which had slowed in 2008 and early 2009 after the international economic crisis affected the emirate’s commercial and residential property sectors.

Several suspended projects have now restarted and it is thought that Empower’s new projects, either in hand or awaiting confirmation, are equivalent to about one third of its present district cooling capacity.

“Empower has succeeded in boosting the demand for district cooling services through a well-rounded community outreach strategy,” said Empower CEO, Ahmad Bin Shafar, while announcing his company’s customer growth projections recently.

“We have spread the message that this new technology delivers optimal results, not only to customers but also to the society at a socio-economic level by reducing electricity and water consumption, and conserving the environment.”

Government support

Empower is a joint venture between government-owned Dubai Electric and Water Authority (DEWA) and Dubai Technology and Media Free Zone (TECOM Investments) under Dubai Holding.

Established in 2003, the company focuses on developing and operating district cooling systems in Dubai, where the company competes with several other district cooling providers for contracts to build cooling systems serving new developments.

Although figures are not available, a sizable portion of Empower’s contracts are with property developments under its joint shareholder Dubai Holding.

“Our joint venture is strategic as Empower needs electricity for the chilled water. Customers come from Dubai Holding and power and water from DEWA,” commented a senior Empower spokesman. “We have centralized plants and distribute cooling through pipelines and through take-offs to buildings. Also, we operate energy transfer stations to exchange energy with buildings to chill their water that they use for air conditioning.”

Empower’s total district cooling capacity exceeds 500 000 refrigeration tonnes (RT), making it Dubai’s largest district cooling provider. The company is working on projects exceeding 100 000 RT and expects the size of projects in hand to grow in 2011 as the property development sector continues to expand.

“Usually our district cooling projects range from 30 000 RT to 60 000 RT. The challenge in building a network is that it requires parallel pipelines in a corridor with pipelines going either under or over roads,” said the spokesman.

“We also have a lot of temperate and semi-temperate plants, including four plants ranging from 18 000 RT to 25 000 RT totalling 80 000 RT for TECOM and IMPZ [International Media Production Zone]; also, Al Quos industrial estate and Mirdif residential scheme.”

Empower’s most recent projects include Mirdif Gate, where Empower’s district cooling plant will eventually provide 59 buildings with 320 000 RT of cooling.

In Dubai, Empower already provides cooling to many commercial, residential and other building complexes, including 60 000 RT at Jumeirah Beach Residence, which covers 22 million square feet (2 million m2) and was completed in 2007. Empower also supplies 56 000 RT to Dubai Healthcare City, completed in 2007. Recently executed projects include 90 000 RT in district cooling for Dubai International Finance Centre, which was completed in 2009.

The company lately started installing a 70 000 RT cooling network for the Bay Square third phase of the Business Bay development, after installing 50 000 RT of cooling systems for the two earlier phases. The company estimates that district cooling will save 40 per cent of the energy that conventional electricity powered air conditioning would require.

Cutting peak power loads

Dubai has experienced rapid economic and social development during the past decade as the emirate’s government seeks to expand Dubai’s role as a regional business and tourism hub, while developing its standing as an international financial centre. A recent construction boom in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and in Dubai, fuelled by a flood of expatriates and a growing market for holiday apartments, has driven rapid expansion in district cooling.

Increasing use of electricity for air conditioning in residential property and commercial buildings has raised concern over surging peak load electricity demand and prompted calls for better load management to avoid the need to build more power stations.

About 70 per cent of Dubai’s peak load power demand is for air conditioning, so district cooling offers a significant consumption saving, said the spokesman. “District cooling is a strategic decision as power consumption is efficient. District cooling is less hazardous and improves the environment as it is centralized and under control,” he said.

Normal air conditioning uses 1.4 kW to 1.8 kW per RT while district cooling uses between 0.9 kW and 1.0 kW per RT.

District cooling is expected to gain in popularity in Dubai and throughout the Gulf as all countries in the region are experiencing a rapid increase in peak electrical load demand.

Dubai is believed to be the only city in the world where all new property developments are required to adopt green building practices. This ensures all major developments will install district cooling systems, which Empower will be bidding hard to construct.

After years of taking their energy resources for granted, governments in the Gulf countries have recently started to realize that simply building more power plants is unsustainable and that new measures are needed to control electricity peak load demand and to improve energy efficiency. Low electricity tariffs are among the factors blamed for a surge in air conditioning.

Dr Eckart Woertz, an economist based at the Gulf Research Center, an independent research institute in Dubai, told a recent Arabian Business Economic Forum that the low price of electricity means consumers in the UAE and the Gulf have little incentive to conserve energy and cut their usage.

“Electricity, like water, is subsidized here, and what costs nothing is worth nothing, so why save it? The region needs a completely different price scheme for these items,” said Woertz.

Variable power pricing?

The UAE’s current electricity demand is estimated at about 9 GW, of which around 7 GW is consumed by air conditioning equipment. This suggests that the current peak air conditioning demand load stands at 4 million RT, while actual installed air conditioning capacity is thought to be about 5.5 million RT.

National Central Cooling Company – commonly known as Tabreed – which is based in Abu Dhabi and listed in Dubai, estimates that window-installed air conditioning units in the UAE total an installed capacity of 1.5 million RT, while decorative split air conditioners total 750 000 RT, and packaged and ducted split air conditioners around 900 000 RT.

Air cooled chillers are thought to total an additional 1.75 million RT, leaving water-cooled district cooling chillers with 1 million RT, about 16 per cent of the total UAE refrigeration market.

Variable pricing for electricity tariffs has been suggested by consultants as one way of reducing electricity use during peak hours, particularly as air conditioning use is highest during the hottest hours of the day when district cooling can offer cost savings and better energy efficiency.

A recent electricity market survey found that the UAE could experience a compound annual growth rate in electricity demand of 10 per cent from 2010 to 2013.

DEWA has already started to campaign for a voluntary reduction in electricity use. The utility is likely to consider other strategies to cut peak load, including variable electricity pricing, if the voluntary approach fails.

The company’s current advertisements alert the public that peak daily usage hours for electricity run from noon until 5 pm, and urge consumers to be less wasteful of energy and more environmentally aware.

DEWA CEO and managing director Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer recently announced that the utility plans to begin installing smart electricity meters in Dubai before the end of the year. DEWA is thought to be planning to target commercial and other large electricity users first before looking at the residential electricity consumer market.

Dedicated corridors for pipelines

While district cooling firms are looking to expand their market, property owners and developers need to be sure that district cooling is their best solution.

“The issue is whether district cooling is suitable for every project. Each project involves a feasibility study. When high-rise buildings are involved, district cooling is nearly always suitable, but it becomes less feasible for low-rise buildings and residential villas,” said the Empower spokesman.

“Also, we need dedicated corridors for our projects as all the distribution piping is buried using concrete vault chambers to serve customers. Our pipes are laid deep so we need to co-ordinate with other services and earlier is best.”

Older downtown areas in Dubai can present few opportunities for installing district cooling

Empower’s projects are mainly to supply district cooling to new developments. Contracts to retrofit existing buildings are less frequent. The spokesman noted that buildings in the older downtown areas of Dubai such as Bur Dubai and Deira, on either side of Dubai Creek, rely on air conditioning but the main opportunity to install district cooling in such areas is provided by property redevelopment schemes.

Empower employs a standardized system of tenders to construct each district cooling project. A consulting team is appointed first, from Empower’s prequalified panel of consultants, who then prepare tender documents to be issued to companies on Empower’s list of least-cost prequalified contractors.

While the project contractor selection process is under way, Empower begins procurement processes for water chiller and heat exchange equipment.

Chillers procured range generally from 2000 RT to 3000 RT each, depending on the manufacturer, which is normally American or Japanese. Heat exchangers are purchased from various manufacturers including Sondex, GEA and HRS. Recognizing Empower’s high project development standards, Bureau Veritas recently recertified the company, awarding ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001, as well as Bureau Veritas certifications.

Elsewhere in the Gulf

Meanwhile, Empower has started to look outside Dubai, mainly in the Gulf region. “We have plans outside Dubai, as Dubai Holding has interests outside Dubai, to start with in the Gulf and Middle East,” said the Empower spokesman.

“Nothing has started yet because of the economic recession but there are plans. It’s a matter of feasibility and securing contractors. We would be the cooling system owner and operator. It could be a joint venture set up.”

At a water technology, energy and environment exhibition this year in Dubai, the utility called on all other Gulf countries to make district cooling systems mandatory for all new real estate projects.

Tabreed already operates five district cooling systems in Qatar and Bahrain in addition to its 18 systems in the UAE.

Announcing its second-quarter results in August 2010, the company said four new plants with a combined capacity of 27 500 RT were completed in Q2 2010, raising Tabreed’s total installed cooling capacity to 449 600 RT across 44 plants, up from 352 100 RT across 34 plants a year previously. The four plants commissioned in the second quarter ranged in capacity from 4000 RT to 10 000 RT.

Tabreed has also announced that it has eight systems under construction in various countries, along with two plant expansion schemes – of which five plants and one expansion scheme will be completed in 2010 – adding a total of 148 300 RT.

In addition, work is underway to design a further nine district cooling systems in various countries. Tabreed projects already under construction include the Yas Island development, a 2500-hectare island in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.

Tabreed is the sole district cooling provider for the project, which will require a total cooling capacity of 600 000 RT by the end of 2014.

Facilities being built on Yas Island include 15 hotels, 350 000 m2 of retail space, a 156 000 m2 water park, a race track, a business area and residential accommodation.

When operational, the Yas Island cooling system will comprise nine district cooling plants interconnected by a 70 km piped distribution network and centrally controlled through a fibre optic cable network. One cooling plant with a designed capacity of 60 000 RT is already operational.

Another large district cooling system under construction is the Al Raha beach development in Abu Dhabi, which will include extensive residential, commercial and entertainment facilities.

A chilled piping distribution network will be used to interlink several district cooling plants at the development.

On completion in 2015, the Al Raha cooling system will feature eight district cooling plants and two interconnected distribution networks, with a total cooling capacity of 400 000 RT. MEE

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