Economic View

On the pandemic’s implications for the district cooling industry

In what ways will the trend of remote work impact the residential property market? 

BADER SAEED AL LAMKI: The pandemic has accelerated the shift towards digitisation, especially with work from home, in turn increasing the need for residential cooling. This further establishes cooling as essential infrastructure, similar to water and electricity at home, especially in regions such as the Gulf where the climate is challenging.

There are regional and global indications that working from home will be integrated into human resources policies moving forward, as online tools have proven to be efficient and effective. After the pandemic, companies are likely to adopt flexible solutions related to office and remote work. This will translate into changes in district cooling demand for residential developments, and we are putting plans in place to seize these opportunities. 

To what extent has the pandemic raised awareness of the need for greater sustainability and efficiency in cooling mechanisms? 

AL LAMKI: Today, more than 60% of the UAE’s energy bill is attributed to cooling in the summer months. Globally, demand for air conditioning is forecast to triple by 2050, putting additional pressure on energy supply and significantly increasing cooling-related carbon emissions. As such, a shift towards sustainable means of cooling is critical to addressing the local and global challenge of climate change. 

District cooling and sustainable cooling solutions as a whole are central to this transition, with the potential to significantly and quickly contribute to the reduction of emissions while creating economic value in the process. All stakeholders, private and public, have a shared responsibility to promote sustainable cooling solutions and build a favourable framework for the development of the industry. The pandemic has only accelerated the dialogue around this topic.

How has the pandemic impacted operations?

AL LAMKI: Our commitment to employee health and safety was strengthened during the pandemic. Increased sanitisation measures were implemented at our plants and offices, in combination with a work-from-home policy, where possible. Covid-19 has further demonstrated the robustness of our internal processes and the resilience of our operations. The fact that we recently reached 11m hours of uninterrupted operations with no incidents is reflective of this. 

Collaboration with the health authorities has been crucial to maintaining business continuity. This includes full compliance with measures stipulated by the local and federal government in the UAE, as well as continuous reporting on the progress being made. The same can be said of all health authorities in the countries in which we operate, such as Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bahrain.
What does Tabreed’s acquisition of Emaar Properties’ Downtown Dubai district cooling assets in April 2020 signal about the industry?

AL LAMKI: This acquisition was a significant development for Tabreed and the industry as a whole. It resulted in 150,000 refrigeration tonnes (RT) being added to our capacity and increased total group capacity by 13%, to 1.3m RT. More broadly, it is a signal of the favourable conditions within the industry regionally and suggests that significant growth opportunities remain.