Interview: Khalid Al Marzooqi

Which particular challenges and opportunities does the transition to a net-zero emissions economy present for the district cooling industry?

KHALID AL MARZOOQI: District cooling is the most energy-efficient and cost-effective solution in high-density cities, and the technology is essential in wider decarbonisation efforts. In hot climates such as the Middle East, nearly 70% of peak electricity demand during the summer is used for cooling. The rate of urbanisation is rapidly increasing worldwide and it will be important to use more sustainable methods of reducing the carbon footprint of cooling our cities.

District cooling can also help lower costs associated with the expensive battery storage systems required for intermittent energy sources like renewables. For example, thermal energy can be stored in a battery to shift the electrical load from peak to off-peak periods, or coupled with solar energy as a battery stored as chilled water during the day.

What kind of technical innovations will impact district cooling the most in the next few years?

AL MARZOOQI: District cooling companies generate profit by increasing their efficiency, so innovation has a big part to play. Using thermal storage devices to reduce capital costs and improve demand-side management are important for future competitiveness. Artificial intelligence can also be used to predict fluctuations in demand to increase efficiency.

Dual-tariff systems that encourage district cooling companies to generate more chilled water during low-tariff periods for periods of peak demand can have a significant impact on reducing cost.

Why is research and development (R&D) important for the industry, and how can it be encouraged?

AL MARZOOQI: A lot of progress is being made by chiller unit suppliers, cooling tower suppliers and electrical motor suppliers, which is helping to boost efficiency even further. Still, when it comes to the innovation ecosystem, academia can play a larger role in contributing to R&D if it collaborates with companies operating in the industry.

Where do you see the most promising avenues for expansion and diversification?

AL MARZOOQI: There are significant opportunities in emerging Asian markets, particularly in India as the country strives to adopt a more sustainable approach to utilities. We signed a partnership agreement with the International Finance Corporation to set up an investment platform in Singapore to create markets and address investment gaps in emerging countries. Closer to home, we opened our first office in Egypt as we are in the process of completing the construction of our first district cooling plant in the country.

The GCC market offers many opportunities as well, with Saudi Arabia being particularly promising due to its size. Saudi Arabia’s ratio of district cooling capacity is five or six times higher than that of the UAE and the country’s air conditioning consumes 70% of the energy. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 includes a major emphasis on sustainability, creating big opportunities for the district cooling industry. Stakeholders involved in developing projects are increasingly following key performance indicators related to sustainability.

How is the district cooling industry aligning with the international drive towards net zero?

AL MARZOOQI: District cooling consumes, on average, half the electricity of conventional cooling methods. Given the cost savings and significant environmental benefits, the demand for district cooling is expected to increase in the coming years. In line with Abu Dhabi’s ambitious carbon-neutrality targets, we believe that our sustainable approach, the energy efficiency of our operations and our economies of scale uniquely position us to meet these objectives.