Interview: Bader Saeed Al Lamki
What role can district cooling play in tackling the challenge of climate change?
BADER SAEED AL LAMKI: Cooling has a significant and often overlooked impact on climate change. Overall, cooling represents around 15% of peak residential electricity demand – up to 70% in warm regions such as the GCC. Globally, energy demand from cooling has more than tripled in the last three decades, which has led to a stark increase in cooling-related CO₂ emissions. District cooling has a major role to play in tackling this challenge. The technology is 50% more energy efficient than conventional cooling alternatives, leading to a direct reduction in energy demand and emissions. In addition, by reducing peak consumption, district cooling helps governments and cities achieve sizeable savings in peak electricity generation and distribution capacity. Lastly, for mid- to high-density developments, the district cooling value proposition remains unmatched from a techno-commercial perspective, providing developers with the most cost-efficient solutions as well as the highest level of reliability. In 2019 alone Tabreed contributed to eliminating over 1.2m tonnes of CO₂, which is equivalent to removing 268,000 cars from the streets in a year.
How is the regulatory environment adapting to support sustainable cooling solutions?
AL LAMKI: On the international stage, the Cool Coalition was established in April 2019 with the objective of actively promoting efficient and climate-friendly cooling. The coalition is a multi-stakeholder global network bringing together the private sector, government, cities, international organisations, finance, academia and civil society. This initiative, catalysed by the Kigali Cooling Efficiency Programme and spearheaded by the UN, has already begun to bear fruit. For example, more than 40 countries committed to adopting comprehensive national cooling plans and/or made cooling-related pledges during the UN Climate Action Summit held in New York in September 2019. Tabreed is a member of this coalition and has been actively involved in its activities. On a local level, Abu Dhabi’s Department of Energy (DoE) recently unveiled its Demand-Side Management and Energy Rationalisation Strategy 2030 (DSM), with the target of reducing energy consumption by 22% by 2030. District cooling is identified as one of the nine pillars of the DSM programme. The objective is to advance the penetration of technology in both existing and new developments. Another important milestone was the DoE’s issuance of the Abu Dhabi district cooling regulations – the first such measures in the MENA region. The guidelines provide a regulatory framework, and technical and commercial guidelines for the development of district cooling in the emirate, with the objective of encouraging investment, protecting consumers, and ensuring the highest level of service, energy efficiency and competitiveness in the sector.
Which markets and segments are poised for growth in district cooling at a global level?
AL LAMKI: With mounting pressure to increase energy efficiency, the penetration rate of district cooling is set to rise. Overall penetration of district cooling and similar centralised cooling technology is currently estimated at around 2% of total installed capacity. Adoption is expected to increase by 10-20% in the GCC’s most mature markets, which indicates room for growth. This growth is likely to come from greenfield projects in emerging countries with strong urban development dynamics. This includes neighbouring countries such as Saudi Arabia, which has a number of mega-developments and infrastructure projects under way. Further afield, South-east Asia has strong potential. There is also opportunity for growth in existing developments and cities. First, by connecting existing plants into one integrated network to optimise operations, unlock spare capacity and connect new buildings. Second, by retrofitting old buildings – currently connected to legacy conventional cooling systems – to district cooling.
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