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Ahmad Bin Shafar, CEO of Empower, discusses the future of district cooling as part of the UAE’s utility infrastructure, and its benefits to the region’s demands on electricity and water
Keeping the desert cool is one of the biggest problems this region faces. With summer temperatures constantly threatening to break the 50 degree barrier, sustaining life in the Gulf depends almost entirely on the availability of a comprehensive and economical cooling solution.
With electricity at a premium from already stretched generating facilities, traditional power-hungry cooling methods like air conditioning are beginning to strain infrastructure at peak times.
DEWA, Dubai’s power and water authority, estimates that during the summer there is a 40 per cent increase in electricity consumption between noon and 5pm, causing a surge in demand that generation facilities are required to cope with.
Not only that, the authority’s statistics also show that air conditioning represents 70 per cent of an individual’s electricity bill. Clearly, there is incentive for both authority and end-user to utilise a better, more efficient method of cooling.
District cooling is not a new idea. The idea for centralised production and distribution of cooling energy has been around since the 19th century, and today utilises an underground network of insulated pipes to deliver chilled water from a central plant to a series of buildings.
Through specially designed units, this water is then used to lower
the temperature of air passing through the building’s air conditioning system.
Having been implemented in Dubai International Airport in the 1970s, district cooling saw commercial adoption in the late 1990s on the back of the Emirate’s real estate boom.
After a shaky few years, the last five have seen it reemerge as a huge growth industry. Ahmad Bin Shafar, CEO of Empower, believes that the key to successfully implementing district cooling in the region is to be certain of the property development before work is begun on building infrastructure.
“I strongly believe in seeing the contractor and developer coming up with the building first,” he says. “When they get close to the handover stage, maybe 80 per cent of completion, I’ll instruct my team to start working on putting up plants for district cooling, whether permanent or semi permanent.”
“I don’t live with hope, I live with reality – I’m a very pragmatic person, and I will not move ahead until I can see construction, that the development is there and I can see there is building. I believe in seeing things done.”
Talking in the company’s Healthcare City headquarters, Bin Shafar is quietly confident that district cooling is the future of the region’s cooling needs.
Empower was established in 2003 as a joint venture between DEWA and TECOM, with the vision of providing efficient district cooling services to developments in Dubai and the surrounding region.