District Cooling Perspectives for the Middle East

District cooling produces chilled water in a centralized location for distribution to buildings like offices and factories through a network of insulated underground pipes. The chilled water travels to different buildings, where the water circulates through refrigeration coils or uses absorption technology to enter the air-conditioning system. During winter, the source for the cooling can often be sea water, so it is a cheaper resource than using electricity to run compressors for cooling.

What is District Cooling

District cooling provides effective control over internal temperature of a building, requires less maintenance than a standalone air-conditioning system, consumes lesser space and reduces noise pollution. The effect of district cooling systems on the environment is minimal because of the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, use of eco-friendly refrigerants and implementation of rigorous health and safety standards.

The Helsinki district cooling system in Finland uses waste heat from CHP power generation units to run absorption refrigerators for cooling during summer time, greatly reducing electricity usage. In winter time, cooling is achieved more directly using sea water. The adoption of district cooling is estimated to reduce the consumption of electricity for cooling purposes by as much as 90 percent. The idea is now being adopted in other Finnish cities.

The use of district cooling is also growing rapidly in Sweden and in a similar way. District cooling is very widespread in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. In fact, approx. 7 million square meters of commercial space in Stockholm is connected to the district cooling grid. The Stockholm district cooling grid currently consists of different systems with capacities ranging from 3 MW to 228 MW. The district cooling network in Stockholm is currently 76 kilometers long.

District Cooling Prospects in the Middle East

There is tremendous potential for the utilization of district cooling systems in the Middle East. The constant year-round heat coupled with expensive glass exteriors for hotel, airports and offices etc result in very high indoor temperatures. The combination of distributed generation of power and utilization of waste heat can provide a sustainable solution to meet the high demand for refrigeration in the region. District cooling systems can provide cooling solutions to commercial buildings, hotels, apartment blocks, shopping malls etc.

The world’s largest district cooling plant, Integrated District Cooling Plant (IDCP), was installed in The Pearl-Qatar in 2010. IDCP will service more than 80 apartment towers, beachfront villas, townhouses, shopping complexes, offices, schools and hotels throughout the Island, ultimately supplying more than 130,000 tons of refrigeration to the Island’s estimated 50,000 residents.

Despite paramount importance of air conditioning in Middle East countries, regional governments have failed to incorporate it in policy and planning which has lead to the evolution of an unregulated market for cooling systems.  Most of the cooling methods employed nowadays are based on traditional window units or central air cooling systems where consume copious amount of power and also damage the environment.

District cooling has the potential to provide a viable solution to meet air conditioning requirements in the Middle East. Low energy requirement, peak saving potential, eco-friendliness and cost-effectiveness are major hallmarks of district cooling networks. District cooling can play a vital role in fostering sustainable development in Middle East nations. Apart from providing cooling needs, district cooling can reduce the need for new power plants, slash fossil fuel requirements and substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the region.   

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About Salman Zafar

Salman Zafar is a renowned consultant, advisor, entrepreneur and writer with expertise in waste management, waste-to-energy, renewable energy, environment protection and sustainable development. He is the Founder of EcoMENA, in addition to being the CEO of consultancy firm BioEnergy Consult. Salman has successfully accomplished a wide range of projects in the areas of biomass energy, biogas, waste-to-energy and waste management. He has participated in numerous conferences and workshops as chairman, session chair, keynote speaker and panelist. Salman is a professional writer and is proactively engaged in creating mass awareness on renewable energy, waste management and environmental sustainability. He can be reached at salman@ecomena.org or salman@bioenergyconsult.com
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