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President's Message 1st Quarter 2015

By Robert Thornton posted 06-16-2017 20:25


From District Energy Magazine, First Quarter, 2015

I have seen the future of district cooling. It is located in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The newly completed Empower Command and Control Center (CCC) is a highly sophisticated platform that monitors and manages end-to-end operations of one of the largest district cooling systems in the world. If you were to ask a district energy professional to design a blue sky scheme incorporating all the features you would want for managing a large, complex district cooling business, I think this system would fit the bill.

Our friends and colleagues at Empower Energy Solutions worked nearly around the clock over recent months to complete the system in time for a tour following IDEA's Sixth International District Cooling Conference. The impressive control room still had that "new car smell." Tariq Al Yasi, chief operations officer, demonstrated an impressive range of functionality, using multiple mouse clicks to show real-time data from a high-level network overview to a granular view down to each air handler in a customer building. The system provides instantaneous operational data, allowing operator insight and control to optimize efficient production, from starting and sequencing chillers to operating cooling tower fans, pumps and flow. The system displays and analyzes energy consumption, using a data historian and trending function to identify aberrations and send alarms via SMS to the operator's cell phone.

Empower's Dubai district cooling business has grown dramatically and looks to continue expanding. Today, it consists of 57 operating plants totaling nearly one million tons of cooling capacity serving approximately 54,000 sq m (581,251 sq ft) of customer building space via 50 km (31 miles) of distribution piping. With the recent acquisition of Palm District Cooling assets, Dubai has multiple district cooling networks linked together not by hydraulic distribution piping but via 
a fiber optic network that provides real-time monitoring, control and optimization of plant production cycles, cooling towers and customer interface. It even drills down to track the performance of air handlers in customer buildings. A dashboard indicates the performance of each chiller and each cooling tower; with real-time precision, it analyzes the delta T of each customer building along with performance of the customer energy transfer station. The system monitors, trends and forecasts, storing all data on a historian, and creates performance expectations based on occupancy, weather and other related trends. It will be very useful in budgeting, reporting and billing, accelerating payments and enhancing cash flow dramatically.

Of course, developing the overall control architecture, installing the points, proving the calibrations and managing the data for more than one million points is not a weekend project. This endeavor has been scoped and sourced over many years with the assistance of highly qualified controls consultants and a system integrator. A project of this scale and sophistication may not be economically viable for smaller systems, but as Empower gains more experience and shares results, more and more IDEA member systems are likely to move to a similar business model.

The CCC allows one or two control room operators to monitor conditions across the entire city grid, generating an alarm via SMS to the on-call operator if any item registers outside of compliance. For instance, if an air handler filter is clogged in a customer building, the system automatically sends an alert. An operator can determine the cause, initiate an action and in many cases will solve an issue in the customer building even before the customer is aware. In essence, this scheme brings the customer even closer to Empower and should foster a greater sense of reliability and efficiency while also optimizing operations, reducing operating costs and enhancing customer efficiency targets. Customer proximity is an important metric for any successful utility operation.

District cooling has been deployed in the Middle East only in the past 10 years, while commercial operations in the U.S. began more than 50 years ago in 1962 in Hartford, Conn. Yet the current rate of growth among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states far surpasses U.S. market expansion. At the conference, we held a panel discussion featuring the CEOs from five regional district cooling providers - Empower, Tabreed, Emicool, Qatar Cool and Tabreed Oman - representing collectively around 2.4 million tons of installed capacity today, likely to double in the next decade. In this region, air conditioning is not a luxury but a life safety matter. The panelists agreed that more uniform operating standards would be helpful along with greater transparency for customers. Moreover, the emphasis has shifted from building new capacity to operational performance and efficiency. This is a sign of a more mature market. It is estimated that 70 percent
 of the electricity produced in UAE is used for air conditioning. Clearly, more energy- and water-efficient cooling is essential to the GCC economy, and district cooling has been identified by regional governments as critical infrastructure. The Dubai Supreme Council of Energy is calling for a doubling of district cooling market share by 2020.

Empower and others have agreed to support the United Nations Environment Programme's District Energy in Cities Initiative, which calls for pairing among cities to allow "mentoring" cities like Dubai to support "emerging" cities like Beihai, China, or Surat, India, with policy insight and training to deploy district cooling. As much of the world's growth will be in urban markets in warm climates, the lessons already learned in Dubai will be very helpful to other cities aiming for more sustainable energy infrastructure. Dubai may be unique for its scale and pace of urban development, but the fundamentals of sound technology deployment, timing of capital investment, financing strategies and proper customer alignment are important everywhere.

At the outset of the conference, under the patronage of His Excellency Saeed Mohammad Al Tayer, vice chair of Dubai Supreme Energy Council and managing director and CEO of Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, Empower and Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI) jointly signed a memorandum of understanding outlining collaboration on a pilot project for
a unique hybrid thermosyphon cooling tower technology. Essentially, the tower can switch between water-cooled and air-cooled operation, allowing providers the functionality to conserve power or water, whichever is more expensive
 or more scarce. This technology should help district cooling providers optimize operations, conserve water and electricity, and enhance operational flexibility. Water scarcity is an increasingly important measure in the GCC as well as the American Southwest, as recognized by Her Excellency Fatima Al Foora Al Shamsi of the UAE Ministry of Energy and Katrina Pielli of the U.S. Department of Energy. Given the record droughts across California and other parts of the U.S. Southwest, the Empower/JCI collaboration will be of interest in both countries.

Looking ahead: The pace of growth in district cooling is accelerating around the world. As populations migrate to urban centers and organizations seek greater productivity, efficient and sustainable cooling will grow in importance. Clearly, district cooling involves substantial capital investment, but it pays enormous dividends in greater energy efficiency and opportunities for utilizing treated sewage effluent instead of valuable fresh water. The interconnected scale of district cooling networks provides other advantages of aggregated loads like water reclamation, demand reduction through hybrid chillers or thermal storage, and effective loads for summer combined heat and power production.

Part of the challenge for IDEA members will be to better define the value proposition of district cooling, particularly in markets dominated by traditional thinking and limited foresight and sophistication.

In Dubai, eight IDEA member district cooling providers took to the stage together to illustrate their collective carbon emission reduction of more than 1.5 million tons last year. Working together on issues of common relevance will also be very important in the years ahead. We have much to learn from each other, and much to share, and IDEA is pleased and proud to join hands with our colleagues in the Middle East and around the world. Now is the time for district energy. The future demands it.

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