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Regulated District Cooling Sector for Greener Qatar

Structured district cooling industry will lower GHG emissions, save energy and reduce water consumption aspiring to sustainable development

By: Mohamed Alaaeldin Mohamed, Mechanical Engineer, Chair of QGBC’s Water interest Group
Published on: August 9th, 2017
Kahramaa’s District Cooling Design and Water Management Code, issued last October, follows on from the decree of Qatar’s Permanent Water Resources Committee (PWRC) to use recycled water in district cooling. Kahramaa’s code is particularly timely, as it promotes Treated Sewage Effluent (TSE) to gradually replace potable water in district cooling plants.

Although district cooling consumes more water than other cooling technologies to cool down chiller cores, Kahramaa’s initiative greatly lessens this drawback and thus encourages a sustainable context where the overall greater efficiencies of district cooling can be realised. This initiative is particularly important as Qatar strives for energy and water sustainability, because it has spurred district-cooling providers not only to replace potable with recycled water, but has also stimulated water conservation in the sector.

The benefits of district cooling, which Qatar is at the forefront of worldwide practice, are perhaps insufficiently recognised. Over the last 20 years, district heating has gradually replaced building-centric heating in cold climates due to its inherent energy efficiency and operational flexibility. For the same reasons, centralised district cooling technology, when optimised, uses approximately half the energy typically consumed for every refrigeration ton-hour by individual space air conditioners, making it a more suitable alternative to building-level cooling. Moreover, the inherent flexibility of district cooling systems enables diverse loads at peak demand to be adequately served, particularly during Qatar’s summer extremes of heat and humidity.

In addition to being a more energy-efficient air conditioning solution, district cooling offers other tangible benefits as follows:
  • it accelerates the phase-out of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) which are very potent Green House Gases (GHGs);

  • subsequent reductions in space cooling energy consumption results in a reduced national carbon footprint;

  • it encourages operational reliability by centralising air conditioning management and maintenance tasks, thus relieving control from often unsophisticated or indifferent building facilities management; and

  • by reducing individual building electricity and water consumption, building owners receive lower utility bills, especially in area’s where high cooling density is required, making district cooling the most economic solution.

These benefits have been recognised globally as both district cooling and district heating, collectively termed District Energy Systems (DES), have been identified as a Key Area of Collaboration to the Energy Efficiency Leading Programme (EELP) chartered by the G20 Summit in September 2016. The EELP have therefore called for all governments and relevant institutions to address the obstacles impeding the inclusion of DES in the rapid urbanisation that is now underway globally.

Over the past 20 years, several farsighted developers have emerged within Qatar’s district cooling sector. While Qatar’s most extensive district cooling network serves Qatar Foundation’s Education City, the current market structure does not greatly encourage the adoption of district cooling elsewhere. It should be recognised that the continuous development of Qatar’s district cooling sector is an essential part of Qatar’s utilities infrastructure, which will eventually realise optimal network operational performance and competitive pricing by retailers.

Despite the current difficult market conditions, demand is growing in Qatar to replace individual space or building cooling with district cooling. Consequently, Qatar’s cooling capacity, currently estimated at 4.5 million refrigeration tons, has growth potential of 30% to reach 6 million refrigeration tons by 2020.

The burgeoning district cooling sector offers cost savings and operational reliability. However, what is needed now are incentives backed by industry standards and strategic regulations, hence the timeliness of Kahramaa’s initiative. Regulations will further ensure quality in constructed assets and reliability of provided services. Regulating the district cooling market will create a level playing field for retailers and an attractive environment for manufacturers and suppliers to enrich the local market with cutting-edge technological advancements.

Kahramaa’s introductory regulatory framework, inclusive technical workshops with all the industry stakeholders and open discourse have already proven productive, resulting in reduced cooling water consumption of 3% over the past two years. Through the implementation of its 15-year regulatory plan, Kahramaa will be the right institution to lead the effort to shape Qatar’s developing district cooling sector into a regulated industry and itself become a world-class district-cooling regulator.