Interview: Ahmad bin Shafar

Which markets present the highest growth potential worldwide for the district cooling industry in the near to mid-term?

AHMAD BIN SHAFAR: Global population growth is most robust in countries with hot weather, where keeping cool is important. However, the increasing demand for space cooling is coupled with growing concerns about carbon emissions. This has stimulated the district-cooling market, as district-cooling technologies use 50% less electricity than traditional air conditioning systems. District cooling is being developed in numerous countries worldwide because it can dramatically reduce the carbon intensity of cooling; increase the share of renewables in the energy mix; improve air quality; reduce reliance on fossil fuels and energy imports; and increase resilience. District cooling also serves as an alternative to environmentally hazardous hydrofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbon refrigerants. This is expected to drive demand until 2026 and beyond.

The Middle East, Africa and the Asia-Pacific markets are showing the highest growth potential for district cooling in the near term. GCC countries constitute more than 30% of the global district cooling market. Their real estate sectors are growing exponentially and are expected to offer a vast scope for the expansion of the district-cooling market. Commercial developments in Africa and the Asia Pacific will also help to increase the sector’s market share. Hotels, restaurants, hospitals, retail shops, shopping malls, data centres, government buildings, educational institutions, office spaces, IT parks, and sports and recreation all utilise district cooling.

Dubai plays a leading role in district cooling globally, and is also the home of the world’s largest district cooling services company: Empower. The city was recently recognised as the world’s “champion city” for district cooling by the International District Energy Association, and its energy management practices have been accepted as a model across the GCC. Dubai-based companies have become role models for operational efficiency in the sector, and they can contribute significantly towards enhancing district-cooling technology worldwide. In a part of the world where the availability of water presents a challenge, the development of technologies to save potable water by utilising filtered water for district cooling has been an important innovation.

How can district cooling help increase the emirate’s energy efficiency while at the same time reduce its carbon emissions?

SHAFAR: Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy (DIES) 2030 aims to reduce Dubai’s electricity consumption by 30% by 2030. Similarly, the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy has set a target to reduce carbon emissions by 16% – equivalent to 11m tonnes of CO 2021. District cooling is an energy-efficient solution, and it will contribute significantly to achieving these objectives as one of the key pillars of the DIES, which aims to increase the penetration of district cooling from 16% in 2011 to 40% in 2030.

To what extent does competition in the regional utility services market create opportunities for private capital investment?

SHAFAR: Public utility services are playing a vital role in the economic development of several Middle Eastern countries. The establishment of efficient utility services in a community is a key indicator of urban development, and the Middle Eastern market has transformed into an urban market. Private sector entities have a significant role to play in the sustainable development of this market, as it requires private sector skills, innovation, technology and investment. This is possible through both direct investments by private sector companies and through the public-private partnership framework.