District cooling has earned itself a bad reputation in the Gulf. End users have bills as much as three times more than what they would expect to pay with air conditioning units. Those looking to buy or rent a property tend to see district cooling as a black mark.

In a region with a woeful reputation regarding the environment, it would be a shame for the industry to wither now

The poor state of the district cooling market is clear. Blame for this is spread across the sector. Among the culprits are district cooling companies themselves, which fell for the marketing pitch from real-estate developers and could not see that many projects were being built on shoddy fundamentals. Residents in some developments are now forced to pay far above what they had expected to cover the costs of the unoccupied apartments in their blocks.

Also to blame are developers for ignoring the fundamentals of district cooling. The Al-Raha Gardens scheme in Abu Dhabi is an example of this. District cooling is not economically viable in low-rise villa developments and should be reserved for more densely populated areas.

There are solutions on offer that could help the industry to recover. Perhaps the simplest is to install a series of small district cooling units as opposed to a single, large plant capable of serving a whole building. This method allows such units to be installed according to demand.

There is a good case for the use of central chilling units and district cooling can extract some efficiencies. The regional property bust has pulled the rug out from under many sectors in the region – district cooling is no exception. In a region with a woeful reputation regarding the environment, it would be a shame for the industry to wither now because of the mistakes of the past few years.

With better planning, more interrogation of the economics of district cooling projects, and more sustainable ambitions, the sector can make a valuable contribution to improving energy efficiency across the Gulf.