All eyes are on the UAE in 2023 as it prepares to welcome the international community to participate in Cop28, where the first global stocktake of progress towards achieving the targets of the 2015 Paris Agreement will take place.
Finding solutions to reduce consumption in energy-intensive sectors and industries will play a critical part in allowing the UAE and other countries to reach net zero and contribute to efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
District cooling offers governments and real estate developers an opportunity to build sustainable urban communities with lower carbon emissions and energy costs for end users.
Demand for cooling
Air conditioning and cooling account for a major proportion of energy consumption in countries with warm climates. In the Gulf, cooling can consume as much as 70 per cent of the electricity grid’s production during peak periods.
However, it is not just the Gulf that faces an increase in demand for cooling. As populations grow and global temperatures rise, the need for cooling systems across the world is growing rapidly, with the International Energy Agency forecasting that energy demand for air conditioners will triple by 2050 if no action is taken.
Fortunately, we already have a solution available that can significantly reduce energy consumed and lower the carbon footprint of cooling homes, businesses, industries and even entire cities and communities.
District cooling is up to 50 per cent more efficient than conventional air-cooled chillers. In 2022, Tabreed’s district cooling network reduced the annual energy consumption by 2.31 billion kWh – enough energy to power approximately 132,000 homes in the GCC.
Importantly, the reduction in energy consumption prevented 1.38 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2022, the equivalent of removing about 300,000 vehicles from the roads.
The use of technologies such as digital twin and predictive analytics will enable AI to control and optimise operations and monitoring of equipment, which combined will drive a 10 per cent annual reduction in CO2 emissions
Tabreed provides an annual total efficiency of 0.85 kWh/RTh, while conventional, air-cooled standalone units operate in the range of 1-to-1.5 kWh/RTh. However, we are not stopping there.
Tabreed has set out an ambitious four-pillar strategy to reach net zero across our operations, with a focus on innovation and investing in new technologies to further improve efficiency, reduce emissions and lower costs for the end user.
A core focus of our net-zero plan is expanding our digital capabilities, harnessing big data and artificial intelligence (AI) to improve efficiency across our district cooling operations.
The use of technologies such as digital twin and predictive analytics will enable AI to control and optimise operations and monitoring of equipment, which combined will drive a 10 per cent annual reduction in CO2 emissions.
Power of partnerships
Collaboration forms a key part of Tabreed’s digitalisation transformation and big data strategy, and we will seek to develop further partnerships with leading international energy and technology providers to optimise the efficiency and sustainability of our operations.
In 2022, we extended our partnership with Engie Digital to implement software to fully automate the operation of the Downtown Dubai network, one of the world’s largest district cooling schemes.
Retrofitting our district cooling plants with newer technology forms the second initiative under our decarbonisation programme. The adoption of nanoparticle technology improves chillers’ efficiency by 15 per cent, lowering energy consumption and reducing carbon emissions.
Achieving operational excellence is the third part of Tabreed’s net-zero strategy, with a data-driven approach to demand management and AI forecasting.
Adopting geothermal and other clean energy technologies – such as solar photovoltaic (PV) – forms the fourth pillar of our net-zero plan. Developing these technologies will eventually enable the development of fully sustainable district cooling plants.
Coordination between governments, urban planning agencies and developers is vital to improve forecasting and enable aggregation of demand
While district cooling providers can play a key role in reducing the cost and environmental impact of the growing demand for chiller services, we cannot do it alone.
To enable the growth of the district cooling sector across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, we need the support of governments, regulators and the real estate sector.
Coordination between governments, urban planning agencies and developers is vital to improve forecasting and enable aggregation of demand. This will help create a viable business model for district cooling with optimum pricing of services for end users.
A collaborative approach to planning must be supported by an adequate regulatory and policy framework to provide a stable environment for investors and ensure that the supply and cost of electricity and water are guaranteed to optimise costs and reduce carbon emissions.
Abu Dhabi was the first government in the region to establish a holistic regulatory framework for district cooling, which has accelerated the sector’s growth and led to reductions in energy consumption from the emirate’s grid.
With the global race to decarbonise now well under way, district cooling offers a proven solution that can have a significant impact in reducing carbon emissions for industries and communities. With the technology and capital available today, collaboration between public and private sector stakeholders can deliver a sustainable future for all.
From commissioning our first district cooling plant in Sweihan, Abu Dhabi, in 1998 to operating 86 plants across the GCC today, Tabreed is proud that our 25th anniversary of operations coincides with the UAE hosting Cop28.
In line with the vision of our leader, UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, our focus will remain on delivering innovative and sustainable solutions to benefit society while preserving the environment for future generations.
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