TBY talks to Ahmad M. Bin Shafar, CEO of Empower, on the opportunities for investing in district cooling as a utility service, and his company’s push to support green building technology and maintenance.
TBY Where does the UAE sit within predictions that energy demand may increase by 12% annually in the region?
AHMAD M. BIN SHAFAR The UAE provides financial and political stability and is a hub for trade, tourism, logistics, and financial services. People prefer to base operations here to better serve the wider region and North Africa. There are other benefits such as no taxation, good connectivity, and security that make this place a preferred choice to live and to do business. It is the growth in business that will drive this growth in energy demand, and I believe the UAE is well placed to achieve the projected increase in energy demand in the region.
What is your cooling ton capacity?
We currently have a total capacity of 370,000 refrigeration tons (RT) spread over various prestigious projects in Dubai. To name a few examples, we provide cooling for Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR), the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC), Business Bay, and the Dubai World Trade Centre Residences. We are targeting to increase our capacity to reach 500,000 RT by end-2013 by expanding and extending our existing infrastructure wherever possible and building new district cooling plants and networks where required. In the long run, we have set a target of achieving 1 million RT by the end of 2020.
What new technology and innovations is Empower using to support its strategy?
Empower has been a pioneer in promoting submetering solutions in the region, which the company has installed at its various projects. Higher energy efficiency can be achieved by installing submeters for district cooling services at each apartment or unit level in the building, which measure actual consumption each unit, creates energy accountability, and promote energy savings. We have installed one of the largest submetering solutions at a single location at our JBR project, consisting of 7,200 submeters spread over 40 residential and hotel towers.
Empower has also taken initiatives to efficiently utilize water resources by consuming Treated Sewage Effluent (TSE) water in place of potable water for its make-up water consumption for district cooling services. We have successfully implemented TSE plants at our DHCC and DIFC projects. Currently, Empower is working toward implementing the Thermal Energy Storage (TES) solution in our new plants, which are under various stages of construction. Such a solution would further enhance efficiency in energy and will shave off the peak demand of electricity through balancing and optimizing power requirements throughout the day.
What trends have you witnessed in the Emirate since the enactment of the green building regulations?
Buildings with district cooling services qualify as green buildings, and we are one of the companies that actively support the development of this technology. The enactment of the green building regulations will support us and encourage more buildings to adopt district cooling services.
Is there a willingness from investors in the region to support the district cooling business?
Investors and banks look for businesses that have capabilities to generate steady and stable cash flows. If investors can see a healthy historical financial performance, strong professional management, and predictable future cash flows, they are more than willing to invest in such companies as their investments are secured. At the same time, they can make money and enjoy a diversified risk portfolio.
Since district cooling is considered a utility business, it offers stable, steady, and long-term cash flows. Empower has been consistently delivering strong financial results on a year-on-year basis, and has therefore attracted various investors (banks and financial institutions) that have invested in the business and derived appropriate returns. As for other district cooling companies, I am not sure if this is the case.
To what degree do you see the development of sustainable energy progressing in Dubai?
The development of sustainable energy progressing in Dubai will depend on the overall development of the Emirate as a whole. The current growth rate is in the range of 7% to 10%, and I believe this may continue, assuming Dubai continues to be the preferred destination of immigrants moving here or by new investors looking toward Dubai as a safe haven.
What is your outlook for 2012?
We will continue to grow. We have many projects in the pipeline that are set to be delivered during the third or fourth quarter of this year. On an overall basis, 2012 will be another good year for us, following growth of approximately 10% to 12% over 2011.
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