TBY talks to HE Ahmad M. Bin Shafar, CEO of Empower, on the potential of district cooling services, Empower's competitive advantage, and industry competition.

HE Ahmad M. Bin Shafar
HE Ahmad M. Bin Shafar holds a bachelor's degree in business administration in management from California State University, US. He has over 19 years of experience in senior management positions, including eight years with Standard Chartered Bank. He is also the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Empower Logstor Insulated Pipe Systems, a strategic joint venture between Empower and Logstor. Shafar is the first UAE national to be nominated to the International District Energy Association (IDEA) Board of Directors, in June 2013. He has been a key contributor at several events organized by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers and IDEA.

What are the cost benefits that Empower can pass on to developers when engaging at the design stage of their project?

District cooling is more energy efficient and environmentally friendly compared to traditional air-conditioning systems. It is an integral part of Dubai's Energy Strategy and now one of the key components of all commercial and residential applications. On every project we are involved in, we ensure efficient district cooling service (DCS) for our customers by making it, first of all, energy efficient, and secondly, less costly than a conventional system. Our work includes continuous efforts from design to implementation in the development phase as well as ongoing services. We get involved with each and every developer by providing them with the necessary design guidelines for DCS and assessing any specific requirements for their development. We also make developers aware of sub-metering solutions, which help and enable them to measure district cooling consumption for each individual customer. Sub-metering solutions result in energy accountability, thus enhancing energy conservation. All these benefits can be achieved through proper planning and engaging right from the design stage of development.

To what extent do you collaborate with municipalities or large developers in terms of retrofitting?

Retrofitting is a complex task and more costly than what we conventionally do when we are working in tandem with the developers. It has certain challenges for which we need to closely coordinate with various authorities and the developers, and we have successfully handled these challenges in the past. We have connected some of the prestigious developments after retrofitting, for example Emirates Towers, Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Burj-Al Arab, and Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management. All these developments were connected with zero downtime of services, and with the support of advanced technologies such as Non-Destructive Road Crossing (NDRC). We are currently working on Madinat Jumeirah and will connect it to DCS during the current year.

How do you balance keeping costs down, maintaining efficiency, and offering such a high service level?

For us, the most important aspect is ensuring that we create capacities in line with project requirements. We do not have any spare or idle capacity, which has been one of the key success factors for Empower. We are also a cost-focused organization and have used technological advancements to maintain operational efficiencies and at the same time offer highest service levels to our customers. We have established a state-of-art Command Control Center (CCC), which provides us with real-time information on the demand and supply and consumption patterns in each and every building/unit, thus enabling us to deliver reliable and efficient DCS.

People are increasingly using smart systems in their homes in the Emirate. Is that something Empower is looking to take advantage of?

From day one, we have been using smart meters to measure district cooling consumption because we wanted to leverage the benefits of the latest technology. In terms of our operations, we needed a way to monitor even the most distant plant rooms. Previously, plant rooms required an on-site employee. Now, the advanced technologies and systems used by the CCC provide real-time access to information, and define supply and consumption patterns in each building or unit. This helps us deploy our resources effectively, specifically during peak summer periods. The CCC is one of the unique initiatives in the district cooling industry.

How do you assess the competition within the sector, and areas for collaboration?

Like any other industry, the district cooling industry has competition in Dubai and the UAE. Our view is that too many small players are not beneficial for the industry. District cooling should operate more like a utility, which will bring greater operational efficiencies and economies of scale, ultimately benefiting the customer and society in general. Sharing and leveraging mutual experiences and knowledge is an area where various DCS operators could collaborate for the advancement of the industry.