What is the concept behind Emirates District Cooling (EMICOOL)?
When it comes to the cooling system, each building, villa, or apartment used to have its own chiller system located at the top of the building. What we wanted to do was create a sustainable cooling system network that would be cheaper in the long run, and utilize energy and water far more efficiently. The larger the network, the greater the reach, and the more cost effective district cooling systems would become. The benefits are obvious; far lower carbon emissions, a reduction in energy use for the electricity grid network, a more efficient use of water, and less noise are just some of the main advantages of district cooling. We worked at a loss at the beginning because you have to create and build a massive network for a small, connected load, which requires a high initial capex. You have to excavate and then build a system of insulated pipelines that connect each unit and deliver chilled water to each house. Despite the initial losses, firstly you have to build a sustainable plant then excavate to lay down the insulated pipelines. We knew we would soon make a profit, and that has been the case.
What have customers' reactions been to district cooling systems?
Honestly, you cannot understand the difference of a district cooling system until you feel it and experience it first hand. With a district cooling system, you don't have dozens of ugly AC units jutting out of a single building, with their pipes dripping water and dangerous gas leakages. AC units also produce a lot of noise, unlike district cooling. Therefore, not only does district cooling work more efficiently overall, but it is greener and more energy efficient, and you don't see or hear it. It is practically invisible.
What have been the challenges of marketing and selling district cooling systems?
When district cooling systems first came out, the pricing was not transparent, which led to some problems initially. Also, people just didn't know the difference or the benefits that this new system had over conventional AC systems. Therefore, we had to educate them and advertise the advantages of district cooling systems. This isn't just about educating them on district cooling systems either; it is about educating people on the importance of greener, more environmentally friendly systems that are more efficient at utilizing energy and water. To give you some examples, we use solar energy for a significant portion of our power needs, and we use irrigation water instead of potable water for the cooling towers, meaning treated wastewater. We are also the only company that has thermal storage tanks in all its plants. These storage tanks act as a reservoir. We charge them by night, dropping the temperature down to nearly 4°C. Then, during the daytime, we open the valve, releasing it into the pipes and compensating for the heat. We are the only company that has thermal energy at 100% penetration in all plants. Hence, what we are doing is not just in the interest of the consumer, it is something that is in our national interest, especially considering the climate and geography of the UAE. As for the challenges of district cooling on a technical level, the main one is ensuring that the chilled water is distributed to every unit in the network equally and fairly from the main cooling plant. When installing a system, the master developer is our first single point of contact. However, we don't build our model for the master developer, we build it for our customers—the end user. We build it for the homeowner or tenant who will incorporate this system into their lifestyle.