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Municipalities Can Thrive With District Cooling

The growth of urban communities, and the associated energy intensification required to provide essential services, means governments in developing regions are increasingly challenged to address various issues. In such scenarios, district cooling provides governments an opportunity to protect the reliability of local energy systems through conservation, flexibility and availability.

District cooling can be especially beneficial in fast developing regions, such as the Middle East, particularly the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), where power demands are rapidly increasing, driven mainly by increased air-conditioning demands. Through the utilization of district cooling systems, peak electrical demand which typically occurs during the summer months and estimated to peak up to 75% of the overall electricity consumption can be avoided. Although district cooling needs electricity as a driving force itself, the demand for electricity per Ton of Refrigeration delivered, is much lower than with conventional cooling systems, as shown in the below chart. With the capability to serve various loads such as residence, office and commercial spaces which do not require simultaneous cooling, district cooling is more efficient as it combines the peak demand from these developments. In contrary, single-building systems have to be designed to meet each building’s or unit’s peak needs. By lowering peak demand, there is also a lesser need for new electricity generating facilities and transmission and distribution infrastructure, which translates to substantial savings in infrastructure costs for regional governments and local residents. 

The consistent use of district cooling in areas with appropriate levels of air-conditioning density offers many measurable advantages. The use of district cooling in the Gulf can lead to a regional reduction of 20 gigawatts in new power capacity requirements, which is equivalent to 10 large power plants. The system can also lead to a reduction in the GCC’s power plant fuel consumption, which as once reported by Booz & Company is anticipated to be the equivalent of approximately 1.5 million barrels of oil by 2030.

Additionally, a reduction in electricity use at peak times not only reduces the need to build more generating capacity, it also translates to much lesser atmospheric pollution and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions as a result of the greatly improved efficiency of district cooling systems.

The concept of district cooling also allows for flexibility in terms of resources used for the supply of air-conditioning. An example of this flexibility is the capability of district cooling plants to utilize Treated Sewage Effluent (TSE), which is commonly used for irrigation, instead of potable water for cooling tower make-up water. This type of diversity and flexibility assists local governments in ensuring their communities will be able to maintain high standards of living.

Another noteworthy benefit is the cost of storm water retention. District cooling is an enabler of storm water retention technologies. By using district cooling rather than a traditional rooftop mechanical room, space is made for water retention technologies that could not otherwise be built. By reducing the amount of water flowing from a building site, municipalities reduce the risk of sewer overflows, and can reduce the infrastructure required for storm water contaminant.

By calculating the cost savings of avoided infrastructure, recognizing the benefits of emissions reduction, and valuing energy security on the local level, municipalities and regional governments can make sustainable initiatives, more cost effective for all parties and in doing so reducing the infrastructure costs, and environmental impact resulting from conventional cooling systems.