Saving power through district cooling TEY_post_Samer_Abusaa

District cooling reduces the demand for power required for air conditioning use by having a centralised cooling system to serve multiple clients.


Saving power through district cooling

April 10, 2023

Samer Abusaa, CEO of Saudi Tabreed, talks to the Energy Year about the central principle of district cooling and how it can help Saudi Arabia reduce its power consumption and carbon footprint. Saudi Tabreed is a district cooling service provider that develops sustainable district cooling schemes.

What is the central principle of district cooling?
District cooling reduces the demand for power required for air conditioning use by having a centralised cooling system to serve multiple clients instead of each client having their own air conditioning system. A district cooling system produces chilled water within the central plant and distributes it through insulated underground pipes to buildings connected to the system, providing them with the required cooling.
On the basis that cooling loads from different clients do not peak at the same time, Saudi Tabreed designs cooling plants that serve multiple clients, utilising the diversity that gives us the eligibility to reduce the capacity of our cooling plants.

How can this help Saudi Arabia to reduce its power consumption and carbon footprint?
Power supply for comfort cooling, required for either residential or commercial buildings, represents around 50-70% of Saudi Arabia’s energy requirements. By having district cooling plants, we reduce the AC-related power requirements by about 50% from the national electric grid. The operational cost is reduced by using industrial equipment that consumes less power to produce the same loads of cooling. Normal buildings with regular air conditioner systems consume about 1.4-1.7 kW per tonne of cooling. The power consumption for district cooling would be in the range of 0.8-1 kW per tonne.
This contributes to the Saudi Electricity Company reducing the power plants requirements and consuming less fuel. That’s how carbon emissions will be reduced in the country.

What are the benefits from a capex point of view?
District cooling reduces the required capex due to so many factors, including power infrastructure for development, building structure and lower plant capacity compared to conventional cooling. In addition to upfront saving, using a conventional cooling system increases the ambient temperature, which can reach up to 3 degrees Celsius in a congested area.
District cooling will free building roofs that can be utilised as green roof or for any other application, as well as eliminating the noise and vibration.
If the client wants to outsource the whole cooling system, they can get rid of these capex requirements at the beginning of the development and pay it within the 25-30-year concession period.


What role does district cooling play in reducing power demand for solar-powered giga-projects?
Among the Vision 2030 projects, we are involved in most giga-projects. A central target of the national strategy is to reduce carbon emissions. Utilising district cooling applications is part of this strategy. For instance, the Red Sea project is the first project in the world with no power supply from the grid. All the electricity comes from renewable power generation, including the district cooling system. It’s something we’re proud of.
Another essential part of this integrated solution is storage. We have thermal storage tanks where we store chilled water. During the daytime, we produce chilled water, and we store it in the tank. During the nighttime, we turn off our equipment, so we reduce the cooling plant’s power consumption, and we rely on the tank to serve the client.

How have 10 years of service to Saudi Aramco helped the company display the benefits of district cooling?
We are celebrating 10 years of uninterrupted service to Saudi Aramco in 2023, with zero failures and 100% reliability. We have demonstrated to the market how our solution helps energy consumption and creates capex savings.
In 2009, we won the bid to outsource Saudi Aramco’s comfort cooling system. It was the first district cooling system in Saudi Arabia given to a third party in a PPP concept. This gave us the boost to distribute the idea to different clients within Saudi Arabia. Since 2019, we have also been in charge of providing a cooling solution for one of Saudi Arabia’s most important international airports, King Khaled International Airport.
The concept of outsourcing is a challenge, since clients need a reliable company that will guarantee there will not be an interruption of service.
District heating is widely known in Europe. Cooling is not because they don’t need it. However, in the Middle East, it’s the opposite. In general, you have a cooling plant to serve one client. Having one cooling plant serving multiple clients is something unique.

How has the company reduced the power requirement of its own equipment?
Saudi Tabreed has contributed to equipment development. We are working with different equipment manufacturers all over the world to enhance the equipment efficiency and power consumption as well as capacity. We are working with our partners to localise some of the manufacturing within Saudi Arabia.
These technical capabilities convinced our investors in Saudi Arabia of our future growth and our capability for in-house know-how for long-term relationships.

What type of financing schemes does the company apply to develop its projects?
In Saudi Arabia, our projects are usually financed under a non-recourse project finance structure. We were the first district cooling company in the region to be financed based on non-recourse project finance. We achieved this by demonstrating that our solutions and projects are robust technically and commercially.

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