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Can district cooling make FM go green?

fmME, with inputs from Yamurai Zendera, rounds up the initiatives being implemented across the Middle East to promote sustainable operation and maintenance programmes

A touch of green: The global green cleaning products market will be worth $51bn by 2021.
A touch of green: The global green cleaning products market will be worth $51bn by 2021.

Engineering consultancy Aecom announced this August that it has committed its operations to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 20% across its global operations by 2020. Aecom said it will focus on its largest sources of emissions – fleet vehicle fuel, purchased electricity, and heating and cooling for offices – to fulfil these aims.

Clearly, sustainability is rapidly gaining traction in the Middle East’s FM sector. While it is likely that making hard services more environmentally-friendly will require increased construction collaboration to succeed, the region’s soft services sector – led by district cooling companies – is already making a mark on the Middle East’s FM sustainability landscape.

Green cleaning

The global market for sustainable cleaning products is expected to be worth $51bn by 2021, spurred by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4%. Increased construction activity and rising demand for LEED-certified facilities managers has raised the profile of sustainable cleaning products, with equipment manufacturers now tailoring their product designs to suit regional demand.

fmME Awards 2016’s Cleaning Company of the Year, Khidmah, has devised systems to introduce sustainability concepts into its operations. Partnering with Innu Service, the company introduced a ‘cradle-to-cradle’ sustainability cleaning programme over the last year. Khidmah also launched its Healthy Green School Programme in the same period, which saw the deployment of natural cleaning products to 40 schools in the Western Region.

According to the Autism Research Institute, certain cleaning products are known to contain carcinogens. Khidmah’s choice of cleaners – made with natural soil bacteria – ensure that cleaning operations avoid such materials. At the time of its award win, Khidmah said these cleaning agents pose minimal danger as they contain no harmful chemicals.

Additionally, the FM provider was awarded for implementing two mopping systems that have aided in reducing water consumption to an average of 700 litres per cleaner every month. This is a stark achievement over previous systems, which rendered per-cleaner water use at around 1,000 litres per month in one of Khidmah’s residential towers in Abu Dhabi.

The company said it also effected time savings of 60%, cutting down on movement from one building to another to change water in a mopping bucket.

Nevertheless, such forward-looking cleaning operations will have to be supported by building management teams. Adrienne Doolan, CEO at Green Touches Cleaning Services, said the market is currently witnessing “a growing trend towards green cleaning solutions with hospitality and residential sectors showing the strongest demand”.

In a statement released by Middle East Cleaning Technology Week (MECTW) last month, Doolan added: “However, the commercial sector has still to adapt to greener practices and needs to put the health of the consumer before profit.

“The market is being further pushed by UAE’s sustainability goals under Vision 2021; this change will force the commercial sector to adopt green solutions. Some trends to watch out for in the green cleaning sphere include high-performance machinery and adopting of HEPA standards, a move towards more efficient cleaning machines, steam cleaning, and the adoption of quality microfibre cloths and mops,” Doolan added.

Representatives from the organiser team of MECTW said green cleaning products account for 3% of the $150bn global market at present.

Cool plans

The Middle East’s harsh summer climates are also expected to boost operation-stage sustainability in the years to come. According to a report published by MarketsandMarkets, the global district cooling market’s size in terms of value is projected to reach $29bn by 2019, at a CAGR of 11.4% from 2014. The Middle East and Africa region is the fastest growing market for district cooling due to rapid growth in the real estate and commercial sectors, which is marked by increasing demand for power and cooling during peak hours.

Industry analysts believe that the GCC has already achieved more than four million refrigeration tonnes of installed district cooling capacity, accounting for 32% of the total capacity worldwide – a reflection of remarkable growth and huge potential for the district cooling sector over the next few years if it is managed well.

The district cooling market is mainly driven by the high efficiency of its technology, which results in enhanced reliability, less water and energy usage, reduction in environmental degradation, efficient use of energy, and reduced strain on a nation’s electricity grid.

Issues such as inaccurate estimation of cooling demand and incoherent cost-recovery models are the after-effects observed in the regional district cooling sector at present, which need to be addressed on priority basis to boost the market. Encouragingly, there are signs that regional authorities are working to introduce robust regulatory frameworks for the industry.

Abu Dhabi’s Regulation and Supervision Bureau (RSB), for instance, recently announced that it is developing a detailed regulatory framework for district cooling in the UAE capital.

RSB’s framework is expected to cover the technical, legal, and economic aspects of the district cooling sector in Abu Dhabi. A preliminary study was carried out by RSB in 2014 to study the feasibility of regulations for district cooling.

The ongoing development of regulations for the sector include requirements such as mandating the use of district cooling in areas that meet specified criteria; formulating technical standards and guidelines for the supply and performance reportage of district cooling; creating a licensing scheme for district cooling providers, contractual frameworks and standard agreements; setting price regulations for existing and new projects; compiling market competition regulations; and, implementing a regulatory impact assessment study of the framework.

Private sector support

The success of such legislation, however, will rely on its timely uptake by the region’s private sector district cooling providers. In turn, the private sector will likely need solid costing models to ensure its operations are fairly priced.

Adib Moubadder, CEO of Emicool, says the district cooling provider is working on cost-saving models to reduce the cost of declared load on customers: “The end user in the UAE is not used to receiving a district cooling service.

“From 2003 onwards, district cooling has strongly grown as the most sustainable air-conditioning solution [in the region]. There were no comparative studies at the time, but if you compare Dubai currently to the US and Canada, then you’ll find that its declared load charges are in line with worldwide market trend – in the range of $210 per annum per ton of refrigeration.”

Regulatory bodies must ensure high levels of protection for customers and enable fair competition in the district cooling sector, Moubadder adds.

Clinton Wyngard, temperature control manager at Aggreko Middle East, says the market has been shrinking for temporary major district cooling plants in the last few years: “The main reason behind this is that large district cooling suppliers are now able to serve all their customers and have the capability to stay ahead of the growing demands.

“This capacity leaves only few smaller temporary district cooling requirements, which typically occur over the summer period due to peak shedding and operational demands more commonly seen in mature markets.”

Wyngard believes district cooling companies have become more calculated with regards to sizing and delivering plant requirements across the Middle East: “Where possible, district cooling plant providers have started to leverage existing cooling plants’ over-supply, and now deliver cooling to up-and-coming projects as opposed to building a new plant and incurring a large development cost. This reduces the requirement for renting medium to large district cooling plants.”

A regulatory body should help to mandate district cooling in defined areas where density levels render it appropriate – and also enable the establishment of a consistent national tariff for the industry. This body could also define the basic levels of reliability and performance required of district cooling providers, as well as accompany these requirements with technical codes to ensure quality in the assets’ design, installation, and operation.

Vice-chairman of the Supreme Council of Energy in Dubai, Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, has previously said that the council is planning on regulations to improve the efficiency of district cooling companies: “The regulations will need time for implementation, but they will include thermal storage and other facilities as the Supreme Council is looking for more efficient plants with less emission.”

Ahmad Bin Shafar, CEO of Empower, says he believes that the district cooling industry needs time to build up a proper regulatory framework under which it can flourish: “What we see is a clumsy horde of players entering the industry and promising to do everything, but some guidelines – just like those for any other industry offering an essential service to the public – are needed now.”

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