By Alison Luke
Dubai is moving is in the right direction for an energy efficient future says Gareth Luckin, managing director of Drake & Scull Group’s Industrial Water and Power Division. He explains to Alison Luke how district cooling is playing its part.
A self-confessed “techie”, Dubai’s construction sector should be glad that Gareth Luckin fell in love with the city.
He is a man that is clearly passionate about his chosen profession in building services engineering and dedicates much of his time to researching new technologies.
He is also intent on implementing the positive results of this research on future projects in the UAE.
“I’m an inherent researcher,” he states. “I love anything that’s technical or a bit quirky or challenging.
It makes a bit of brightness to your day doesn’t it?” he smiles.
Sitting in his office in Drake & Scull’s Sheikh Zayed Road headquarters, Luckin doesn’t have to look far for an example of a technical challenge: one of the first district cooling plants to be built in Dubai is a stone’s throw away and through his role at Drake & Scull he was involved in it’s installation.
“Coming here, one of the things I became involved in was district cooling,” he explains.
A huge advocate of the technology, he sees it as a major player in the long-term future of the UAE’s economy and co-wrote a paper for the GCC Council on the subject in the mid-90s.
The concept of district cooling involves replacing plant for individual buildings with a single, central distribution plant.
“From our research we’d found that around 60% of the UAE power consumption was involved in air conditioning for buildings and properties,” states Luckin.
“By centralising [power] plants, we could save potentially 30-40% of the power consumption in each of those buildings, which means there’s more available in the national grid to be used for other things.
This, as we saw it, allowed for growth in the market,” he explains.
His belief in the benefits of district cooling for the Dubai market follows years of research and practical experience of the technology plus almost 16 years working on construction projects in the Middle East.
He has been involved in the district cooling market since its infancy and remains infectiously enthusiastic about it: “I was very lucky to be invited through a secondment with the Wimpey Group to be involved in the development of the Texas Instruments plant in Phoenix, Arizona.
That was the first real industrial district cooling project,” he explains.
Luckin’s first experiences of Dubai came at an early age, when his family moved to the city for three years in the late 1960s with his Father’s work as a broker.
After completing his school years in Cornwall he has frequently returned over the course of his own career.
“This’ll be my 16th year around the Middle East,” he says, “I went to Jordan when I was 18 with the VSO (voluntary services overseas) and it’s been rolling on ever since.”
His first trip abroad as an adult, Lucken seemed to find the move an easy one to make.
“I was going for six months and came back a year and a half later,” he laughs.
On returning to the UK he undertook a mechanical engineering degree, then joined George Wimpey as a regional mechanical engineer based in Bristol.
His desire to return to the Middle East remained strong however: “I finished my degree then volunteered through Wimpey to work oversees.
That was how I started coming backwards and forwards to Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” he explains.
During his time at Wimpey and the latterly formed Carillion, he specialised in clean room technology for the semi-conductor industry, where the use of central plants for chilled water has stood him in good stead for working in the district cooling market.
He joined Drake & Scull in 2000 with an intention of making a more permanent return to Dubai.
“I was conscious that I wanted to come and work overseas,” explains Lucken, “and I knew that Dubai and Abu Dhabi as markets were starting to motivate.”
For a man like Lucken with a seemingly unquenchable desire for engineering knowledge, the freedom of creativity that the Middle East market affords was a major attraction.
“It’s one of the few markets where projects start almost like a blank sheet of paper, that’s one of the pleasures for engineers and designers,” stresses Lucken.
“In other countries, as they’ve developed over the years there’s been less variances in building opportunity.
“Here, one of the benefits the government gives people is that they actually allow a lot of innovation – they promote it to be honest.
It’s one of the few countries and regions where they want new technology,” he adds.
Since that flagship project in Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai’s district cooling industry has developed greatly and Lucken has remained closely involved.
He believes the industry in the UAE is now at the leading-edge of the sector.
“In reality that’s quite a significant life in this market.
In terms of the technology, as a market we’re probably more advanced than other people in the world now because there is such a focus on its demand, so we’re always striving to look at alternative means of providing more efficient chilling, pumping, pipe distribution networks and controls,” he explains.
One important area of research for Lucken and Drake & Scull is that of materials science.
Research here has led to the use of grp pipes in recent installations at Dubai Festival City and the Palm Jumeirah.
“We started looking at alternative materials when steel prices began going up,” explains Lucken.
“We also looked at it because on a technical basis it’s about energy use: surfaces of pipes deteriorate the more they are used and more energy is absorbed to pump the same fluid down the same pipe year on year, whereas with alternatives like grp the surface smoothness allows a better performance.”
This increasing efficiency of the systems is one of the reasons for the uptake already being witnessed. But a more obvious factor is the boom in construction, hence a step-change in the demand for cooling.
“I would say that over the next couple of years [district cooling] will have a significant recognition as a fourth utility, or in this market a third utility, because one of the most significant things in peoples lives is the ability to live in an environment with air conditioning.
“I’d love to see [district cooling] grow and see the market mature and people have the confidence to use it as a good utility; and I’d like to see a bit more energy awareness.
It’ll come…as awareness grows there’s a greater learning and understanding,” he adds.
Lucken is a keen believer in the need to minimise energy use.
He believes that Dubai and the UAE is moving in the right direction in terms of energy efficiency.
He cites the emergence of the Emirates Green Building Council and a masters degree course in the environmental design of buildings at the British University in Dubai as positive signs.
“With construction there is always an impact when you build something, it’s just questioning how much can you control the change on the environment around you.
It’s very easy for a person on the high street to say ‘look what’s going on’, but every society was built from somewhere and there are always issues.
I think as the developments start to get completed there will be more debate about how things operate for the longer term,” he predicts.
Moves towards energy efficient processes are inherent in the UAE’s economic growth believes Luckin.
“It’s a natural step in terms of it moving towards supporting service industries and manufacturing,” he explains.
But he believes that there is plenty of scope to go further.
“I’d like to see gas brought in, and I’d like to see us do more with hydropower particularly around the Gulf states where they’ve got deep water,” he states.
“We could go with deep sea water cooling – things like that make [the systems] more energy efficient and reduce their impact,” Lucken explains, “That’s another of my research projects,” he laughs.
Lucken’s enthusiasm for the UAE construction market is infectious.
Describing it as “great fun” he talks with gusto about its future and is keen to stay involved throughout this development.
“Eventually I shall retire in the south west [of England]; become a hermit,” he laughs.
“But I shall be here for a while yet.”
It’s one of the few countries where they want new technology
MEP: Where are you from?
I grew up in Torpoint, Cornwall, which is in the south-west of the UK.
MEP: Who’s in your family?
My wife and I’ve got a little boy, he’s four and is just about to start school in Dubai.
They are in the UK at the moment because we’re expecting our second child in the next few days and my wife got stuck there because of her stage of pregnancy; I have an open ticket booked and waiting.
MEP: How long have you worked in the Middle East region?
I joined Drake & Scull in 2000, but this will be my 16th year working around the Middle East.
I came to nursery school in Dubai originally back in 1966.
MEP: Where else have you worked.?
I’ve worked on projects in Kalgooly, West Australia; Bangkok, Thailand; and all over the Middle East.
MEP: How do you spend your freetime?
If my family is around, we try to do family activities together.
I also like to try to sail.
That’s one thing that I’d like to see grow over here, more sailing competitions.
I think it’s prime now, with the amount of development and growth of Dubai Marina they could do some great coastal and offshore sailing competitions.
I’ve sailed for years and I have a boat in Beaulieu in Southampton.
I played rugby for years.
I don’t do it anymore because I’m too old and unfit, but I’m an avid supporter in the grandstands these days!
MEP: Where do you go on holiday?
I love Italy – I like the wine, I like the culture.
We do try to get back to the UK once a year to see family, but we have plans over the next few years to do a bit more travelling to Australia and Africa.
India is also a favourite spot for me because my Mother grew up in India.
My Grandfather was a railway designer in the Royal Engineers, so they lived in Northern India for many years in the 30s and 40s; I got my taste for engineering from him.