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Sat 28 Feb 2009 04:00 AM

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Keeping it cool

As a part of essential infrastructure, the air conditioning and district cooling needs of the region continue to thrive and have remained immune to the economic recession, reports features editor Shikha Mishra.

As a part of essential infrastructure, the air conditioning and district cooling needs of the region continue to thrive and have remained immune to the economic recession, reports features editor Shikha Mishra.

Air conditioning and district cooling have become a way of life and are on top of the survival list for the region.

The air conditioning market has undergone a sea change with many manufacturers launching products, which are energy efficient and in line with the green building initiatives of the Dubai government.

"The emphasis on environmentally sustainable building construction has gained momentum in the Middle East. Many of the region's countries have adopted legislations to limit the impact of their carbon footprints. Dubai passed a legislation effective January 1, 2008, requiring all new developments to be sustainable and Abu Dhabi based company, Estidama, is currently working on a rating system of sustainable construction. Qatar has also initiated similar moves to limit the impact of its construction sector on the environment," says Aftab Khan, managing director, building systems and services of Carrier Middle East.

The cooling industry has been growing exponentially in the Middle East with an increase in government spending on developing infrastructure, oil, social and health sectors.

However, the market behaves in a cyclical manner and any downward trend in the real estate sector has a similar effect on the HVAC industry as well, limiting its short term prospects.

"On the other hand, the cooling sector in the region is witnessing the emergence of new and high-growth areas such as environmentally responsible refrigerants, energy efficient systems, sustainable construction, indoor air quality and district cooling. There is also a shift in project profiles from single towers to large neighborhoods, pushing demand for district cooling systems," says Khan.

Carrier has increased its initiatives in the district cooling market with its existing range of centrifugal machines and an extension to higher capacities with the new Evergreen 19XRD chiller that uses non-ozone depleting refrigerant HFC-134a.

The increased presence of large scale residential and commercial projects has also been pushing the growth of the district cooling sector. "In addition to that, the smaller residential property market is undergoing a shift in preferences - from window ACs to more sophisticated products such as splits and packaged units," he says.

GreenWave Capital began operations in the UAE in 2008 with a product designed to reduce energy costs associated with air conditioning.

"This recession is a good time for us to come into the market. In a hotel for example, when revenues and occupancy are down, the only way to balance budgets is to cut high operational expenditures such as energy bills and our product can do that," says Connor McCaffrey, CEO of  GreenWave Capital.

The company manufactures PermaFrost, a product designed to enhance the performance of any air conditioning or refrigeration system without modifications or alterations to the system itself.

Permafrost offers significant energy cost savings for all types of commercial, residential and vehicle cooling equipment. Installing the systems increase HVAC equipment efficiency by 20% to 40%, resulting in overall energy savings of up to 20%.

Currently, the UAE has the highest carbon footprint in the world and a large percentage of that comes from construction.

"But coming to the country's defence, we do burn fossil fuels for electricity. And the biggest consumer of electricity is air conditioning, so having an AC unit that runs efficiently can help in reducing the carbon footprint as well," says McCaffrey.

Abu Dhabi-based district cooling service provider, Tabreed, currently has 22 plants under construction, which remain unaffected despite the slowdown in the market.

Tabreed has a long list of projects they are working on this year.

"The support from the Abu Dhabi government has helped our construction programmes get funding and continue unabated," says Khaled Salmeen, chief operating officer, Tabreed.

Companies such as Tabreed have been shielded to a certain extent by the Dubai crash and the problems that came with it when projects got delayed.

"It has been a difficult time, but we have been able to pull through due to support from the government. Projects such as the Ferrari theme park on Yas Island, which we are working on as a joint venture with Aldar and Al Raha beach, where we have four plants, which will come online when the capacity is needed, are going ahead as scheduled," says Salmeen.Since district cooling has become the preferred system of air conditioning to conventional cooling systems and chillers, concern over their impact on the environment has also gained greater significance. It's a matter of time before laws in the Middle East get aligned with international legislations, such as the Montreal Protocol that restrict the use of non-ozone friendly refrigerants.

While some countries in the region have already initiated laws phasing out the use of refrigerants that damage the earth's ozone layer, others are expected to gradually follow suit.

The UN's Montreal Protocol has accelerated the HCFC refrigerant phase-out schedule and countries in the Middle East will have to freeze HCFC levels in 2013 and initiate reductions in 2015.

"District cooling has superior properties in the case of dense population. In the UAE the only competitor to district cooling is an air cooled system where every building installs its own system," says Salmeen.

District cooling is ineffective when there is a sparse population.

"Then the infrastructure cost of putting in the piping doesn't work in its favour. For a downtown area where there is a high density of towers it works beautifully, as it offers a higher quality of cooling with superior temperature control," says Salmeen.

District cooling also offers better humidity control. For example, the Louvre Museum in France is district cooled, which means it offers higher protection to the valuable art and artifacts housed in the museum.

Dubai is leading the way in district cooling and a government regulation on it is expected soon as well.

"I can definitely see a government regulation on district cooling coming soon. The government realises the advantage of district cooling, as it reduces overall infrastructure requirement for water and power," says Tameen.

Sanyo and Al Futtaim Engineering have been partners for a number of years in the AC industry and are focused on selling AC products which are energy efficient.

"The government's initiative coupled with technological advancement has led to various air conditioning products like absorption chillers and variable refrigerant systems being introduced in the market," says Rajesh Bhatia, regional manager - AC division, Al-Futtaim Engineering.

Sanyo's air conditioners, for the past 20 years, have had an energy efficient feature as standard in the split AC units. Sanyo has the complete range of products for the absorption segments, which could be the future of the AC industry.

Al Futtaim Engineering is planning to launch the Sanyo Eco-i systems - variable refrigerant systems in the Middle East. This product will replace chillers in the high-rise building segment. As well as being environmentally friendly, these products will help reduce capital and operating costs.

The AC division of Al Futtaim Engineering currently only caters to the medium business segment in the UAE, which has not faced severity during the current economic crisis.

"This is because this segment which includes villas, warehouses and buildings up to 12-storeys, attract far less investment than other major projects. Also most projects in the medium business segment are privately owned and are being primarily used for rental purposes," says Bhatia.

Sanyo already has variable refrigerant volume (VRV) systems which are supplied in various markets of Europe, USA and Japan. Sanyo is also planning to launch air cooled chillers of medium capacity (50tr to 250tr) by 2010 to cater to the medium business segment.

Tr means tonne of refrigeration. It is equivalent to the production of cold at the rate at which heat is to removed from one tonne of water at 0˚C to freeze it to ice at 0˚C in 24 hours.

In the future, air conditioning will continue to become more environmentally friendly as companies continue working on newer products that minimise the use of ozone harming gases.

Most companies have also made a commitment to improving the energy efficiency of air conditioning systems, which will improve their functionality in the years to come.

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