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Sat 20 Dec 2008 04:00 AM

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The cooling king

As general manager of SNC-Lavalin, Paul Beaudry is responsible for overseeing one of the largest construction and engineering firms in the MENA region. Utilities Middle East caught up with him at his offices in Abu Dhabi.

As general manager of SNC-Lavalin, Paul Beaudry is responsible for overseeing one of the largest construction and engineering firms in the MENA region. Utilities Middle East caught up with him at his offices in Abu Dhabi.

Paul Beaudry is general manager of Canadian engineering and construction giant SNC-Lavalin, the largest district cooling constructor in the region.

"The dynamism of this region is something I have never seen before. It is truly an engineering and constructor's dream. There are so many projects ongoing that it's a challenge. But it's a very interesting challenge. It's very unusual to see such growth and to see that and to be part of it."

We are building district cooling in almost every part of the UAE and there is no sign that the demand for new projects is slowing down.

"We have 22 different projects on the go currently," says Beaudry, "and that makes us much larger than most of our competitors combined. We are currently building in almost every part of the UAE and there is no sign of demand for district cooling infrastructure slowing down. This region is perfect for it."

Buoyed by his success in the UAE, Beaudry is now looking to expand his activities in to Saudi Arabia. "We recently started a new company called Saudi SLGC to serve the district cooling market in Saudi Arabia. It is a fast-growing market and one that we very much want to be part of. At the moment we are bidding on four separate projects there but it is a bigger place and a bigger economy than the UAE and eventually I would expect our district cooling business to be bigger in Saudi.

There is potentially demand for 20 million tonnes of refrigeration in the Gulf over the next 10-20 years and a large part of our business is now focused on that sector in order to meet this growing demand," adds Beaudry.

Elsewhere in the region, Beaudry is also targeting growth in the district cooling sector in Bahrain. "We recently signed an agreement with Tabreed Bahrain to construct a district cooling plant at Bahrain Financial Harbour.

"There is no doubt that cooling represents the most significant usage of cutting edge technology towards implementing cooling solutions for new building construction.

We see the BFH project as a flagship project and it is an example of the kind of forward thinking and eagerness to embrace cutting-edge technology that is happening all over the region," says Beaudry.

With air conditioning accounting for as much as 50% of peak power load requirements, it is not surprising that efforts to cut energy consumption are very much focused on this area, particularly within the residential sector.

This has been great for the district cooling sector and the market has been growing fast. The UAE has created the momentum behind the district cooling sector in the Middle East; they are ahead of the other countries.

There has been rapid development in the UAE and there is so much demand for energy that they have to find alternatives that use less energy to develop the country - they have no choice. Water cooling with these systems is more efficient and it takes half the space and half the energy of other technologies," says Beaudry.

But Beaudry warns that there are some clouds on the horizon. "It is no secret that utility providers in the Middle East are struggling to keep pace with growing demand for power. Also, it usually takes about 18 months to construct a district cooling plant.The thing slowing down the process right now is contractors, the people in the civil and electro-mechanical sector are very busy, so this is one of the challenges.

It is having an impact on cost for sure, and there is a scarcity of materials, such as steel and cement - the costs of these are going up dramatically. We haven't got caught out yet as our contracts are quite short but it is a definite challenge," he adds.

Beaudry also says that the tariff system in parts of the region is not maximising the benefits of district cooling technology. "Day-night rates that let users save money by using more energy at night and at times of lowest demand would certainly benefit district cooling and allow utilities to save at the same time," he says.

Beaudry is keen to stress that SNC-Lavalin is active throughout the MENA region and not merely restricted to the GCC countries. In Libya the company is involved in the construction of 129 potable water wells in what Beaudry describes as one of the most ambitious construction projects of the 21st century - the so-called Great Man-Made River, which is an attempt to boost water for agricultural uses.

SNC-Lavalin's work involved the installation of more than 45 km of stainless steel pipe and 10 exploration wells with a depth of 700 to 1 000 m. "We are basically trying to build a huge pipeline to take water to the coast, mainly to the cities of Benghazi and Tripoli," enthuses Beaudry.

"We are drilling for water and building the pipeline and it's a very big pipeline, around 4 metres in diameter and each section of pre-stressed cylinder concrete pipes is 7.5 metres long"

Beaudry is also enthusiastic about his company's involvement in the Algerian power sector. SNC-Lavalin has signed a deal to build own and operate tow power plants in the country. One is for 800MW and the other for 1227MW.

The later plant at Tipaza, west of Algiers will eventually account for around 20% of the country's total energy supply. "SNC-Lavalin will operate the plant and the electricity will be sold to Sonelgaz with a 20-year contract," says Beaudry.

SNC-Lavalin is also involved in the design, construction and operation of a 825 MW CCGT in Skikda, Algeria and the company recently won an estimated US $150 million contract to design and build the Tipaza desalination plant on Algeria's north coast.Unusually for the head of an engineering firm, Beaudry is in fact a mathematician, having studied in Montreal, Paris and at Wharton College.

"Sometimes the engineers give me a hard time about that but knowing about mathematics gives you a different perspective on things, on problem solving and gives you a different ways of looking at situations and finding solutions," he explains.

Beaudry has been based in Abu Dhabi for the past 18 months but before that he was traveling back and forth from Canada to the region since 2002. But the construction and engineering business is notorious for moving its people on, meaning that it is unlikely that Beaudry will stay in the region for more than another few years.

"It's an amazing place and an amazing time, there is so much going on and great to be part of. More than that, Abu Dhabi is a great city," says Beaudry.

"It only takes me 10 minutes to drive to work, and there are very few places in the world where you can do that," he explains.

"I don't want to leave. Not yet anyway, as there is still so much to do and I want to continue to be part of it," says Beaudry as he prepares to meet some visitors from Saudi Arabia who want to talk about developing a district cooling venture. It seems that Beaudry does indeed have a lot of work still to do.

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