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Fri 8 May 2009 04:00 AM

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What price sustainability?

Alan Millin, director of consultancy, Imdaad, on energy, buildings, business efficiencies, hamstrung FMs and the need to integrate to achieve efficiencies.

What price sustainability?
What price sustainability?

Everyone wants to be seen as ‘sustainable’ or ‘green’. Sustainable development and environmental responsibility usually translates easily to good business. As facilities managers we strive to ensure maximum efficiency of the facilities we operate, yet sometimes our hands are tied. Why is this?

If FM is included in a project from the outset we can make a significant impact on energy, buildings and business efficiency, but when FM is considered much later, or not at all, we are left to do the best we can with what we have been given. The results of omitting FM from the design phases of projects are clear and continue to become clearer every day. District cooling vs. packaged cooling

Let’s consider district cooling (DC), touted as the sustainable alternative to packaged cooling systems.

The best massaged figures I have heard from a DC proponent are 0.8kW/ton for DC vs. 1.8kW/ton for packaged air cooled machines.

If we believe the hype, and we have no reason not to, DC systems are designed to achieve an operational efficiency of 1kW power consumed per ton of refrigeration (kW/ton) or even less.

The industry promotes this efficiency as a considerable environmental benefit when contrasted with a conventional air-cooled packaged cooling system that operates in the region of 1.7 kW/ton.

Great we all say, let’s go for district cooling in that case. The best massaged figures I have heard from a DC proponent are 0.8kW/ton for DC vs. 1.8kW/ton for packaged air cooled machines.

But wait, don’t we regularly hear at the DC conferences that actual DC plant performance is significantly worse than the design specification? I have heard speakers at these conferences mention DC system efficiencies of 1.4 and 1.5 kW/ton. Still better than 1.7kW/ton isn’t it?

If we check with equipment manufacturers maybe we can find a more efficient packaged system too, narrowing the gap even more.

And what about the water consumption of the DC plants? Power plants consume water as they produce power for the DC plant, but now the DC plant itself consumes water too. Air cooled chillers do not need to use any water.

Then there is the cost to the end-user. District cooling plants will typically operate at the highest of Dubai Electricity and Water Authority’s (DEWA) slab tariffs, while a simple split system on a small apartment will probably be billed at the lowest rate. Beginning to see where the life cycle cost analysis we discussed in the last article might be useful?On the other hand, end users often have no choice over the type of cooling they live with. Unfortunately, DC providers do not appear to like installing sub-metering at the unit level. This leaves many residents or tenants paying for their cooling on a per square foot basis. Hurting the provider

Now we get to the sustainability issue. District cooling providers make their money by charging to remove heat from your facilities. If DC providers bill based on consumption, and if we are good at our jobs, we will reduce our clients’ payments to the DC provider - which may hurt the provider. So billing on floor area is great for the provider, but bad for the client or customer and for the environment.

Where is the corporate social responsibility of the DC providers? Where are their sustainable development initiatives? Do they require their engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractors to comply with their own environmental procurement policies?

End-users who pay per square foot have little incentive to cut back on cooling demand because the main beneficiary is the DC provider, who still gets paid even if they do not provide any cooling.

There is often little or no transparency on how the DC providers arrive at their selling rate. End-users also have little option but to connect to a particular DC provider’s system. This is, in some respect, similar to the telecommunications companies. We have Etisalat and Du, but there is no real competition. The area in which you live can dictate which provider you contract with, whether you like it or not.

District cooling end users are mostly not FM or DC industry professionals who understand the financial models being used. They are, however, the very people who will complain about the high service charges imposed on them which reflects poorly on the master developer, the DC provider and unfortunately on the FM provider; whether we like it or not. When the air conditioning fails tenants do not want to hear that “it’s the DC provider’s problem”, they want their air conditioning to work and expect the FM company to make it happen. Simply not good enough

So what can we do? We could of course sit back and do nothing, but that won’t get us far will it? How about knocking on doors to let clients to know that we can help if we are engaged early enough? How about educating our clients to demand much greater transparency from DC providers. How about educating our clients to insist on sub-metering down to the unit level with direct billing by the attendant DC provider?

District cooling providers need to do more to really implement sustainable development initiatives. Where is the corporate social responsibility of the DC providers? Where are their sustainable development initiatives? Do they require their engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractors to comply with their own environmental procurement policies? Do they strive for the best environmental solution or do they simply go for ‘plug and play’ design because they can make more money that way?

As facilities managers, we have many questions to ask. Let’s start asking them before our clients ask us why we have been quiet for so long… Alan Millin is the director of consultancy of Imdaad.

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