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Leadership and Innovation: Alastair Mulligan, Managing Director of Tabreed Energy Services

Alastair Mulligan joined Tabreed, the largest district cooling service provider in the GCC, 12 years ago. Today he’s the managing director of Tabreed Energy Services and he talks with Construction Business News ME about leadership and innovation – two of the most important foundations of any successful company.

By Alastair Mulligan, managing director of Tabreed Energy Services

When Tabreed was established in 1998, it really was heading into uncharted territory as the first business of its kind anywhere in the UAE. The undisputed leader in its field, the company has expanded almost beyond recognition since taking those initial steps and commissioning its first district cooling plant in Sweihan, Abu Dhabi.

Now we own and operate 86 plants across the GCC, providing essential cooling to many of the region’s most famous, iconic and popular landmarks. If you’ve recently visited the Burj Khalifa, The Dubai Mall, the Dubai Opera or travelled on the Dubai Metro, you will have been kept cool by Tabreed. The same goes for Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Yas Mall, Ferrari World, Warner Bros. World, Louvre Abu Dhabi and many more incredible developments that have captured the hearts and minds of people all around the world.

As with the UAE in general, Tabreed’s incredible progress would not have been possible without having inspirational leadership and innovation as central pillars for the company. We have been fortunate to have benefitted from impeccable leadership by our board, CEOs and management team that have steered us in the right direction, resulting in Tabreed itself becoming a beacon of quality and an industry leader like few others.

Predictably, since Tabreed was established, rival companies have come along, so we have never been able to stand still. We seize upon opportunities to expand our portfolio and, while growing our presence in the UAE, have expanded into new countries – initially Bahrain, before commencing operations in Oman and Saudi Arabia, and recently we opened an office in India.

As Tabreed has grown, so too have its services. I head up its wholly owned subsidiary, Tabreed Energy Services, established in January 2020 to consolidate the group’s service businesses to provide customers with an integrated set of consultancy, operations and maintenance services, that will help them optimise the energy efficiency of their buildings and developments.

We enable building owners, both government and private sector, to access Tabreed’s deep expertise in optimising energy efficiency and in particular cooling systems, which are the largest driver of energy use in this region. Energy consumption is obviously a contentious subject all around the world, the accepted wisdom being ‘the lower, the better’ and this brings about a unique set of challenges in this part of the world.

The UAE is one of the world’s most difficult countries to cool, experiencing not only high ambient temperatures but high levels of humidity, too. Innovation, then, has been essential for Tabreed to do what it does effectively, efficiently and reliably, while maintaining commercial viability with a laser-like focus on environmental sustainability. In this respect, district cooling as a concept can be considered innovative, as it has meant that property developers can use the services of a centralised cooling plant, obtaining the benefits achieved through economies of scale which include reduced redundancy and power requirements within the development itself that traditional air conditioning schemes demand.

Tabreed’s expertise in energy efficiency is unrivalled, bringing huge cost benefits to property owners and developers, as well as to the environment, because reduced energy consumption equals reduced CO2 emissions. In fact, during 2020, Tabreed’s operations saved over 2.26 billion kilowatt/hours across the GCC – enough to power 128,443 homes every year – and prevented the release of more than 1.35 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, equivalent to removing approximately 300,000 vehicles from the road.

These savings are the result of Tabreed’s strategic collaborations with developers and the ways in which we have adapted the designs of cooling plants to this region’s specific characteristics. Each plant is designed according to customer needs, both present and potential, and the environment it is to be cited within. For instance, some of our plants supply coastal locations and, where we’ve been able, we’ve designed them to use sea water for cooling without negatively impacting marine ecosystems. To meet remote area cooling requirements, where grid power was not readily available, we have also integrated efficient electricity production into our plants to facilitate our customers’ requirements, along with the development of water polishing plants to utilise recycled water.

We have completely changed the commercial structure of cooling and energy services, which has brought enormous benefits, too. For instance, independent studies have proved that Tabreed reduces energy consumption by between 19 and 23% by giving customers the ability to sub-meter the cooling services in their buildings – another homegrown innovation. As a resilient, agile organisation, we analyse each and every step of every single operation with the goal of maximising efficiency.

Through Tabreed Energy Services, we have formalised additional service offerings to our customers – lowering energy bills, increasing cooling comfort and allowing the outsourcing of HVAC operations, maintenance, and upgrade investments. Some of these service offerings include plate heat exchanger cleaning to optimise heat transfer and local ‘cooling as a service’ where Tabreed can own, operate and maintain traditional cooling facilities allowing customers to monetise or replace their cooling systems. This provides many of the benefits of the outsourced cooling model that district cooling provides but for typically smaller facilities located on or within a building owner’s premises.

Any company that professes to be innovative must invest in R&D and, as you might expect, Tabreed has some really inspiring projects underway. We recently announced the launch of four pilot projects to improve operational efficiency while enhancing district cooling plant life and reliability. ‘Future of Cooling’ will introduce new concepts and technologies in design and control philosophy to each district cooling plant, resulting in material improvements in performance, longer life and lower plant lifecycle costs.

‘Carbon NanoTube’ (CNT) is another, with the potential to drastically enhance the performance and life span of plant and equipment while reducing plant and energy transfer station (ETS) footprints using CNT material, which has outstanding properties in terms of heat transfer. Then there’s ‘Wet Bulb Forecasting’, designed to drastically enhance demand side management, more accurately forecasting customer demand for the next 24 hours to allow for a more efficient operation by optimising production of cooling. The fourth involves redesigning the district cooling plant’s condenser circuit and cooling tower, which is one of the critical components in the plant and has a significant impact on the plant’s performance.

As a respected leader and innovator, Tabreed is acknowledged to play a vital role in assisting the UAE’s and the region’s ambitious environmental targets, particularly regarding carbon neutrality. We are, and will remain, heavily involved in the drive for a sustainable future and that’s good news for everyone, everywhere.


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