District cooling is a sustainable, energy-efficient solution for generating and supplying cooling energy to multiple end-user buildings in a local district. In this article, we will discuss what district cooling is, how it works, and its benefits, along with examples of iconic projects worldwide that have successfully adopted district cooling.
What is district cooling?
District cooling systems produce cooling energy in the form of chilled water at a central chiller plant. The chilled water is supplied to multiple end-user buildings via a piping network for comfort cooling. In traditional in-building air-conditioning systems, each building is provided with its own refrigeration system for producing chilled water. Apart from a few larger-scale developments, most buildings that are smaller in size tend to adopt more energy-intensive cooling technologies such as air-cooled packaged units or water-cooled chiller units without a thermal energy storage system. Compared to traditional in-building cooling plants, the district cooling system offers a sustainable and energy-efficient solution for urban comfort cooling.
District cooling is not new and is considered a mature technology with a well-proven track record. According to ASHRAE, the concept of district cooling can be traced back to the 1880s, and the first commercial district cooling systems were built in the 1930s. While technology has been around for a long time, it has seen a resurgence of interest in the past few decades, particularly in the Middle East, Europe, and South East Asia.