by Linda Bertelsen
Hong Kong city photo Ruslan Bardash

The need for cooling in Asia is rising fast and is demanding for the environment and the electricity supply. District cooling (DC) in Asia, especially in China but also in India, has tremendous market potential. Commercial buildings with a relatively stable cooling load and a predictable demand profile could be a priority building category for district cooling. Still, DC of airports, data centers, hospitals, industries, and other buildings with high-density cooling demand would also be feasible development.

Unlike traditional air-conditioning systems, DC uses different resources (including renewable energies) to improve energy efficiency and indoor climate significantly. District cooling will bring in considerable savings on power consumption, power demand, carbon footprint, and life cycle cost.

Below are short descriptions of the DC market potentials for India and China, supplemented with two cases. Amaravati, the new state capital of Andhra Pradesh, India, and Shenzhen in south China, showcases low-carbon and highly efficient DC solutions that inspire other developing Asian cities.

District Cooling Development in India

In India, installing cooling capacity across all technologies in use is likely to grow 4x over the coming decade to 296 MN Refrigeration Tons (RT), an 8% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR). The fastest-growing market sub-segment is Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) technologies (preference around cost, efficiency & flexibility). However, large chillers, conducive for district cooling, are also likely to grow at a CAGR of 11% to 25 MN RT.

Adopting DC will require broader market awareness and successful pilots. It requires stronger local ecosystems for project execution and O&M, too. Furthermore, there is a need for business model innovation to fit an India-specific model that incorporates existing best practices from the country.

DC projects in India are still few, but the demand is rising, and with some good reference projects, there will be a large growing market for district cooling in India.

Amaravati, India – district cooling project

The new state of Andhra Pradesh in India has a Greenfield capital city planned in Amaravati with world-class and sustainable infrastructure features, including an elaborate and interconnected District Cooling Scheme to serve cooling loads of up to 100,000 TR. The Amaravati Government Complex (AGC), featuring the State Assembly, the High Court, five secretariat towers, and two future mixed-use towers, is planned among the capital city’s initial developments with a cooling requirement of 19,989 TR.

The Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA), an authority entrusted with developing the capital city, launched a Design, Finance, Build, Own, Operate, and Transfer (DBFOT) tender for a District Cooling System (DCS). It will be developed in a phased manner after proving the significant benefits that a DCS could provide in meeting the cooling demand of AGC sustainably vis-a-vis the standalone cooling systems. It will make the AGC DCS India’s first cooling scheme developed in a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) concession model.

The DFBOT global tender for DCS by APCRDA attracted several bids from which Tabreed (amongst the world’s largest District Cooling utilities based out of UAE) was selected as the winner with an investment commitment of INR 3750 million (US$ 50 million). The tender process successfully culminated in a 32-year cooling concession agreement between APCRDA and Tabreed. Tabreed became the first global district cooling utility to start operations in India through its country office set-up in 2019.

Amaravati Government Complex District Cooling Plan

Based on the estimated development timelines of the AGC buildings, a phased expansion of the DCS capacity has been envisaged by APCRDA to avoid any significant pre-investment in the project. The various benefits that accrue from a DCS for meeting AGC’s cooling needs compared to standalone water-cooled or air-cooled systems are:

District Cooling in Asia - on the rise - figure 1

District Cooling Development in China

While district cooling (DC) is still at its beginning in India, the DC market in China is fast growing. In China, the district cooling market at present (>5.9 TWh) is more extensive than both the Japanese (3.5 TWh) and European (3 TWh) markets and could reach the level of North America (25 TWh) within five years if it grows by up to 5.39 TWh yearly as projected.

District Cooling in Asia - on the rise - figure A

A study performed for the Asian Development Bank (ADB)* shows some strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) for district cooling in China.

Qianhai District Cooling System (DCS) in Shenzhen, China

In the masterplan for the Qianhai DCS, Shenzhen, China, there are 10 district cooling plants with a total cooling area of 19 MMm2 in an area of 15 km2.

  • The pipeline network length is 90 km.
  • The full cooling capacity is 400,000RT, with energy storage: 4000 MWh.
  • The total investment is expected to reach RMB 4B.

Qianhai has set an excellent example for low-carbon development. Over the past few years, Qianhai has been working on DCS, a highly efficient and energy-saving energy consumption model. Two centralized cooling plants, which use ice thermal storage technology, have been put into service to provide chilled water to nearby office buildings.

Other renewable energy sources, such as a seawater condenser system, gray water utilization condenser, steam waste heat, and solar energy, have been studied and used in other cooling plants under construction in Qianhai’s district cooling system.

The cooling plants are attached to main buildings to save land resources, and the Qianhai authority has guided the enterprises in the free trade area to use the DCS by making it one of the conditions of land transfers.

In the future, the developers plan to apply seawater, surplus heat, and reused water-cooling technologies to optimize resource use and increase energy efficiency in the area.

The DCS business model is that the Qianhai authorities own the plant buildings and the pipe network. In contrast, Qianhai Energy owns the plant equipment and also operates the cooling facilities.

* District Cooling in the People’s Republic of China Status and Development Potential, January 2017, ADB

For further information, please contact: Zhaohui Wang, wangzh@qhholding.com

Meet the author

Zhaohui Wang
CTO Shenzhen Qianhai Energy Technology Development Co., Ltd.
District Cooling in Asia – On the rise” was published in Hot Cool, edition no. 1/2021. You can download the article here: