It sits tucked away, just off a traffic lights and most drivers will not notice it when driving by the street it is on, in Cyberjaya. And that suits Dr Mohd Hafiz Ibrahim, just fine. The general manager of Pendinginan Megajana Sdn Bhd and his team are tasked with ensuring corporate customers in Cyberjaya keep their all critical central air-conditioning systems running smoothly and at maximum efficiency and low cost.
It has been doing a stellr job so far. Megajana has had no interruptions in its 23 years of operations. The reason? It has 15 chillers in its facility, which means it has multiple backups.
Part of Malaysia’s first, centrally planned, smart city, Cyberjaya, Megajana plays a key role in the “smart” and “green” aspect of Cyberjaya, as the sole service provider in the city, adopting a District Cooling System (DCS) model which launched in Nov 1999.
Explaining the model, Dr Hafiz says it is no different than a utility service such as water, power, fixed broadband and mobile where infrastructure is shared at the generation and distribution of the service.
With its underground pipe network totaling to 12km length in Cyberjaya, “we offer a plug and play smart utility solution to building owners” says Dr Hafiz who stresses that a DCS functions as the backbone of a green and smart city.
In terms of how it works, the system relies on a centralised cooling plant which supplies cooling energy to connected buildings within its network via underground Chilled Water (CHW) pipelines. Equipment at the customer side, called Energy Transfer Station (ETS) transfers the cooling energy to the building through a Heat Exchanger. The warm heat absorbed from the building will then be returned to the District Cooling Plant (DCP) via its closed-loop system. The CHW supply temperature to customers is between 6.5 to 7.5 degrees Celcius and return temperature is in between 13.5 to 14.5 degrees Celcius.
A matured model in developed nations, DCS made its entry into Malaysia in the early 1990s and has become progressively entrenched as the most cost-efficient method to deliver centralized air-conditioning in high density developments such as university campuses, government buildings, business districts, industrial area, commercial and retail buildings, hotels and residential towers, airports, etc. The usual minimum requirement for a connection application is 20,000 sq ft of cooling area which is equivalent to 100 RT (Refrigerant Tonne).
From an initial five customers in 1999, Megajana has 45 customers today which includes universities, government agencies, a shopping mall and data centres.
Future growth prospects look promising. “We are currently undertaking a masterplan study to build out next plant at Cyberjaya as part of our expansion. This is in anticipation of future demand especially for hyperscale Data Centres,” said Dr Hafiz.
The benefits of district cooling are particularly appealing to data centres as it will reduce the energy footprint of a data centre since most of the equipment needed to cool the facility has, in a sense, been outsourced to Megajana. With 35% of the energy produced going towards cooling purposes, this in turn shall immediately reduce energy consumption by 35%. And even if a data centre prefers to use its own system, “we can offer them redundancy and security,” said Dr Hafiz.
According to Dr Hafiz, there is another key benefit as well, “with Megajana data centres are able to reduce water usage by 90%.”
For customers, while the green and smart aspect of relying on a district cooling are clear, the cost benefits are strong as well. “For office buildings, we can reduce electricity costs by 60%,” said Dr Hafiz. What makes this possible is the facility’s use of thermal energy storage (TES).
Consider this akin to a power bank that Megajana charges at night when energy costs are low. With more than 2.5 million colds packs in the form of indented cubes, Megajana can store 10 hours worth of energy to be distributed to clients during the day.
“There are already plans to retrofit the thermal energy storage to a newer and higher efficiency system,” said Dr Hafiz who says the DCS players are advocating that District Cooling be recognised as one of the key drivers to support energy efficiency.
49% owned by French conglomerate ENGIE (which acquired the stake in 2012) and 51% by Cyberview, Megajana, despite having a strong market position in Cyberjaya, has ambitions beyond the smart city.
Urban migration is one key reason. “We see urban migration to be a major driver for district cooling. While currently about 77% of the population lives in cities, this will jump close to 90% by 2050.”
That means more energy is needed in cities with buildings requiring 65% of their energy for cooling purposes while the cities will use up 33% of their energy for cooling which includes public spaces buildings, halls, residential etc.
“You can see the critical role DCS will have to play in this scenario,” Dr Hafiz said.
Beyond this mega trend of urban migration, there is also the looming shadow of climate change, specifically where it relates to a warming world.
Here, Dr Hafiz cites an interactive article from 2018 in the New York Times that allows one to chart the future temperature of their cities. The chilling news for Klang Valley residents is that by 2050, the capital will experience 288 days a year with temperatures above 32 degree celcius, thereby needing air-conditioning. But even before that, “the demand for cooling will double by 2030,” Dr Hafiz warns.
With the experience and value that it has brought to many customers and to the quality of life in Cyberjaya, Dr Hafiz is insistent that district cooling, has to become part of early planning for cities in Malaysia, besides playing a key role to help the nation achieve its Carbon Neutral goal by 2050.