District Cooling: A Key Solution for Hot Climate Cities

  • Chris Butters
  • Adzuieen Nordin
  • Danny Tam Hong Khai
Part of the Palgrave Series in Asia and Pacific Studies book series (PSAPS)


This chapter addresses energy solutions at the urban scale, principally though not uniquely for cooling. Whilst district heating (DH) systems are widespread, district cooling (DC) is less well known, although DC systems have existed for some years in both hot-dry and in hot-humid climates. There are major efforts today to spread awareness of DC, not least in Asia. After a brief overview of the development worldwide and scope of district energy systems, we focus on Malaysia, which is a leading example. We also highlight a little discussed conflict between the level of individual buildings versus that of urban energy planning. Which level should be prioritised and under what conditions?

In the rapidly growing cities of developing countries, millions are moving to dense urban environments, often of mediocre quality and with few or any energy-efficiency measures. Temperatures are typically 2-4 degrees hotter in inner city areas, and rising. The fraction of the world’s 30 largest cities that lie in the tropics is forecast to rise from 40 % in 2000 to 60 % by 2025 (UN, World urbanisation prospects: The 2014 revision. New York, UN, 2014). Typically, heat from vehicles accounts for between 20–30 % of the anthropogenic sources of heat in large cities, whilst the energy use in buildings accounts for 60–75 % (Stewart and Kennedy, Estimating anthropogenic heat release from megacities. In ICUC9—9th International Conference on Urban Climate held jointly with the 12th Symposium on the Urban Environment, July 20–24, 2015, Toulouse, France University of Toronto, Toronto, 2015). The common cooling solution is still small-scale air conditioning (AC) units in individual buildings. Each one exhausts heat to the outdoors, hence heating up the city even more. Thus, ironically, cooling is itself one of the major causes of heat in the city. In addition, small AC units are inefficient, not always healthy, and expensive to run. Larger urban scale solutions offer much higher technical efficiency as well as advantages as to energy sources, costs and management. And not least, district energy solutions offer one of the only ways to counteract the urban heat island (UHI) effect.

Better technology can help, but the fundamental challenge is to remove the sources of heat from the city. This is what DC systems offer; the unique feature of reducing UHI, thus impacting positively on environment as well as on comfort and public health. District cooling is a key to future urban planning and energy policy in hot climates.


District cooling District energy system Urban heat island Malaysia 


  1. Arbeidsgruppe for Geotermisk Energi. (2010). Innsatsgruppe Fornybar termisk energy. Energi 21. Forskningsrådet (The National Research Council), Oslo.Google Scholar
  2. Argonne National Laboratory. (1977). Feasibility of a district cooling system using natural cold water. Report for the US Department of Energy, National Technical Information Service, Springfield.Google Scholar
  3. Azit, A. H., & Nor, K. M. (2009). Optimal sizing for a gas-fired grid-connected cogeneration system planning. IEEE Transactions on Energy Conversion, 24(4), 950–958.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Basri, N. A., et al. (2015). Malaysia energy strategy towards sustainability: A panoramic overview of the benefits and challenges. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 42, 1094–1105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Berbari, G. (2009). History of district cooling in the Middle East, UAE. Available at:
  6. Butters, C. (2014). Enhancing air movement by passive means in hot climate buildings. ELITH online publication W09, Warwick. Available at:
  7. Butters, C., et al. (2003–2004). Unpublished consultancy reports for Damsgaardsundet sustainable waterfront, Bergen.Google Scholar
  8. ClimEspace. (2013). Discover district cooling and combine efficiency with urban ecology. Available at:
  9. Cornell University/IDEA. (2010). Case study series: College campus CHP, Cornell Lake Source Cooling System, MA. Available at:,
  10. Dalin, P. (2012). Capital cooling group. ‘Free cooling’/natural cooling is crucial for a successful district cooling development. Euroheat and Power Annual Conference, April 26–27, 2012, Copenhagen.Google Scholar
  11. Dalman, E., et al. (1999). Kvalitetsprogram for Framtidsstaden Bo01, Malmo.Google Scholar
  12. EMPOWER. Emirates Central Cooling Systems Corporation, Dubai. Available at:
  13. Enwave. (2010). Deep lake water cooling: Keeping Toronto cool. Enwave District Energy, Toronto.Google Scholar
  14. EU Euroheat & Power. (2006). Possibilities with more district cooling in Europe. Work Package 53. Brussels 2006. Available at:
  15. European Commission, RESCUE Project. (2015). Best practice examples of district cooling systems. Available at:
  16. Fazeli, A., et al. (2016). Malaysia’s stand on municipal solid waste conversion to energy: A review. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 58, 1007–1016.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Foo, K. Y. (2015). A vision on the opportunities, policies and coping strategies for the energy security and green energy development in Malaysia. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 51, 1477–1498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. GDF-Suez. (2014). ClimEspace, 1st european cooling district system. Sheet 7. Available at:
  19. Gong, M., & Sven, W. (2014). District heating research in China, Svensk Fjärrvärme AB.Google Scholar
  20. Hani, A., & Koiv, T.-A. (2012). The preliminary research of sea water district heating and cooling for Tallinn coastal area. Smart Grid and Renewable Energy, 2012(3), 246–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Haron, S. (2016). Implementation of gas district cooling and cogeneration systems in Malaysia. TNEC brochure.
  22. Hisham, A. (2015). District cooling systems industry: Is regulatory framework the answer? Available at:
  23. International District Energy Association, IDEA. (2016). District Energy (Vol. 102, no.2).
  24. International Energy Agency. (2012) Implementing agreement on district heating and cooling including combined heat and power.
  25. Kee, T. P. (2010, June). District cooling as an energy and economically efficient urban utility—Its implementation at Marina Bay business district in Singapore. Singapore District Cooling Pte Ltd.Google Scholar
  26. Khor, C. S., & Lalchand, G. (2014). A review on sustainable power generation in Malaysia to 2030: Historical perspective, current assessment, and future strategies. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 29, 952–960.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Koon, C. H., Sim, J. S., Ng, Y. S., Tay, L. C., & Ng, C. B. (2007). Indirect seawater cooling and thermal storage system in Changi Naval Base. Singapore.Google Scholar
  28. Lo, A., Lau, B., Cheng, V., & Cheung, P. (2014). Challenges of district cooling system (DCS) implementation in Hong Kong. Arup Hong Kong, SB14, Barcelona.Google Scholar
  29. Makai Ocean Engineering. (2016). [Our thanks to Dale Jensen, Makai, Hawaii for information, comments and images provided].
  30. Malaysia Energy Commission (2013). Suruhanjaya Tenaga (2013) [National Energy Balance 2013].Google Scholar
  31. McKinsey & Company. (2009). Pathways to a low carbon economy. Version 2 of the global greenhouse gas abatement cost curve.
  32. Mulchand, A. (2013, November 24). S’pore has world’s largest district cooling plant. The Straits Times, Singapore.
  33. Munck, C., Pigeon, G., Masson, V., Meunier, F., et al. (2013). How much can air conditioning increase air temperature for a city like Paris, France? International Journal of Climatology, 33, 201–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Nordin, A., Norsheila Buyamin, M., Majid, A. A., Amear, S., & Ariffin, S. (2013, June). Evaluation of carbon dioxide emission using energy analysis approach: A case study of a district cooling plant. International Journal of Computer and Electrical Engineering, 5(3), 284–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Peer, T., & Joyce, W. S. (2002, April). Lake-source cooling. ASHRAE Journal, 44, 37–39.Google Scholar
  36. Radspieler, A., Xu, P., & Haves, P. (1999). Seawater source cooling for air conditioning commercial buildings. California Energy Commission, PIER Program CEC-500-99-013, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.Google Scholar
  37. Riipinen, M., (2013). Modern district heating and cooling systems. Clean Energy Ministerial CHP/DHC Working Group, International Energy Agency CHP/DHC Collaborative Joint Workshop, November 26–27, 2013, Helsingin Energia.Google Scholar
  38. Roslan, M. F., & Othman, M. R. (2009, October). Sharing on gas district cooling cooling (GDC) in Malaysia. In 24th World Gas Conference.
  39. Sanner, B., Kabus, F., Seibt, P., & Bartels, J. (2005). Underground thermal energy storage for the German Parliament in Berlin, system concept and operational experiences. In Proceedings of World Geothermal Congress 2005, Antalya, April 24–29, 2005.Google Scholar
  40. Shaaban, M., et al. (2011). Grid integration policies of gas-fired cogeneration in Peninsular Malaysia: Fallacies and counterexamples. Energy Policy, 39(9), 5063–5075.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Siron, M. H. A., & Haron, M. H. (2015). Energy and economic assessment of district cooling system in Malaysia. In Science & Engineering Technology National Conference, Bangi-Putrajaya, Selangor.Google Scholar
  42. Song, Y. H., Yasunori, A., & Jung-Jae, Y. (2007). Effects of utilizing seawater as a cooling source system in a commercial complex. Energy and Buildings, 39, 1080–1087.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. State of Hawaii. (2002, October). Sea water district cooling feasibility analysis for the state of Hawaii. Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism’s (DBEDT) Energy, Resources, and Technology Division, Hawaii.Google Scholar
  44. Stewart, I., & Kennedy, C. (2015). Estimating anthropogenic heat release from megacities. In ICUC9 – 9th International Conference on Urban Climate held jointly with the 12th Symposium on the Urban Environment, July 20–24, 2015, Toulouse, France University of Toronto, Toronto.Google Scholar
  45. Suruhanjaya Tenaga. (2017). Review on electricity tariff in Peninsular Malaysia under the incentive-based regulation mechanism (FY2014-FY2017). Available at:
  46. Suruhanjaya Tenaga (Malaysia Energy Statistics Commission). (2016). Malaysia Energy Statistics Handbook 2016, Putrajaya.Google Scholar
  47. The Star. (2013). Available at: and South East Asia Energy Efficiency Project,
  48. TNEC. TNB Engineering Corporation Sdn Bhd, brochure. Available at:
  49. UNEP. (2014). District energy in cities: Unlocking the potential of energy efficiency and renewable energy. Paris.
  50. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. (2014). World urbanization prospects: The 2014 revision. UN: New York.Google Scholar
  51. Zhen, L., Lin, D. M., Shu, H. W., Shuang, J., & Zhu, Y. X. (2007). District cooling and heating with seawater as heat source and sink in Dalian, China. Renewable Energy, 32(15), 2603–2616.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chris Butters
    • 1
  • Adzuieen Nordin
    • 2
  • Danny Tam Hong Khai
    • 3
  1. 1.University of WarwickCoventryUK
  2. 2.Politeknik Ungku Omar of MalaysiaIpohMalaysia
  3. 3.Shinryo CorporationKuala LumpurMalaysia

Personalised recommendations