Cooling in the desert heat

With strong competition from the UAE’s numerous free zones, Dubai Airport Freezone sets itself apart with state-of-the-art building management systems that ensure operational and environmental efficiency as well as delivery of best-in-class infrastructure and services to its clients.


It’s no exaggeration to say that Dubai, and the United Arab Emirates more generally, have one of the highest concentrations of free zones in the world. There are zones with no taxes, no local ownership requirements and no currency restrictions that are focused on media, technology, healthcare, finance and all types of manufacturing, logistics and warehousing. 

That creates competition for new clients, not only among these free zones but also with other free zones and business parks around the region and the world. Issues such as operational efficiency, environmental footprint, as well as delivery of best-in-class infrastructure and client services are strategic priorities.

Target: world-class business park experience

To differentiate its offering, 21-year-old Dubai Airport Freezone (DAFZA) focuses not only on its location at one of the world’s top five cargo-handling airports and one of the most connected, with direct flights to more than 240 destinations, but also on state-of-the-art infrastructure and facilities that include 15 office buildings and 290 light industrial units occupied by more than 1,600 companies, including many Fortune 500 firms. It is one of the fastest-growing free zones in the region.


While the location is ideal for serving high-growth markets across the Middle East, Africa and Asia, the climate is hot and humid for much of the year. For DAFZA, this weather creates a potential challenge to consistently delivering a world-class business park experience given the extreme demands it places on resources.

Integrated building management platform

This is particularly the case for air-conditioning – traditionally the most energy-intensive element of a building management system – all the more so when it’s 45 degrees outside. But it’s equally applicable to the many other areas of facility management of the sophisticated DAFZA buildings that are helping deliver a superior client experience and ensure efficient operation despite the climate. 


The vast number of installed systems ‒ and the necessity that they be interlinked and communicate with each other to optimize operations and improve efficiency – means traditional, siloed monitoring and management stations won’t work. 

To address this, DAFZA modernized to the Desigo CC integrated building management platform  that provides DAFZA with a single Command Control Center to monitor and manage across its buildings all aspects of building automation, fire and safety, security cameras, lighting, power and energy – irrespective of the manufacturer or vendor supplying the equipment.

Seamless upgrade process

The modernization process started with a systems upgrade that began in 2013, when Siemens helped migrate 9,600 data points to Desigo PX controllers. The recent program transitioned an additional 42,000 data points from Desigo Insight to Desigo CC, “enabling us to save more electricity and reduce manpower in terms of managing building operations,” says Faisal Abdulla Al Belooshi, Senior Director, Facility Management at DAFZA. 


“All of the buildings talk to each other without human interference,” Al Belooshi explains, reducing the need for engineers or operators to physically visit buildings. “We have full control from one command center, and that keeps things simple.”


What’s more, the combined solution allows DAFZA to offer clients a better experience through enhanced control over their air-conditioning, lighting and other office needs, and lower their costs through visibility on usage and consumption. Building performance information, including electricity consumption, is also aggregated and displayed on a public dashboard in one of DAFZA’s customer care centers, allowing clients and visitors to see the community’s energy consumption.

Optimizing building performance with cloud solution

Siemens has not only enabled DAFZA to capture energy efficiency cost savings through Desigo CC. Four years ago, the chilled-water system for air-conditioning at DAFZA was impacting energy efficiency, as DAFZA facility managers struggled to achieve the system’s design temperature in the face of water balancing issues and surging in the chilled-water system from the low-temperature return flow.


By implementing Demand Flow, the patented solution from Siemens for chiller plant optimization, three years ago and also implementing Navigator, Siemens’ cloud-based energy and sustainability platform, DAFZA saw substantial improvement in its chiller efficiency in the range of 35 percent, says Al Belooshi. That has been maintained for more than three years.


The solution has significantly lowered electricity requirements and has optimized the energy consumption to 153 kilowatt-hours per square meter and per year. 

Opportunity to reduce capital expenses

Beyond reductions in operating expenses, Al Belooshi says, the solution has also created an opportunity for reduction in capital expenses by generating significant spare chilled-water capacity. “We’ll be able to add new buildings to the system without needing to add new chiller equipment.”


Using Demand Flow and Navigator, for the first time DAFZA facility managers are able to see the load in real time, and take into consideration other factors, such as the season of the year, ambient temperature and the humidity levels. The increased insights and improved transparency allow for adjustments to the chilled-water system that achieve cost and energy savings. Previously, they had no such visibility and had to base operating decision on the system’s original design load.


In the highly competitive global market for free-zone customers, the Siemens Desigo CC and Demand Flow implementations not only provide DAFZA with calculable benefits in operational improvements, cost savings and a lower environmental footprint. They also support one of DAFZA’s strategic selling points – providing high-performance office space and facilities that deliver clients a world-class free-zone experience.


by Ward Pincus, Middle East correspondent based in Dubai

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Stay up to date at all times: everything you need to know about electrification, automation, and digitalization.