Solar power to cool stadiums in Qatar

30 January 2011

As Qatar prepares for an influx of visitors to its World Cup stadiums in 2022, it is turning to renewable energy cooling systems to provide air conditioning for fans and players

Key fact

More than 85,000 fans are expected to flock to Qatar’s Lusail Iconic Stadium during the summer heat

Source: MEED

At the kick-off of the first match of the 2022 World Cup, the air conditioning technology in the Lusail Iconic Stadium must be capable of cooling more than 85,000 players and fans. This is no simple task. The tournament is scheduled to take place during Qatar’s hottest months, June and July.

The harsh climate over summer months is no longer a barrier to hosting global events

The country’s landscape mainly consists of a low, barren plain with mild winters and very hot and humid summers. It has a desert climate and rain is scarce. Qatar will present extremely hot weather conditions during the tournament, with average temperatures seldom falling below 37 degrees Celsius during the afternoon and below 31 degrees Celsius during the evening.

Qatar going green

In its bid documents, Doha stated that its 12 stadiums – of which nine will be new and three will be upgraded – are to be equipped with cooling systems. The technology will harness clean, renewable energy sources to achieve the first completely carbon neutral Fifa World Cup. To achieve this, Qatar is developing hi-tech, carbon-neutral cooling systems for the tournament stadiums, training sites and fan zones with well-known international partners and sustainability advisers.

The debate surrounds whether the technology will be advanced enough to cool large stadiums effectively

A number of proposals have been put forward. One includes the use of solar farms connected to each of the stadium’s electrical systems and the national grid. Heat energy will be used to supply lighting, power and other functions within the structure’s space. On a match day, the higher power demand will draw electricity into the facility from the national grid. Generators using biofuels will supplement electricity from the national grid to ensure there is enough capacity to cool the stadiums during the World Cup events. The amount of electricity generated from the sun in this way exceeds the amount of electricity imported for events over the year, making the facility zero carbon.

Engineers at international architectural firm Arup Associates designed a 500-seat model stadium that operates on this premise. The stadium is carbon-neutral and features these technologies for application across Qatar and, potentially, all arid regions. In September 2010, prior to the decision on 2 December that revealed which country had won the bid, Michael Beaven, director at Arup Associates, presented the project to the Fifa 2022 inspection team and Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, chairman of the Qatar 2022 Bid Committee.

Qatar average temperatures
June at 12pm   (degrees Celsius)July at 12pm (degrees Celsius)Peak humidity in June (per cent) Peak humidity in July (per cent)
Source: 2022 Fifa World Cup Bid Evaluation Report: Qatar

“The main challenges were to create a passive design, which is responsive to the climate and the sporting function, and to establish a new carbon paradigm for the Fifa bid and for Qatar,” Beaven says. “The project had to be constructed and set to work quickly to be fully effective for the crucial visit of the Fifa officials in September 2010.”

The stadium, named the Qatar 2022 Showcase, took four months to construct. It was intended to demonstrate to Fifa and a world-wide audience that the harsh climate over the summer months is no longer a barrier to hosting global events.

The project is a unique and energy-saving structure that uses photovoltaic (PVs) panels to convert the energy of the sun into electricity and captures and converts the sun’s heat into cooling for summertime air conditioning, using under-seat supply.

Cooling process for Qatar

On approaching the model stadium, spectators pass a solar farm made up of PV panels and parabolic mirrors, also known as heliostats, which direct the sun’s heat onto pipes that have water running in them. Solar energy heats water to 200 degrees Celsius and is converted to cooling water by machines called absorption chillers. The cooling is then stored in eutectic tanks beneath the stadium for use in the evening when it is circulated into the air-handling units.

The air-handling units supply this air to the area beneath the spectators’ seats. This cools the seating area and also flows down to create cooling for the players. To prevent players suffering from heat stress the maximum temperatures reached in a stadium are limited by the Fifa medical committee. During the Fifa visit, with the outside temperature having reached 44 degrees Celsius, the temperature on the pitch was recorded as 23 degrees Celsius.

The impact of solar power facilities on the environment has been found to be minimal. The US Department of Energy carried out an environmental assessment on a 280MW concentrating solar power plant and associated 230kV transmission line proposed by Spanish company Abengoa Solar in Arizona. The study concluded that the plant would have no significant negative impact on the surrounding area. Consequently, the company has been awarded a loan for an undisclosed amount from the US government to build and develop the facility in a bid to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and other harmful air pollutants.

Solar potential in Qatar

Abengoa Solar was responsible for building the first commercially operating power tower delivering electricity in the world called PS10, located in the Spanish province of Seville. PS10 is capable of generating 24.3 gigawatt hours of clean energy annually. This is enough to supply 5,500 homes and avoid more than 6,700 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year. A second tower, PS20, is being built adjacent to the first and is currently under construction.

Power towers use solar radiation from a field of heliostats comprising of movable mirrors that is concentrated onto a centralised receiver located in the tower. The receiver works to transfer solar radiation energy reflected by the heliostats to a working fluid. Heat from the working fluid is used to run a 24-hour conventional power cycle.

The ideas and concepts conceived from solar power is proof that cooling and climate control technologies work. The debate surrounds whether the technology will be advanced enough to cool large stadiums effectively.

A decision on whether to move the 2022 World Cup from June and July to cooler months has yet to be made. Temperatures are significantly lower at other times of the year and players would be protected from the extreme heat. Any decision would require extensive talks with football federations, particularly in Europe.

Yet, even in January, fans and players will still endure warm temperatures. “There will still be the need for cooling of densely occupied spaces even in January,” says Beaven. “This cooling can be created from the development of solar technology. It creates cooling year round in Qatar. The passive design approach means that natural ventilation can be used extensively.”

With awareness increasing over the potential of solar power technologies, investment in the sector is rising in the Middle East. Abengoa Solar signed a deal with the French energy group Total in June 2010 to build the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant at Shams, some 120 kilometres south-west of Abu Dhabi. The $600m plant will produce 100MW of energy – 10 times more than the existing solar park at Masdar built by Enviromena Power Systems.

Masdar, the world’s first zero-carbon city being built on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi has built a $50m solar farm using 87,777 PV panels. The solar farm will power much of the construction work slated for Masdar, as well as the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology.

Abu Dhabi also plans to tender its third utility-scale solar project this year, worth $740m. The 100MW PV solar Noor 1 project will be launched to the market before the end of the year.

The UAE capital has committed to meeting 7 per cent, or a total of 1,500MW, of its total energy needs through renewable sources by 2020.

Structural benefits to Qatar stadiums

Aside from air conditioning systems, the surfaces of a stadium’s structure can help to stave off heat from the sun. Arup Associates’ model stadium uses a revolving roof canopy to provide cooling shade within the building and insulation against the hot summer sun. The roof remains closed until the sun has passed overhead and can be opened without letting the sunshine heat up the space. The canopy can be positioned for wind protection during match times or alternatively let spectators and players take advantage of natural ventilation when the weather is suitable. This way, heat gains from lights and people are stabilised.

The model stadium created by Arup Associates is an example of how sport is driving development of infrastructure and technology and bringing the two elements together. At this stage the technology has been successfully applied to a 500-seat stadium. The challenge lies in cooling stadiums to seat up to 50,000 people using sustainable technology. When the 2022 World Cup opens in Qatar, a worldwide audience will be looking to the tiny Gulf state to see if it has risen to its air conditioning challenge.

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