UAE’s mission impossible: Cooling the desert

uae, Dubai Ice RinkAt its base, one of the world’s largest malls houses an Olympic-sized ice rink that helps keep some 150,000 daily visitors cool in the searing heat, desert dust and humidity.

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With outside temperatures soaring towards 50 degrees in summer, he likes to come home to his chilled oasis in this skyscraper city sprouting from the desert.

“When I go outside I feel that a gigantic hair dryer is blowing in my face,” the 36-year old marketing manager said.

“If I turn off the air-conditioning when I leave the house, I will spend even more energy to cool down the house when I’m back. So I leave it.”

Ali, whose name has been changed for privacy, is not unusual in this high-rise city that has rapidly transformed from a sleepy fishing village to an international financial center.

Many of Dubai’s estimated two million inhabitants leave their air conditioning running 24/7, shrugging off tips from Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) for electricity and water conservation.

Dubai’s non-stop running air-conditioners help drive the emirate’s summer peak demand per person to more than three times that of Spain — where cooling demand from its 47 million citizens has also surged over the last decade in scorching summers on the Iberian Peninsula.

Such heavy consumption in well-to-do UAE cities like Dubai and federal capital Abu Dhabi mean the wealthy Arab state could see another summer of sporadic power blackouts in the northern emirates. It will also face a ballooning gas bill for the fuel used to generate 85 per cent of its electricity with global gas prices having doubled from a year ago.

HIGH AMBITION

In Dubai, major landmarks such as an indoor ski slope — where snow made at minus eight degrees Celsius blankets three football pitches worth of pistes — have helped drive power consumption and climate-warming carbon emissions skyward.

The Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, uses some 150 megawatts of power, equal to about a tenth of the output of the world’s biggest nuclear reactors in a region that relies almost entirely on fossil fuels.

At its base, one of the world’s largest malls houses an Olympic-sized ice rink that helps keep some 150,000 daily visitors cool in the searing heat, desert dust and humidity.

Dubai alone used nearly 34,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity, with 46 per cent being used by the commercial sector and nearly 30 per cent in housing. The number of electricity consumers in the UAE’s business and trading hub rose nearly 10 per cent in one year to over 580,000 in 2010.

The natural desire to keep cool and entertained in the Gulf’s hostile climate has helped make the United Arab Emirates one of the world’s top five power consumers per capita while emissions of climate-warming carbon from Emiratis are more than twice those of US citizens.

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