Middle East Energy

Cool heads and cup fever

Having visited Qatar recently and witnessed the phenomenal growth within the country first hand, I was not entirely surprised by the decision of FIFA (soccer’s international governing body) to award the 2022 Football World Cup to this small Gulf state. Many of those unfamiliar with the scale of ambition displayed by Qatar’s rulers are still coming to terms with the prospect of one of the world’s biggest sporting events being held in a country no bigger than the US state of New Jersey and with a population of around 1.6 million. The purported $40–50 billion cost of staging the tournament is enough to impress even a footballer in the UK’s Premiership.

Once the euphoria has subsided, Qatar will set to work on planning and building the infrastructure needed to host the tournament and accommodate the 300 000 or so expected visitors. The last World Cup in South Africa resulted in the creation of an estimated 130 000 jobs and saw 3.18 million supporters attend the 64 matches

The Qatar authorities also have the task of ensuring a reliable electricity supply to power the many energy-hungry hotels and stadiums needed. It will also need to significantly expand the country’s water supplies, over 99 per cent of which derive from desalination plants. In a statement, the country’s power and water utility Kahramaa said it was “a hive of activity”, following the announcement by FIFA, with managing director HE Eng. Essa bin Hilal Al Kuwari expressing confidence that the highest standards of power and water provision would be maintained.

Qatar’s World Cup bid promised 12 carbon-neutral sports stadiums each with air conditioning that provides a temperature of around 21 ˚C for spectators and under 30 ˚C at pitch level. With the World Cup traditionally held in the summer months, the air conditioning is likely to have to cope with ambient temperatures of 40–50 ˚C. There are real concerns about the health risks to players and spectators in these temperatures, prompting the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and others to call on FIFA to move the 2022 World Cup from summer to winter.

To achieve the promised carbon-neutrality, Qatar plans to install photovoltaic panels and solar thermal collectors on the roof and over the body of each stadium. The system will be used to cool air, which will be released around the ankles and towards the back and neck of each spectator. However, some experts have cast doubt that solar energy alone will be sufficient for the massive air conditioning needs of open air grounds. “Putting solar panels on the outside of the Qatari stadium will not generate enough energy to cool it,” said David Butler, head of building consultant and research group, BRE.

Solar energy may be available during the day but for the evening games that European TV schedules will demand, the lack of sunlight presents a problem. It is likely therefore that some element of energy storage will be required to cope with this, if the stadiums are not to have to rely on gas fired electricity from the grid after sunset. If Qatar can solve these problems, it will have been quite an achievement. “It will be an opportunity for them to show how the region will cope with the demise of fossil fuels,” said Butler. Those close to the industry suggest that conventional power back-up will have to be an option.

Qatar currently enjoys a surplus of electricity and water supplies, and had expected to be able to cope with growth in demand for water for three years and electricity for five years. A revised plan that incorporates the building of at least one new power and water plant will now be needed. According to a senior figure in Qatar’s power sector, the industry is waiting for its marching orders from those involved in implementing the successful bid, so that it can assess what new electricity and water capacity will be needed both to cope with the World Cup and to allow for normal growth.

“It may take six months to a year for this information to come out, but with the highest possible level of support in Qatar that the bid enjoys, everyone is motivated to do the work as soon as possible,” said the source.

There is no doubt that the arrival of the World Cup in 2022 represents a huge challenge for Qatar but those to whom I have spoken are more than confident that the challenge will be met. As the cliché has it, “failure is not an option”. There is little scope for Qatar to scale back the project, unless it succumbs to entreaties from neighbours to spread the games out around the region. But for now, there is a real feeling of excitement and anticipation in Qatar, with everyone anxiously waiting to be told their part in the game plan ahead of the starting whistle.

Qatar’s confidence reminds me of something once said by the self-assured British soccer manager Brian Clough, “They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I wasn’t on that particular job.”

Nigel Blackaby
Associate Editor

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