For many, Qatar is synonymous with searing heat, but spectators at the FIFA World Cup (Nov. 21-Dec. 18) may need to cover up in stadiums equipped with controversial air conditioning but destined to become “the standard”, according to its designer.
Responding to recurring criticism of the ecological nonsense of air conditioning an open space, Saud Abdulaziz Abdul Ghani, who worked 13 years to develop this technology, assures that it is “as sustainable as possible”.
And adds that it helps protect players from injury, pamper the lawn or even eliminate dampness and body odor from the stands. In summer, the thermometer can reach 50 degrees in the small Gulf state, one of the reasons why its selection in 2010 as host of the event caused controversy.
Since then, the Mondial-2022 has been postponed to winter. Despite milder temperatures (between 19.5 and 29.5 degrees on average in November and 15 and 24.1 degrees in December), seven of the eight stadiums will be air-conditioned in the emirate, one of the main gas exporters in the world.
Air conditioning a stadium is not new, especially in the United States, but the systems developed by the man nicknamed “Dr Cool” are “estimated 40% more durable than existing techniques”, say the local organizers of the Cup of the world.
The professor, who is from Sudan and studied in Britain, thinks that “in the future, for the safety of players, air-conditioned stadiums will become more the norm”, especially during the 2026 World Cup in the United States and in Mexico.
There is no reason why there is no air conditioning in stadiums when there is heating in others
But is this additional energy expenditure justifiable from an ecological point of view? The air conditioning of the stadiums is powered by a farm of solar panels and “we have the best thermal insulation, the best sensors, in order to use the right amount of energy in each area. We do not overdo it”, promises ” Dr Cool”.
“There is no reason why there is no air conditioning in stadiums when there is heating in others”, abounds Pierre Ferret, architect of the Pierre-Mauroy stadium in Lille. “It also depends on how we air-condition. If we do it with gas or oil, it’s not virtuous. With photovoltaic panels, it’s better.”
Every stage is different
“I have no doubt the technology is working,” adds Russell Seymour, CEO of BASIS, the UK Association for Sustainable Sport. Seymour is concerned, however, about the “message conveyed” by the air conditioning of an open space. While it’s time to save energy, “in offices, for example, people often want to open the windows to renew the air, but they also have air conditioning,” he recalls.
Each World Cup stadium is different, so its “air conditioning” is also different. In the 40,000-seat stands of the Al-Janoub stadium, which will host seven matches (including the first for the France team on November 22), Dr Saud describes a system inspired by… the Ford Mondeo, studied during his doctorate.
Farm and malls
The flat shape of the building prevents the infiltration of wind and allows the formation of a bubble of cooled air around 21 degrees, dehumidified and purified, coming out of small air vents under the seats of the spectators as well as larger nozzles at the edge of the field. This air forms “a layer of about two meters above the stands, which descends, crosses the field and goes up towards the stands”, details the engineer.
“Then, we take part of the cold air, we purify it and we cool it again (in contact with very cold water which circulates in a closed circuit, like the cooling radiator of a car, editor’s note) then we push it back” in the stands and on the pitch, with a variable intensity in each area, depending on its exposure to the sun, for example.
Thus, the Al-Janoub stadium will be cooled two hours before a match and until the final whistle. “Dr Cool” invites experts to come and verify its ecological promises and adds that this technology has not been patented. It can therefore be used free of charge by everyone at any time, including outside the stadiums. It has also been implemented in an open-air shopping center in Doha or even a farm in the emirate.