The energy transition in hot and arid countries is vital for global climate targets

Dr Gonzalo Castro de la Mata, Executive Director at the Earthna Center for a Sustainable Future at the Qatar Foundation, explains that the energy transition in hot and arid countries is a pressing matter if global net zero goals are to be met.

Countries in hot and arid regions face substantial and unique challenges from global warming since most climate models predict that they will experience comparatively greater increases in average temperatures. This will increase the need for cooling, an essential requirement even today in many of these countries, in order to make human habitability possible during several months of the year.

In parallel, hotter climates increase evaporation, which will, in turn, reduce water availability, a compounding challenge considering that many arid coastal countries rely on desalination to meet their water needs.

The increased demand for cooling and desalination requires more energy, thus making the energy transition in hot and arid countries a pressing matter if we are to keep to the Paris Agreement objectives, which aim to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C this century.

And the recent ‘UAE Consensus’ reached at COP28 reinforces the need for, and international commitment to, an energy transition as a primary contributor to the fight against climate change.

© shutterstock/ingehogenbijl

Renewable technologies to increase energy production

The good news is that technologies exist today that can take advantage of the natural environment to increase energy production, reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and contribute to addressing these challenges.

Solar energy is the place to start. The greatest photovoltaic potential globally (because of the availability of solar radiation), exists in countries near the equator, which is precisely where average temperatures are highest, and sunlight is one of the most abundant resources.

The price of photovoltaic electricity has come down by orders of magnitude in the last two decades, turning it into the cheapest form of energy under most circumstances. Therefore, rapidly deploying solar energy is the way to go for most hot and arid countries.

Technologies and know-how already exist, and thus, it is a matter of accelerating the policy frameworks conducive to increasing its adoption by lowering economic barriers and allowing the private sector to invest at scale.

Boosting energy efficiency with smart grids

Smart grids are a complementary measure to boost energy efficiency. Smart grids enable better management of energy resources, reduce transmission losses, and enhance the integration of renewable sources into existing electricity grids.

Smart grids can also help manage the intermittency inherent to solar energy, as well as optimise the use of batteries for storage.

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On the downside, high temperatures affect the performance of traditional batteries, but thanks to advancements in energy storage technologies, including lithium-ion batteries and thermal energy storage, these challenges are being addressed successfully.

District cooling to enable the energy transition

District cooling is another important approach to reduce energy use. District cooling is defined as a centralised cooling system that provides chilled water (and therefore air conditioning) to multiple buildings (referred to as ‘a district’). This system is a much more energy-efficient alternative to traditional individual air conditioning units.

On average, and depending upon specific circumstances, district cooling reduces energy use for cooling by about one-third.

The importance of community action

In addition to these technological fixes, community action for the energy transition is also critical. Policy incentives to enhance community involvement are usually based on proper energy pricing so that individual decisions can make a difference in the aggregate.

Some individual actions include simple things like turning the lights off when not in use and saving water by not letting it run unnecessarily, especially if water comes from desalination sources.

Another measure is to avoid unnecessarily cooling rooms in the home or workplace that are not in use.

© shutterstock/stefano spezi

Traditional approaches to the energy transition

Not all solutions, however, rely on technology alone. There are numerous traditional approaches that have been used in the past and that are still applicable today. For example, planning the position of buildings to avoid direct sunlight at certain times of the day, maximising the flow of wind to cool them down, and using appropriate materials and colours to reflect sunlight.

Examples already exist that combine these approaches, like Msheireb (‘a place to drink water’ in Arabic), in central Doha. This is a relatively new re-development project where streets are oriented to capture cool breezes from the sea and shade pedestrian routes from the sun; buildings are positioned to shade one another and are light-coloured to reduce the need for cooling; eco-friendly building materials are used, as well as thicker walls and heat-insulating glass.

In addition, solar energy is captured through photovoltaic panels and solar hot water panels to provide hot water. Cooling is provided by central district cooling, and use of recycled water provides 70% of total consumption. Landscape makes use of native species, better adapted to the local environment, thus requiring less water. Finally, transport within the city can be achieved by walking or by the use of an electric tram.

In conclusion, hot and arid countries face unique challenges because of global warming, but solutions exist today that can help them adapt and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in the context of the required global energy transition to achieve the Paris goals.

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