Fifa’s decision to hold the 2022 World Cup tournament in the 45˚C heat of the Middle East summer in a nation with no world class football pedigree or infrastructure has raised some eyebrows in the footballing world.
Yet Qatar last week scooped the tournament from under the noses of a clutch of other highly competent bidding nations thanks to its bold and ultimately winning decision to build a bid around the challenging concept of a carbon-free event.
Of course Qatar is more than capable of funding such grand visions. For the last 40 years it has built itself on the vast revenues generated from its North Field gas reservoir – the largest gasfield in the world, with an estimated 900 trillion standard cubic feet of recoverable gas.
Winning the right to host the event will kick-start and underpin a new multi-billion dollar spending spree, as the gas rich state brings its sporting and transport infrastructure up to standard.
But the renewable energy technology has to be deliverable, and to win the bid Qatar has had to prove that it is technically possible to host a zero-carbon event in such a hostile climate.
A key part of Qatar’s winning bid presentation to FIFA was the 500-seater demonstration stadium designed by Arup Associates.
Although tiny compared to the stadiums required for the 2022 competition, this five-a-side venue was built to showcase current zero carbon cooling technologies and prove that they work even in Qatar’s harsh summer climate.
Arup Associates engineering principal Michael Beaven presented the project to the Fifa 2022 inspection team during its final visit to Qatar in September alongside Qatar 2022 bid committee chairman Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.
“The climate has always been the elephant in the room [throughout the planning for Qatar’s bid],” explains Beaven pointing out that summer temperatures can reach 50˚C and were in fact just that when the Fifa team visited.
“But this project is about innovation not experimentation,” he insists, highlighting that while the proposals are forward thinking, nothing that is proposed is bespoke. “Using off the shelf equipment and components gives you the confidence that you can actually deliver.”
“Using off the shelf equipment and components gives you the confidence that you can actually deliver”
Michael Beaven, Arup
The five-a-side stadium, with its removable roof and solar powered electricity and air conditioning, serves as a proof-of-concept for such innovation and was designed to convince Fifa that Qatar could really host the first ever zero carbon World Cup.
Qatar’s bid promises to construct 12 new football stadiums plus the necessary new training facilities required to host the event around the country. Integral to that plan is the desire to make many of these facilities demountable and so transferrable to other sporting events around the world and to ensure that they are all air conditioned using renewable sources of energy.
Array of techniques
When approached by the Qatar 2022 bid committee to assist with the design for these stadiums, the brief for Arup Associates was to create exciting architecture but also to work out how to incorporate this notion of zero carbon.
The result has meant using an array of techniques such as passive design and building orientation, photovoltaics to generate electricity and a system for capturing and converting the sun’s heat to use it for summertime air conditioning.
Constructing a demonstration stadium was vital to prove that it really is possible to use heat from the sun to create cooling on the scale required to enable a world class football match to take place in the open air.
However it was also vital to show that it is possible to keep the cool air inside the stadium once the roof was removed – a necessary feature given that
Fifa insists its matches are played outdoors. The designers had first to ensure that the architectural and structural design of the stadium prevented cold air being quickly scoured out by the wind.
“The climate has always been the elephant in the room”
Michael Beaven, Arup
The next challenge was to demonstrate that sufficient power could be harvested from the sun to run the stadium’s cooling system.
At the heart of the demonstration stadium’s renewable power supply is the “solar farm” made up of photovoltaic panels and so-called Fresnel parabolic mirrors which track the sun’s movement and constantly focus its rays onto water filled pipes to capture the energy.
While the photovoltaics contribute to the overall system by creating energy to drive air conditioning units in the day time, it is the solar heat collectors that are key to the building’s high-tech cooling system after the sun sets.
Beaven explains that, in the demonstration stadium, the maximum temperatures achieved on the pitch were well below the those set out in Fifa medical committee guidelines which are intended to prevent players from suffering significant heat stress while also protecting spectators.
In fact, during the Fifa visit in September, the outside temperature reached 44˚C yet the temperature on the pitch was recorded as 23˚C.
The challenge of course now will be to scale up the technology so as to build it into a full sized venue – a challenge that does not overly concern Beaven.
“The equipment can be sized to meet the needs of each venue,” explains Beaven, although he points out that on a larger scale it may be more practical to move away from the absorption chiller technology.
On a larger scale the water filled pipes would probably be replaced by oil and heated up to 400˚C. Although a more complex installation, the heat could then be used to run more standard steam turbine compressors to create transportable ice and electricity.