As it bakes, Egypt looks to the cooling power of the sea for help

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Photo: Shutterstock/Octasy
As Egypt bakes, it looks to the cooling power of the sea for help now that technological advances would allow it . . .

As anyone who visits Egypt between the months of May to September can attest, the weather gets hot, often uncomfortably so.

That is especially true in Cairo—a megacity home to nearly 22 million people—where the mercury can hit 40°C. Those sky-high temperatures are partially a product of the so-called ‘heat island effect,’ which sees buildings, roads, and other infrastructure absorb and re-emit the sun’s warmth more than natural landscapes.

Research shows that things will only get worse for cities due to the climate crisis. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that by the year 2100, many cities across the world could warm as much as 4°C if greenhouse gas emissions continue “at high levels,” – a potential health hazard for inhabitants.

With millions of people in need of air conditioning, it’s no surprise that so much of the power consumption in Cairo is related to cooling. “During the peak summer months, 50 per cent of the electric power goes to air conditioning,” said Alaa Olama, a UNEP consultant, the Head of the Egyptian District Cooling Code and the author of the book District Cooling: Theory and Practice.

Egypt is currently building 22 ‘smart cities’, making the country an ideal location for state-of-the-art cooling technologies, said Olama. Many of those efforts have focused on developing city-wide cooling systems that do not rely on electricity from fossil-fuel-fired power plants.

This is particularly important in the fight against climate change because cities contribute greatly to global warming. Rising global temperatures and warming cities create a vicious cycle where increased demand for cooling systems adds to carbon dioxide emissions that further contribute to global warming and create the need for even more cooling.

According to the International Energy Agency, cooling produces more than 7 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and these emissions are expected to roughly double by 2050. Amidst rising temperatures, the number of air conditioners in use is expected to rise to 4.5 billion by 2050 from 1.2 billion today.

To help break this cycle, UNEP is working with governments to adopt more climate-friendly cooling practices. For example, UNEP recently concluded a feasibility study on a district cooling system called the Seawater Air-conditioning system for New Alamein City, on the north coast of the country.

Here is how the Seawater Air-conditioning system works: Coldwater taken from deep in the Mediterranean Sea is pumped into a cooling station and passed through a heat exchanger, where it absorbs heat from buildings. Cool air generated from the cold water is used to maintain comfortable temperatures in the buildings, while the warm water is sent back into the sea.

Initially, the project would consist of a single district cooling plant to be built over two years, with 30,000 Tones of Refrigeration (TR) capacity, sufficient to cool entire neighborhoods. The Seawater Air-conditioning system is estimated to cost US$117 million in building production facilities and a further US$20-25 million for the distribution network.

With this cooling system, the city would reduce refrigerants emissions by 99 per cent and carbon dioxide emissions by 40 per cent. This is particularly important because these reductions will help Egypt meet its requirements to phase-down hydrofluorocarbon emissions established by the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. This landmark multilateral environmental agreement regulates the production and consumption of nearly 100 man-made chemicals called ozone-depleting substances.

Since many ozone-depleting substances also contribute to global warming, the Montreal Protocol and the Kigali Amendment – which provides for phasing down harmful greenhouse gases used in air conditioning, refrigeration and foam insulation – is expected to avoid up to 0.5°C of global warming by the end of this century. This represents a major step in the commitment to limit global warming to below 2°C under the Paris Agreement.

The feasibility study to assess the potential for district cooling in New Alamein City will be published in late May 2022. It is expected to analyze whether it would be financially and technically viable to build a district cooling solution that would reduce or avoid using hydrofluorocarbons.

The study was initiated through the Multilateral Fund of the Montreal Protocol, and UNEP supported the development of an institutional framework. The efforts are being elevated through UNEP District Energy in Cities Initiative, which is taking the study to the level of execution.

UNEP’s support for the study is part of a larger effort to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that come with cooling.

In Egypt, UNEP’s OzonAction team is also supporting the development, update, enactment and enforcement of specialized nation-wide codes for ACs, district cooling and refrigerant management, as well as green procurement processes.

The UNEP-led Cool Coalition is helping cities in India, Viet Nam and Cambodia develop environmentally-friendly cooling strategies. It is also supporting the construction of networks of freezers, known as cold chains, that can hold everything from farm produce to COVID-19 vaccines.

The concept of using cold water to provide cooling for cities has taken root globally. For instance, in Canada’s largest city, Toronto, the local government implemented the largest lake-source cooling system in the world. Commissioned in 2004, Enwave’s Deep Lake Water Cooling system uses cold lake water as a renewable energy source. Similar large-scale projects have also been built in the United States and France.

This technology, which was pioneered in the West, has in recent years become popular in the East in the Gulf and Emirate States, which boast the greatest number of district cooling technologies. “It’s an important solution for new cities,” said Olama.

 

Hosted by Sweden, the theme of World Environment Day on 5 June 2022 is #OnlyOneEarth – with a focus on ‘Living Sustainably in Harmony With Nature’. Follow #OnlyOneEarth on social media and take transformative, global action, because protecting and restoring this planet is a global responsibility. 

Follow the World Environment Day live feed for updates.

UNEP is at the forefront of supporting the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global temperature rise well below 2°C, and aiming for 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels. To do this, UNEP has developed a Six-Sector Solution, a roadmap to reducing emissions across sectors in line with the Paris Agreement commitments and in pursuit of climate stability. The six sectors identified are: Energy; Industry; Agriculture & Food; Forests & Land Use; Transport; and Buildings & Cities.

 

MENA states may be able to meet their green ambitions

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The desire to minimize dependency on fossil fuels, improve energy security, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions has prompted governments in the MENA (the Middle East and North Africa) area to commit to meeting aggressive renewable energy objectives. By 2030, MENA countries want to produce between 15% to 50% of their power from renewable sources. A favorable climate for the uptake of renewables, notably solar & wind power, is being created by falling technology costs and an increasing focus on green regulations. However, the MENA region has been reluctant to adopt renewable energy, with a total developed renewable energy capacity of only 10.6 gigawatts (GW) relative to a worldwide total of 2,799 GW by 2020.

ESS (Energy storage systems) will be critical in integrating variable renewable energy (VRE) technologies into power grids. Through capacity firming as well as other ancillary services like frequency and voltage management, ESS will improve the flexibility and stability of the power systems.

ESS offers a variety of services that can be combined to maximize value based on the demands and requirements of the power system and grid. Depending on market needs, these services are rewarded differently. Moreover, to the storage capacity payment, service stacking offers revenue stacking, making ESS’s business case more appealing. Traditionally, power system design has concentrated on increasing power-producing capacity to satisfy rising electrical demand. This has sparked a competition throughout the MENA region to increase power generation, which is primarily based on thermal energy and is growing at a rate of 7% per year. Population growth, subsidies, and the ever-increasing need for cooling and water are all driving up demand. The trend in power system design is toward lower peak loads, which is crucial for MENA nations to minimize the pace and rate of power output capacity addition.

Nations in the region are undertaking steps to increase their energy storage capability, with 30 projects expected to be completed by 2025. Pumped hydro storage (PHS) accounts for 55 percent of the region’s ESS installed capacity, relative to 90 percent globally, while batteries, especially lithium-ion and sodium-sulfur batteries, are predicted to rise from 7% to 45 percent of MENA’s ESS by 2025.

The reasons for ESS deployment differ per area. Ambitious renewable energy objectives encourage Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, and the majority of Gulf republics. This applies mostly to utility-scale FTM (front-of-meter) applications — grid-scale energy storage linked to generation sources or even transmission and distribution (T&D) networks — mainly through renewable energy-plus-storage auctions or even the co-location of solar and wind power plus storage. Currently, FTM applications account for 89 percent of the region’s ESS installed capacity. Significant power supply shortages, on the other hand, provide another push for ESS in countries that experience frequent power outages, such as Iraq and Lebanon. This is largely in terms of behind-the-meter (BTM) solutions, which mitigate the socioeconomic losses linked with blackouts by storing electricity on-premises behind the consumer’s meter.

Despite these factors, ESS deployment in the Middle East and North Africa is currently around 1.46 GW, relative to a worldwide capacity of around 10 GW, or simply below 15% of overall capacity – roughly equivalent to battery storage in the United Kingdom. To expedite ESS and VRE implementation in the region, governments, power utilities, and financial institutions will require to address a number of legislative, financial, and market impediments.

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MENA region’s climate regime influences its water resources

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Orestes Morfín in MEI@75 of 20 April 2022, tells us how the MENA region’s climate regime influences its water resources. Let us have a look.


The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region faces unique challenges to environmental sustainability and human habitation. First and foremost among these is the limited availability of freshwater. As a broad swath of arid to dry-subhumid mountainous desert, the region sees most of its precipitation fall as mountain snow. Surface water is relatively scarce and the major rivers are fed by snowmelt runoff in source areas far from major points of use. The headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in mountainous eastern Turkey and the headwaters of the Blue Nile in the Ethiopian Highlands are prime examples. Sustained availability of water to these river systems is therefore dependent on the predictable transformation of mountain snowpack into runoff.

The relative hydrologic “health” of a system is often thought of in terms of the absolute amount of precipitation falling on the watershed. While the quantity of precipitation is important, precipitation alone does not guarantee runoff. The capacity of any basin to efficiently translate precipitation into runoff is dependent on a complex, sensitive interplay of forces that must align if it is to be predictable — and predictability is the foundation of sound planning.

Timing

Water stores energy more efficiently than air. The oceans, therefore, are a significant reservoir of heat produced by human activity. Not surprisingly, temperature anomalies in the ocean have skewed overwhelmingly higher since the 1990s. This is important because warming oceans have the potential to contribute more moisture to the atmosphere through increased evaporation. A warming air mass, however, buffers this effect with an increased capacity to retain moisture, meaning that more moisture is needed to reach saturation. This impacts both the amount and the timing of precipitation. In other words, when coupled with a warming ocean, a warmer atmosphere may take longer to reach saturation, but will deliver more precipitation when it does.

Studies suggest that wet regions will get wetter and arid regions will have even less precipitation. For regions already feeling the effects of increased average temperatures and aridification — such as the MENA region — longer, hotter summers and delayed onset of autumn cooling and precipitation may mean both a delay in snowpack formation and a diminished snowpack. This may be the result not only of insufficient moisture in the atmosphere needed to reach saturation, but may also be due to more winter precipitation falling in the form of rain rather than snow. The potential coupling of warmer oceans and a warmer atmosphere has significant and possibly dire implications for the expected lifespan of surface waters in MENA.

Pre-existing conditions

Some regions have more naturally favorable conditions than others for generating runoff. Areas with cooler, wetter fall weather at elevation have soils at (or close to) saturation prior to the snow accumulation season. This is important because the state of the “soil moisture budget” is often an influential factor in how much runoff is generated during melt. In this context, soil that is closer to saturation will have a reduced capacity to retain additional water. Thus, snow accumulating on saturated soil will be more likely to generate runoff with the onset of spring melt.

By contrast, a warmer atmosphere with longer, hotter summers will have a drier prelude to snow accumulation season. Warmer air wicks moisture from the soil surface and increases evaporative stress on regional vegetation, resulting in a soil moisture “deficit” in this crucial period. Since a greater percentage of meltwater first must be absorbed into the soil, less runoff will be generated.

Dust on snow

The sun also plays a significant role in this process. Snowpack development is sensitive to the daily inbound/outbound fluctuation of solar radiation in the atmosphere. Snow reflects most incoming solar radiation. Snow that has accumulated on saturated soil after a wet autumn reflects most efficiently. Snow that has accumulated after a long, hot summer and dry autumn, however, may continue to accumulate dust on the surface of the snowpack, which absorbs solar radiation, increases the temperature at the snowpack surface, and tends to result in a premature melt.

Cumulative effect

MENA governments have poured money into developing large-scale hydropower and water projects. Perhaps the most notable of these are Turkey’s Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), a series of 22 dams, 19 hydroelectric facilities, and agricultural diversions in the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates, and more recently the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia. Both mega-projects were designed to stimulate economic growth and ensure greater independence. The benefits of these projects may be overestimated, however, if both the quantity and quality of runoff proves increasingly disappointing.

Seasonal precipitation totals are important, but even the wettest of years will have reduced runoff if the timing of delivery is off, the autumn was warm and dry, and an already meager snowpack melts earlier than expected. In such years, a greater soil moisture deficit must be overcome before the watershed can generate any runoff in spring. 

Reduced streamflow can also have adverse impacts on water quality. Reduced runoff means less fresh water available to dilute naturally-occurring salts eroded from upstream areas, resulting in higher salinity in both surface waters and agricultural soils. Hotter, drier conditions over a greater percentage of the year mean less irrigation water available to flush salts that accumulate from the soil. Increased soil and surface water salinity constitutes an existential threat to agriculture as well as an economic liability (in terms of damage to piping, drains, and other infrastructure).

These impacts can be mitigated with careful planning that takes this delicate balance of factors into account, such as coordinated facility management to minimize adverse impacts to all users or funding agreements designed to address the damage caused by excess salinity. Greater cross-border collaboration among MENA countries is essential if stakeholders hope to maximize the delivery potential of the water resources projects in which they have already invested so heavily.

Orestes Morfín is a senior planning analyst with the Central Arizona Water Conservation District and a non-resident scholar with MEI’s Climate and Water Program. The views expressed in this piece are his own.

Photo by Burak Kara/Getty Images

Deserts ‘breathe’ water vapor, study shows

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Cornell University in a research supported by Qatar Foundation concluded a study that holds that deserts ‘breathe’ water vapor. So what? Did we know that in the MENA region that is at more 90% desert?

Deserts ‘breathe’ water vapor, study shows

By David Nutt 

Deserts may seem lifeless and inert, but they are very much alive. Sand dunes, in particular, grow and move – and according to a decades-long research project, they also breathe humid air.

The findings show for the first time how water vapor penetrates powders and grains, and could have wide-ranging applications far beyond the desert – in pharmaceutical research, agriculture and food processing, as well as planetary exploration.

The team’s paper, “Water Vapor Transport Across an Arid Sand Surface – Non-Linear Thermal Coupling, Wind-Driven Pore Advection, Subsurface Waves, and Exchange with the Atmospheric Boundary Layer,” published March 21 in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Earth Surface.

Michel Louge, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, pictured here in Qatar in 2012, has been using capacitance probes to study the moisture content in sand dunes since the early 2000s.

The project, led by lead author Michel Louge, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the College of Engineering, has spanned not only a great deal of time but also a variety of terrain. It began nearly 40 years ago when Louge was studying the behavior of fluids, gasses and solid particles.

Wanting to measure matter with greater sensitivity, he and his students developed a new form of instrumentation called capacitance probes, which use multiple sensors to record everything from solid concentration to velocity to water content, all with unprecedented spatial resolution.

When a colleague at the University of Utah suggested the technology might be helpful in imaging the layers of mountain snowpacks and assessing the likelihood of avalanches, Louge went to his garage, grabbed some probes and tested them out in a snowstorm. Soon he struck up a partnership with a company, Capacitec Inc, to combine their respective skills in geometry and electronics. The resulting probes also proved useful in hydrology research.

In the early 2000s, Louge began collaborating with Ahmed Ould el-Moctar from University of Nantes, France, to use the probes to study the moisture content in sand dunes to better understand the process by which agricultural lands turn to desert – an interest that has only become more urgent with the rise of global climate change.

“The future of the Earth, if we continue this way, is a desert,” Louge said.

Whereas other probes can measure large volumes of matter, Louge’s probes go deep and small, collecting data on a millimetric scale to pinpoint the exact amount of moisture in – and the density of – sand. To function in a new environment, though, the probes needed to be modified. And so began a decadelong process of trial and error, as Louge made periodic trips to deserts in Qatar and Mauritania experimenting with different versions of the probe.

The probe eventually revealed just how porous sand is, with a tiny amount of air seeping through it. Previous research had hinted this type of seepage existed in sand dunes, but no one had been able to prove it until now.

“The wind flows over the dune and as a result creates imbalances in the local pressure, which literally forces air to go into the sand and out of the sand. So the sand is breathing, like an organism breathes,” Louge said.

That “breathing” is what allows microbes to persist deep inside hyper-arid sand dunes, despite the high temperature. For much of the last decade, Louge has been collaborating with Anthony Hay, associate professor of microbiology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, to study how microbes can help stabilize the dunes and prevent them from encroaching into roads and infrastructure.

Louge and his team also determined that desert surfaces exchange less moisture with the atmosphere than expected, and that water evaporation from individual sand grains behaves like a slow chemical reaction.

The bulk of their data was gathered in 2011, but it still took Louge and his collaborators another decade to make sense of some of the findings, such as identifying disturbances at the surface level that force evanescent, or nonlinear, waves of humidity to propagate downward through the dunes very quickly.

“We could have published the data 10 years ago to report the accuracy of our approach,” Louge said. “But it wasn’t satisfying until we understood what was going on. Nobody really had done anything like this before. This is the first time that such low levels of humidity could be measured.”

The researchers anticipate their probe will have a number of applications – from studying the way soils imbibe or drain water in agriculture, to calibrating satellite observations over deserts, to exploring extraterrestrial environments that may hold trace amounts of water. That wouldn’t be the first time Louge’s research made its way into space.

But perhaps the most immediate application is the detection of moisture contamination in pharmaceuticals. Since 2018, Louge has been collaborating with Merck to use the probes in continuous manufacturing, which is viewed as a faster, more efficient and less expensive system than batch manufacturing.

“If you want to do continuous manufacturing, you have to have probes that will allow you, as a function of time, and everywhere that’s important, to check that you have the right behavior of your process,” Louge said.

Co-authors include Ould el-Moctar; Jin Xu, Ph.D. ’14; and Alexandre Valance and Patrick Chasle with the University of Rennes, France.

The research was supported by the Qatar Foundation.

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Differences hamper MENA climate change fight

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With the impacts of climate change across the world regions, being different, the Paris Agreement is no one-size-fits-all rulebook. More specifically, certain differences hamper the MENA’s climate change fight according to the minister for the environment of Jordan whilst at Climate Week 2022 in Dubai, reported ArgusMedia. So why do differences hamper MENA climate change fight?

There were many UN climate change conferences and the last one, held under the UNFCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) finalised that ‘rulebook’. Its leitmotiv “from ambition to action,” will be yet again examined during the forthcoming two COP 27 and COP 28 to be held respectively by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. The choice of these two venues could be considered very representative of the MENA region’s climate change at its most harshest. Hense:

Differences hamper MENA climate change fight: Jordan

Efforts to coordinate regional actions to fight climate change are hampered by political, economic and financial factors, as well as by varied ambitions, Jordan’s minister for environment Muawieh Khalid Radaideh said at the first-ever Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Climate Week in Dubai.

“Regional cooperation is a challenge because different countries are in different political, economic, financial situations. Therefore they have different ambitions when it comes to climate change”, he said.

Most Mideast Gulf states, such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman, have announced National Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris agreement or pledges to get to net zero, but other MENA states have been less ambitious.

The MENA Climate Week, organised in collaboration with the UN and the World Bank ahead of the UN climate conference Cop 27, is a regional platform to discuss progress on the implementation of the Paris agreement as well as decisions made in Glasgow last year.

The UAE aims to raise the contribution of clean energy in its domestic mix to 50pc by 2050 — 44pc of renewables and 6pc nuclear, with 38pc of gas and 12pc clean coal — from 25pc in 2017. The country also aims to reduce the carbon footprint of power generation by 70pc.

The UAE, which will host the UN Cop 28 climate conference in 2023, was the first Mideast Gulf country to announce a net-zero target. But the country’s minister of climate change and environment Mariam Almheiri said earlier this month that much more needed to be done in the fight against climate change. She said that the UAE will update its NDC and was hoping other countries will do the same.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter of crude, has pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2060.

By Elshan Aliyev

The top featured image is for illustration and is of the UNDP Climate Promise.