The Gulf region was thinking about cooling long before the first electrical air-conditioning units came on to the market in the middle of the 20th century. Its people had come up with ingenious, centuries-old solutions. Architecturally distinct windcatchers, for example, are a reminder of how people cooled themselves for so long. Still, the chance to reliably lower the heat at home using electricity proved immensely popular.
Now, the UAE is turning from consumer of air-conditioning units to producer, after Strata, Mubadala Investment Company’s aerospace unit, announced a partnership agreement that will make the country a key player in the cooling sector. Alongside two German companies, AI-based engineering platform Hyperganic and industrial 3D printing company EOS, Strata will develop the world's most energy-efficient residential air-conditioning system in the Emirates.
It is a testament to the UAE's remarkable industrial growth, and one example among many cutting-edge fields that the country is developing at home. Speaking at the signing ceremony, Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, described the new technology as "an ideal example of innovation driving sustainable development and creating a positive economic impact".
The move will boost the country's industrial base, a strategic priority set by the government under the banner initiative "Operation 300bn", unveiled last year to increase sustainable development and make the UAE a global industrial centre by 2031. Air conditioning is part of this drive. Worldwide, demand for it is going to significantly increase in the decades ahead. The global stock of air conditioners in buildings is expected to grow to 5.6 billion by 2050, an increase of 4 billion on 2018 levels.
Sustainability is another key priority for the country. Air conditioning might have transformed the region, but use on such a scale is hugely energy intensive. As much as 70 per cent of electricity in the Gulf is used to power air conditioning. Strata's model is set to be an impressive 10 times more efficient than current standard models. That could significantly reduce the strain on global electricity grids. In the Middle East, where rocketing temperatures are meeting faulty power supplies in many of its most fragile countries, such efficiency could save lives.
It makes sense then that this new partnership plans to showcase project updates at Cop28, which will be hosted by the UAE in 2023. It will deserve a place. Global climate goals are ambitious, and rightly so. To meet them, the world will need to make drastic, epoch-defining transitions in many areas, be it moving from non-renewable to renewable energy, or cutting the global consumption of meat, even developing artificial forms of it. But rescuing the planet must also happen on a realistic scale, by gradually adjusting the technologies that the world cannot do without. More efficiency in air conditioning is a perfect example, made possible by the Emirates' burgeoning industrial sector.
The UAE has been thinking about cooling for centuries. Now, it is developing the latest wave of technology in this crucial field, to serve domestic needs, widen the country's industrial base, export to booming foreign markets, and, perhaps most importantly of all, help the planet.