Staying cool in a warming climate: Temperature, electricity and air conditioning in Saudi Arabia

Nicholas Howarth*, Natalia Odnoletkova, Thamir Alshehri, Abdullah Almadani, Alessandro Lanza, Tadeusz Patzek

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


As global temperatures warm and populations and incomes rise, the demand for cooling will soar, creating a positive feedback loop between global warming and electricity-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This study explores the relationship between temperature, electricity, air conditioning (AC) and CO2 emissions, and the sustainability of cooling in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. With the highest share of AC in household electricity consumption in the world and its already very hot summers warming by 3 °C in many areas over the last 40 years, Saudi Arabia provides an important case study of how the cooling challenge can be managed. Data from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF ERA5) is used to illustrate local warming trends (1979-2018) and show the relationship between temperature and power generation within a typical year using hourly data (2011-2015). Using annual data (2010-2018), we then show that since 2016 the rapid growth in the Kingdom's electricity demand for AC and its associated CO2 emissions have plateaued. This suggests energy efficiency measures, higher electricity prices and a shift from the use of oil towards gas in the power sector are having a positive effect on energy sustainability. We identify key policies and technologies that will be important for the sustainable use of cooling in Saudi Arabia and beyond.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number4
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research received no external funding. The original idea for this article came from a workshop organized by Rory Jordan at KAUST on the future of cooling. The authors would like to thank the KAPSARC Data Portal team for making hourly SEC data available for the analysis. The authors would also like to thank Wardana Saputra for his help in organizing Matlab code to analyze and sort the ERA5 dataset. Chay Allen, Senior Editor at KAPSARC, also provided helpful suggestions on the text. Two anonymous reviewers provided valuable reactions and suggestions to improve the article for which we are grateful.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by the authors.


  • Adaptation
  • Climate change
  • Electricity pricing
  • Energy efficiency
  • Mitigation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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