The air conditioning inside buildings across the emirates is set at temperatures that are too low for energy efficiency and comfort, experts say.
Independent investigation reveals nationwide chilling excess
DUBAI // Temperatures inside buildings across the country are colder at summer than most people find comfortable, and the extra power needed to keep them that way is not energy efficient, experts say.
The National measured the temperature at 19 buildings in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai. The list included public buildings, a hospital, hotel lobbies, common spaces in shopping malls, clothing stores and supermarkets.
All but three locations were significantly cooler than 24°C – the temperature that many experts say is the optimum for both physical comfort and energy efficiency.
"Normally a person in regular, casual attire will feel comfortable at a temperature of 24°C and air velocity of about one to 1.5 metres per second," said Sarfraz Dairkee, general manager of, development and engineering at MAHY Khoory, a Dubai-based engineering company.
None of the establishments would provide their monthly electricity bill.
"For every one-degree decrease in temperature, you are adding 4 per cent more your energy consumption," Mr Dairkee said.
The National measured temperatures that ranged from 17.5°C to more than 25°C inside a sample of buildings across the Emirates.
While the newspaper's findings are not scientific, Mr Dairkee said they are a "good start" and offer a fair representation of what is happening in the country. The UAE has one of the highest levels of energy use per capita. In the summer, as much as 70 per cent of energy is consumed cooling buildings.
The 24°C target is advocated by the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa). The authority has said that if all the emirate's residents turned their air conditioning up from 20°C to 24°C, the savings could satisfy the yearly energy needs of 11,000 apartments, and prevent 160,000 tonnes of harmful greenhouse-gas emissions, which contribute to global warming.
"The temperature at Dewa facilities is set to 24°C in line with the directive of the Supreme Council of Energy, as part of the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy 2030 to reduce electricity demand by 2030 in Dubai by 30 per cent," a statement from the authority said. "This is also part of Dewa's vision to be a sustainable world-class utility and its duty as a socially responsible organisation."
Indeed, The National recorded its highest temperature reading at DEWA's headquarters. At noon on one day this month, the thermometer showed 25.5°C inside. That was good enough for Michelle Birmudez, a customer from the Philippines, who said further cooling would not be comfortable for her.
"Some malls are very cold," the accountant said. "It is very hot outside. I experience a headache when there is an abrupt change in temperatures."
Abu Dhabi's Al Wahda Mall and the Sahara Centre in Sharjah nearly made the target with 23.9°C recorded in both locations on two separate days. At all other buildings surveyed, temperatures of 22°C and lower were recorded.
Supermarkets consistently showed temperatures below 20°C. At Spinneys Khalidiyah in Abu Dhabi, the thermometer showed 18.6°C at 8am one morning this month. The same day, at 1.30pm, it was 19.7°C at the Lulu supermarket in Al Wahda Mall. The readings were taken in areas away from the frozen foods or meat and egg sections, where cooler temperatures are required.
"We maintain the temperature between 20 and 22 degrees in the non-food garment section," said a Lulu spokesman. "The food sections are much cooler as per municipality requirements. The hypermarket has various temperature requirements because of the range of items we sell."
The lowest temperatures in the survey were recorded this month at Virgin Megastore in Dubai's Mall of the Emirates: 17.5°C to 19.5°C, depending on the location inside the store.
A statement from the store said the temperature is usually kept between 19°C and 22°C. "Temperatures are set depending on the location within the store, and are usually a little lower in areas closer to open spaces such as store entrance," the statement said.
"Set temperatures slightly differ depending on season and traffic forecast, as well as time of day."
In Dubai, the municipality requires malls and stores to maintain temperatures between 22.5°C and 25.5°C. Redha Salman, director of the municipality's public health and safety department, said that if temperatures are outside of this range, people can call and complain on the municipality's toll free number: 800 900.
A statement from Mall of the Emirates said that stores inside the mall, such as Virgin, H&M, CentrePoint, Carrefour and Home Centre, were responsible for their own cooling. The mall is designed to maintain a temperature of 24°C.
In common areas of the mall, The National recorded temperatures ranging from 21.1°C to 24°C. The lower temperature was too cold for Crina Bais of Romania, a sales assistant who just frowned and showed the goose bumps on her arm.
However, Sara, a student from Dubai, enjoyed the cooler temperature.
"I think I was fine," she said.
The difference of opinion illustrates a truth that many have experts have pointed out about air conditioning and thermal comfort: It is a very personal issue.
"If the goal is to switch to 24°C or 25°C, it is important to explain to people why," said Tanzeed Alam, policy director at the Emirates Wildlife Society-World Wide Fund for Nature. "Dialogue needs to happen."