Masdar City: An oasis for innovation in Abu Dhabi

March 14, 2016 in Manufacturing

The plethora of new city developments across the GCC region may serve as a catalyst to economic growth but they also provide exciting opportunities to build more environmentally-friendly districts using a blank canvas.

This is very much the case with Masdar City, a development aiming for the stars when it comes to sustainability which is fuelled by renewable energy sources. The city’s ambitious plans for a zero-carbon, zero-waste, car free city are fuelled by good intentions and will undoubtedly further cement Abu Dhabi’s place on the global map, but in reality achieving such a feat is a huge task.

solar-panel-changeThis seemingly utopian city relies primarily on solar power (with the biggest solar farm in the Middle East) and has over 87, 000 panels. The community functions with the aid of an underground network of transportation (electric cars also powered by solar energy) and the Masdar Institute, a research university in the centre of the city.

Appliances in this city such as lights and taps are run by sensors, and these alternatives have helped cut emissions by 51 per cent and 55 per cent for electricity and water, respectively. The city has been able to maintain an average temperature that is ten degrees Celsius cooler than the temperature that lies right outside of the city in Abu Dhabi.

Its core is a planned city, which is being built by Masdar, a subsidiary of Mubadala Development Company, with the majority of seed capital provided by the Government of Abu Dhabi.

The site is located 17 kilometres east-south-east of Abu Dhabi and adjacent to Abu Dhabi International Airport. It has been designed by the UK architectural firm Foster and Partners, with a special vent on using solar energy.

The corporate website describes the development as thus:

“Masdar City is an emerging global hub for renewable energy and clean technologies that positions companies located here at the heart of this global industry.

“A place where businesses can thrive and innovation can flourish, Masdar City is a modern Arabian city that, like its forerunners, is in tune with its surroundings. As such, it is a model for sustainable urban development regionally and globally, seeking to be a commercially viable development that delivers the highest quality living and working environment with the lowest possible ecological footprint.

“It is a community where cutting-edge cleantech research and development, pilot projects, technology testing, and construction on some of the world’s most sustainable buildings are all ongoing. As such, Masdar City offers a fertile environment that inspires creativity and growth to organisations operating in this strategic and dynamic sector.

“As an emerging hub and a magnet for talent, financial capital and entrepreneurship in the fast-evolving renewable energy and cleantech industry, Masdar City provides a unique competitive advantage to companies, other organisations and ancillary service providers operating in, and serving this sector.

“As an industry cluster, the city creates a dynamic, vibrant, international and entrepreneurial community that offers numerous benefits, including potential access to capital, a critical mass of sector knowledge, a large pool of high-quality talent, and a launching point into local, regional and international markets.

“Significantly, Masdar City serves as an open technology platform that gives partner companies an unmatched opportunity to develop, test and validate their technologies in a large scale, real-world environment – and in particular, with consideration to the region’s climate conditions and consumption patterns.”

solar-panel-fieldIn January 2016 it was announced that the automated passenger transportation systems specialist 2getthere has been awarded the contract for the extension of maintenance and operation the personal rapid transit (PRT) in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi.

The system recently completed its fifth year of operations. It operates 18 hours a day, from every day and is operated by 2getthere in co-operation with its UAE partner United Technical Services. It carried 37,845 passengers in December and system availability for this month was recorded at 99.97 per cent, says 2getthere.

According to the corporate website, Masdar currently operates 5 integrated units, including an independent, research-driven graduate university.

Part of the reason for the formation of Masdar City has been Abu Dhabi’s traditional role as a leader within the global energy markets as a significant hydrocarbon producer, as the corporate website explains:

“Through Masdar, it seeks to leverage its substantial resources and experience in this sector to maintain its leadership position in an evolving world energy market that is increasingly looking to renewable energy. Through Masdar, Abu Dhabi aspires to be an international hub for renewable energy, new energy and sustainable technologies, thereby balancing its already strong hydrocarbon position.

“This leadership is expressed in other ways as well. While Abu Dhabi has always been known as a global energy player, through Masdar, it is demonstrating what a responsible oil producer can do to help create a balance between hydrocarbons and renewable energy in addressing both climate change and energy security.

Abu Dhabi has embarked on a two-decade programme to transform its economy from one based on natural resources to one based on knowledge, innovation and the export of cutting-edge technologies. Guiding this transformation is a document called the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, which provides a comprehensive plan, including the steps to be taken to transform the emirate’s economy over the next 2 decades.”

Enrique Peña Nieto, President of Mexico, yesterday paid a special visit to Masdar City – Masdar’s greenprint for one of the world’s most sustainable urban developments. He was received by Dr Ahmad Belhoul, Masdar’s CEO, who outlined Masdar’s role in constantly pushing the boundaries to keep improving the commercial viability of renewable energy, while simultaneously diversifying Abu Dhabi’s economy and extending the Emirate’s leadership in the energy sector.

Delivering a keynote address during the opening ceremony of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) yesterday, President Peña Nieto said: “Mexico is committed to the environment. We have made the decision to transition to less-polluting forms of fuel and to adopt renewable energy. Our belief is that it is possible to secure a new climate regime, without impeding economic and social progress. Abu Dhabi, and particularly Masdar, represent tangible examples of innovative environments aimed at sustainable economic and social progress.”

The project’s repute stretches far and wide and in January of this year, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto paid a visit to Masdar City in a move that reflects the pioneering roles that the UAE and Mexico fulfil in promoting and deploying renewable energy, as well as climate change action.

Mexico was the first developing country to pass groundbreaking climate change legislation 4 years ago, while the UAE led the Middle East to set renewable energy targets at a time when there was widespread doubt about renewable energy’s viability and value.

President Peña Nieto’s visit coincided with an outing to Masdar City by students of the Professional Technical High School Juanacatlán (CONALEP 131) from Mexico. The school was a finalist in the Global High Schools category of the eighth Zayed Future Energy Prize, which announced its winners on Monday.

Students of the school, located 500 metres from Mexico’s most polluted river, the Rio Santiago, submitted a project proposal to the prize to improve the sustainability of the local area by reducing emissions and inspiring their peers and the wider public to adopt sustainable practices.

ADSW is being hosted until the end of this week by Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company.

There have been many challenges in the creation of Masdar City, but it is already proving to be a shining beacon of innovation in Abu Dhabi and an example of what can be achieved in the environmental arena.