Masdar - beating the Carbon odds.
AoThe environmental ambitions of the Masdar Initiative Au zero carbon and waste free Au are a world first. They have provided us with a challenging design brief
that promises to question conventional urban wisdom at a fundamental level. Masdar promises to set new benchmarks for the sustainable city of the future.Ao
Norman Robert Foster, Baron Foster of Thames Bank, OM, FRIBA and RDI
Almost two years ago The Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) launched a $5 billion initiative to establish the first totally green city on earth. Their
mission, which they have chosen to accept without compromise, to create a six square kilometre zone that emits zero carbon dioxide and generates zero
waste. A tall order some might say, but the emirate of Abu Dhabi is not short of money, wealth propelled ironically enough by a tidal wave of ever increasing
oil revenue, as it sits on a Sovereign Wealth Fund worth in excess of $900 billion.
Capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and cognizant of the fact that the nation's population, according to a 2006 World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report,
produces the worldAAEs highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita while, moderately further north, another market leader emirate Dubai exudes more
domestic waste per head to the same benchmark, Abu Dhabi has elected to take a proactive approach toward tackling the problem. WWF and the
government of Abu Dhabi have now jointly declared a Sustainability Strategy to deliver the worldAAEs greenest city Au Masdar City.
Up until the 1960's the UAE was an under developed desert sheikhdom with a subsistence economy based on fishing, farming and modest trading activity.
Then enter the oil industry to induce a complete reversal of fortune, with present production levels running at around 2.8 million barrels per day. With oil prices
hovering at $ 100 a barrel and 2004's pundits were concerned that we would break the $46 barrier! - One only has to perform rudimentary mathematics to arrive
at a staggering financial result.
However, high velocity growth and a commensurate increase in wealth have taken a significant environmental toll. The consumption of energy is in radical ascent,
exacerbated by widespread and often imbalanced usage of air conditioning, artificially cooled swimming pools and a high octane car culture based around gas
guzzling 4WD's and heavy duty sports vehicles. Not to mention a ski centre that produces exceptionally large quantities of genuine snow.
Driven by the now politically high profile threat of global warming, serious worries about the country's exorbitant level of GHG emissions and with a genuine
desire to reduce its dependence on fossil fuel as a mainstay of the economy; the UAE has elected to invest in a drastic programme to reduce its carbon footprint.
Thus in early 2007 plans were initiated to focus on research into sources of renewable energy as well as developing the worldAAEs first carbon neutral city.
This carbon neutral city named Masdar (meaning 'Source' in Arabic), is the major component of the Masdar Initiative, a plan designed to create a positive route map
which will enable the UAE to eventually wean its demand on to renewable energy supplies. According to The Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (ADFEC), there
are four vital elements which define the raison d'E[logical not]tre of the Masdar Initiative:
1. An Innovation Center to support the demonstration, commercialization and adoption of sustainable energy technologies;
2. A world-class University offering specialist graduate programs in renewable energy and sustainability, in partnership with leading international universities
and research institutes;
3. A specialised Development Company focused on the commercialization of emissions reduction, and Clean Development Mechanism solutions as provided
by the Kyoto Protocol on climate change;
4. A Special Economic Zone tailored to hosting institutions which will invest in development and production of renewable energy technologies and products.
Masdar the city will be designed to house 50,000 people and an entirely car free zone. The majority of the population's energy requirements will be met via solar
technology. This of course makes theoretical sense when Abu DhabiAAEs calculated solar radiation potential is represents some 2,200 kilowatt hours per square metre
per annum. A design study is already underway as a preamble to the construction of a $500 million solar power generation plant for ADFEC. Undoubtedly, this is a
large project with a scope of work which will result in tenders for the design, build, installation and operation of a 500 megawatts solar plant.
Traditional methodologies which have served the denizens of the Gulf States for generations will also be employed. All structures in Masdar will be limited to five
storeys, and grouped around narrow streets no more than three metres wide and 70 metres long; the intention being to develop a micro-climate and maintain
maximum air movement. The city will be specifically aligned northeast to southwest in order to optimise the balance between sunlight and shade with eighty per
cent of all roof space utilised to generate solar power. Additional cooling capacity will be provided by wind towers, the region's historic natural air conditioning units
which effectively capture and suck the desert breeze down into the dwelling to dispel an accumulation of hot air.
UK based Foster and Partner Architects, the design force behind Masdar, state that transportation within the city will function on three distinct levels:
1. light railway to connect the Masdar city to Abu Dhabi capital city, which resides on a T shaped island jutting out into the Gulf;
2. a second level exclusively for pedestrians;
3. With a third allocated to personalised rapid transport pods.
Masdar city is scheduled to open its gates in late 2009, at which point it will become home to a number of senior sustainability projects which are intended to
consolidate its status as the global hub for sustainable energy innovation.
These projects include establishment of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, a graduate-level scientific engineering institution to PhD level education as
well as housing research units. The Institute creates a joint research venture into green energy in conjunction with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Scientists who prepared to become affiliated with the program are open to attend M.I.T. courses in Boston and where they will be assisted in the development of
research projects and syllabus courses at Abu Dhabi M.I.T. in order to establish an interactive technology transfer conduit between the US and the UAE.
The objective of the Initiative is to enable Abu Dhabi to implement a carbon capture and storage system which it is hoped will reduce the UAEAAEs carbon dioxide
emissions by up to 40 per cent which will also offset a 10 per cent increase in oil production for export. As of 2007, ADFEC has been conducting feasibility studies
and developing processes that will lead to a widespread carbon capture and storage network for the UAE with interfaces that will accommodate links to future CCS
projects instigated in the Arabian Gulf region.
A $250 million Masdar Clean Technology Fund will also be created to finance renewable energy research projects conducted under the aegis of private sector
companies. The fund will focus on the development and commercial application of technologies in the fields of renewable energy, energy efficiency, carbon
management, water usage and desalination. An emphasis will be placed on technologies most pertinent to the prevailing environments in the Middle East and North
From 2009 onwards, the annual Zayed Future Energy Prize initially valued at $2 million will be awarded to the three individuals or organizations, dotted around the
world, that demonstrate outstanding excellence in terms of innovation, development and implementation of sustainable energy solutions.
With an impeccable sense of timing the UAE's arrival on the renewable energy scene comes at a point when many developed nations have pulled up short in terms
of the level of commitment they are prepared to make in the face of an adverse impact on domestic industry. There also remains a distinct lack of consensus over
what represents a cogent and economically pragmatic plan of action that will most effectively counteract accelerating climate change. Many scientists already
condemn whatever progress has been made as "too little too late".
Yet the UAE has taken some bold steps apart from Masdar, green building standards are in place and being applied to new projects in Dubai, a Green Building
Council is also operational. However disseminating the message to a grass roots level will take some effort. Nevertheless, the Emirates are at least putting their
money where their mouth is and sending a clear environmental message as a result. 'Yes we have created our own seriously compounding problem and feeding a
massively burgeoning property development sector has not helped'. However, the willingness with which the UAE is taking the carbon and climatic battle forward has
earned a great deal of external respect. The message being if we can do it so can you, anything is possible.
The facts of the matter are quite extraordinary, Fred Moavenzadeh, director of the Technology Development Program at M.I.T. sums matters up well when he says, and
"That is a significant realisation. This is the first oil-producing state that has accepted and agreed with the concept that oil may not be the only source of energy in the
Putting this statement in context, predictions over the next decade indicate that demand for hydrocarbon based energy will be greater than the feasible supply
possibilities of conventional crude, with considerable depletion of identified reserves as the 21st century comes to a close. Already oil producers have begun hard
pruning exports in order to retain sufficient supply for domestic consumption. Some countries, Indonesia among them, have stopped exporting oil completely despite
the prevailing prices.
There is of course another dimension to all this, the UAE has an ambitious population expansion plans in the interests of both enlargement of and diversity within the
economy. Abu Dhabi has a firm focus on increasing tourism and Dubai alone now established in the world's top twenty tourist destinations is looking to attract up to
15 million tourists which, along with the service industry staffing required to support that number of short stay residents, will place an enormous burden on existing
resources. It noticeable that previously subsidized energy supplies are gradually being translated into actual cost in terms of consumer's payments, along with
incentives designed to reduce usage. However, the earlier absence of a long term action plan to diverge from traditional energy sources could be considered as
unnecessarily detrimental to the current position and undoubtedly the level of urgency has multiplied as a result.
Nevertheless, the crux of the matter is that the UAE Government is prepared to divert vast amounts of money into cleaning up its own backyard, which will hopefully
extrapolate into substantial knock-on global benefits. On the basis that the United Arab Emirates is neither subjected to the negative lobby prevalent within heavily
industrialized nations nor the need to raise living standards in an excessively impoverished economy, there is every chance it will succeed in its ambition. If a better
localised quality of life ensues that ultimately will assist the longevity of the planet, then there is possibly no better, or hotter, place on earth from which to lead by
Copyright Andy McTiernan. All rights reserved.
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