Sustainable Development Efforts Yield World's First Zero-Carbon City

Masdar City, the world’s only zero-carbon city, is still on track to be built in Abu Dhabi, despite massive changes in the world’s economy.

The original project was projected to cost some $22 billion, and to be completed in 2016. More recent reviews considering the financial crisis indicate the advanced residential and industrial cluster may not be completed until 2020 or even 2025. However, the cityi's first phase is still on track to be ready for occupancy by 2015.

The Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, or Masdar, is a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi-owned Mubadala Development Corporation (MDC), which originally earmarked $15 billion for the Masdar clean energy project. Later, the projected budget was increased by nearly 50% to the $22 billion figure. Much of this money has already been invested in various clean energy projects and more than a dozen corporate acquisitions around the globe.

The idea was to construct a city that generates absolutely no carbon dioxide, and yet to make it a desirable place where people could live and work in comfort and ease. A significant part of the Masdar project plan centered on plans to attract technologists, visionaries, and consultants, as well as to interest global investors in funding the new city's solar and wind power structures. To help accomplish this goal, MDC offered "free zones" within the overall Masdar plan so that independent companies could develop and install their own clean energy technologies and provide demonstration projects as the basis for consultancy services offered to the entire world.

Work started on actually building Masdar in 2006. So far, nearly 100 companies and consultants have taken advantage of the opportunity to locate in Masdar, which currently consists of six completed buildings, bristling with new and developmental energy conservation technologies. The impact of the financial crisis, however, has become a major drag on the original construction timetable for Masdar. Phase 1, incorporating one million square metres of residential and commercial space, is now scheduled for completion in 2015, and the full city plan is expected to be constructed within an additional ten years.

“Based on what’s happened in the market," said Masdar City director Alan Frost, "the acquisition of tenants has slowed down a little.” But Frost remains upbeat on the overall prospects for completing Masdar, pointing out that a stretched out construction program will allow time for some newer technologies to be tested and incorporated into the city's infrastructure.

Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, Masdar's CEO, argues that “As technology and the market evolve so will our plan. The key is to be flexible and adaptable rather than rigid and dogmatic. We will continually review and update our thinking so Masdar is always at the cutting-edge of global clean technology”.

For example, although Masdar still aims to be entirely powered by renewable energy, it no longer requires that all energy sources be physically on-site. Instead, residents and businesses may purchase renewable energy from off-site locations, which will prove a more practical approach as energy demands increase over the city’s lifetime.

Another example is the flexible Personal Rapid Transport system, an ongoing pilot project within Masdar which will allow for alternative electric vehicle technologies and transport systems to be rolled out as newer technologies become commercially feasible.

Additionally, Frost said the financial crisis is actually having a positive impact on project costs: “The estimated cost of clean energy city," he said, "is now 10 to 15 per cent lower than , putting it between $18.7 and $19.8 billion, instead of $22 billion.”

More later.

Photo credit:   GDS Infographics