Masdar: A Glimpse Of The Future  

Posted by Big Gav in

Plenty has a look at the planned middle eastern ecopolis of Masdar (which just bought into a Finnish company making low speed wind turbines) - Über green Masdar City the United Arab Emirates, a glimpse of the future.

Imagine a city whose residents have kicked the fossil fuel habit and rely solely on sun and wind for electricity. Cars are banished; instead, people walk, bicycle, and zip across town in underground, electric-powered pods.

If that sounds like science fiction, think again. In February, builders broke ground on Masdar City, a planned $22 billion zero-waste, zero-carbon community in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Located on the shores of the Persian Gulf, the project is set to be completed in 2016. Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE, is behind what is the world’s most ambitious “eco-city” project to date. Masdar’s 50,000 residents will push the boundaries of green living, starting with its first inhabitants, 100 alternative energy postgrads at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology who will arrive in September 2009. Powered by renewable energy, the city will recycle all of its garbage and much of its water, and grow organic produce. “We’re simply taking a very bold step,” says Masdar chief executive Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber.

Masdar is one of several efforts to create sustainable communities in response to the threats posed by climate change. A low-carbon city is being built on Dongtan, an island off Shanghai, and Iceland, Norway, Costa Rica, and New Zealand have pledged to rid their economies of carbon. Masdar, however, is the most far-ranging development planned yet. It’s also the first undertaken by a major oil producer.

Oil has made Abu Dhabi fabulously wealthy—it holds nine percent of the world’s proven reserves. But that resource will run out. So the emirate is looking to cleantech industries to help wean it off its fossil fuel dependency and create new jobs. “If it’s a business someone is developing for 2015, we don’t want to be in it,” says Homaid Al Shemmari, associate director at Mubadala, a government-owned development company that oversees the project. “We’re looking way, way into the future.”

Planners are already integrating that kind of foresight into the fabric of the city. A canopy of thin-film solar panels will provide shade and half the city’s electricity. Wind turbines and waste-to-power plants, which use garbage as fuel, will dot the landscape. In the nearby desert, a 500-megawatt power plant will capture solar energy. Instead of photovoltaic panels, mirrors and lenses will concentrate the sun’s rays, utilizing heat to power steam generators. Hot water may come from “evacuated thermal tubes,” pipes filled with fluid and heated by sunlight; or from drilling thousands of feet underground to use the earth’s warmth to heat water.

Most of that water will come from desalination, an energy-intensive process in which seawater is converted to fresh water. Desalination provides most of UAE’s water supply, which helps explain why the country has the highest per capita carbon footprint in the world. But in Masdar, solar energy will power desalination. Conservation efforts are also part of the program: Recycling 80 percent of water and employing technologies like a leak-detection system are important steps for meeting the goal of 21 gallons of water per person daily (the national average is currently 143).

Perhaps the biggest experiment of all is the plan to make Masdar car-free. Planners hope shaded alleyways will encourage city dwellers to travel on foot. Residents will also get around by electric-powered light rail, and “personal rapid transit systems”— six-passenger, electric-powered pods that will run underground and deliver riders to roughly 1,500 stations throughout the city.

2 comments

As well as really testing the eco-city concept (especially recycling ALL waste and industrial and biological nutrient flows), the great thing is we finally get to test the PRT concept!

According to the "Mitigation of peak oil" wiki...

"The city is intended to cover 6 square kilometres (1,500 acres), with no point further than 200 m from a solar powered personal rapid transit link,[25] "

200m to a podcar from anywhere in the city? They must be building that city very dense.

PRT's are gaining popularity with a number being planned around the globe but there is increasing criticism and controversy. See the PRT / podcar wiki for more.

See the International Podcar conference for more on Al Gore, David Pimentel, and peaknik Mayor Debbie Cook attending various podcar conferences. I've discussed the podcar with various ASPO transport experts, but they seem quite sceptical about such a dispersed system coping with peak demand heading one way into the CBD in an unplanned city like ours.

Maybe in Masdar they'll make sense... but Sydney?

I've always been pretty dubious of the podcar idea - but in a dense enough city (and Masdar may well be one) they may make sense.

I can't imagine them being viable in Sydney except maybe in the CBD - assuming a lot more residential high rise gets built...

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