SETTING THE STANDARD

Abu Dhabi 2017 | GREEN ECONOMY | FOCUS: MASDAR CITY

A decade ago, Abu Dhabi's most ambitious eco-friendly project to date set sail to lay the foundations for the world's most sustainable city, Masdar City.

It was billed as the world's first zero-carbon city, but has since been re-billed as a low carbon city, the brainchild of the Masdar Insitute. Although the project was disrupted by the 2008 global economic crisis, it is already in operation and completion of the second phase is expected in 2021.

Masdar's vision, although complex in terms of logistically implementing a low-carbon city in the middle of the desert, was simple in its objective: to accommodate Abu Dhabi's rapid urbanization while dramatically reducing that population's consumption of finite energy reserves.

The initial plans for Masdar City entailed an urban complex combining Arabic architectural features with advanced technologies to house an expected 40,000 people, besides a further 50,000 commuters by 2030. Part of the city would be powered by the sun, specifically 210,000sqm of photovoltaic panels responsible for 17,500MW-hours of clean electricity produced in the facility annually, making it the largest of its kind in the Middle East.

Epitomizing and actualizing Abu Dhabi's green ambitions, Masdar City has helped cultivate the tech-friendly image of this business and investment free zone, a center for renewable excellence. The city's nucleus hosts Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, a research-oriented university that is working on the Emirate's most advanced projects for sustainable energy generation in the region, and which graduated its first batch of PhD students in 2015. The institute also hosts its own Incubator Building, an innovation hub offering tailored-made spaces to businesses and entrepreneurs.

Masdar City offers an innovative ecosystem and has already cultivated its first projects, such as the Future Build initiative to assist architects, engineers, and contractors in identifying and sourcing green building products and materials to deliver environmental benefits, or the robotic parking technology to maximize the efficient use of space, both adopted in Masdar City's facilities. In early 2017, Masdar also presented the Eco-Villa Prototype, a one-of-a-kind housing project designed to use 72% less energy and 35% less water than existing villas in Abu Dhabi, which can also export power to the national grid when combined with rooftop photovoltaic panels.

The way that the city was built has epitomized the ambitions it was conceived in. Buildings had to be constructed with low-carbon cement and 90% recycled aluminium, and ultimately meet a minimum Estidama Pearl Building Rating (comparable to LEED Gold). This has helped to establish policies that promote low-carbon public transportation with projects to develop a metro line, a light rail transit, a group rapid transit, and cycling lanes.

Masdar City established sustainability benchmarks to ensure the delivery of measurable environmental social and economic benefits. With Masdar Institute attracting a growing number of students through initiatives such as the Young Future Energy Leaders, Masdar showcases the commercialization of research and development projects for the cities of the future. With the beginning of the project's second phase in 2017, Masdar City is consolidating the first R&D cluster that is fully dedicated to renewables in the region.

The project's free zone is home to 400 companies, including multinationals such as GE, Siemens, and Mitsubishi. Masdar City was also chosen to be home to the International Renewable Energy Agency's global headquarters in a 32,000sqm facility powered by 340,000KW-hours produced on the building's rooftop panels. Located in the intersection of Abu Dhabi's trade hub comprised by Khalifa Port, Kizad, and the international airport, Masdar City's Free Zone contemplates an expansion plans evolving to grow its commercial base four-fold by 2020 and expand its leasable area by 32% per year.

Lastly, Masdar City is expected to become a pole for local tourism with an intended 2,300 visitors into the city on a weekly basis. Visitors can enjoy a 60-minute tour guide in a driverless hybrid vehicle passing through the city's most iconic architecture developments, Masdar Institute, and by the end of 2018 the My City Center Masdar Mall, an AED30 billion sustainable shopping center currently under development by Majid Al Futtaim Group.