-Paul Dickerson, chief operating officer for the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
Who would have guessed that the world’s first zero-emission city would be built in oil-rich Abu Dhabi? The world will be watching the new city, which will serve as a large-scale test for renewable energy. Abu Dhabi lies on a T-shaped island off of the central western coast of the Persian Gulf. Its approximately 1,000,000 inhabitants is comprised mostly (80%) of expatriates.
Construction of the new zero-emission city started last week. It will eventually house 50,000 people and 1,500 businesses. The energy efficient buildings and infrastructure will require less energy to start with, and what little energy they do require will be supplied entirely from renewable energy sources. The very first building is a new research institute that the founders hope will be the seed for the next “Silicon Valley”. Only this time it’s in the Middle East.
But what would one of the world's largest producers of oil want to promote city life that doesn’t require oil? Isn’t that a bit like shooting yourself in the foot? Apparently even the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are willing to admit that oil isn’t a great long-term solution for the world’s growing energy needs. Known as the Masdar Initiative, the $15 billion government-funded investment program is part of a plan to ensure that the UAE's prosperity won’t always be exclusively linked to oil. In some ways Abut Dhabi is one of the few places with enough excess money to afford the venture. Enormous. Fortune ranked it the world's richest city last year.
Abu Dhabi is hoping the project will propel the country to become world leaders in renewable energy. If they succeed, says Masdar's CEO, Sultan al Jaber, "we'll be sitting on top of the world."
To the tune of $22 billion the new city will implement a variety of newer technologies. Thin-film solar panels will serve as the facades and roofing for buildings. High tech sensors will closely monitor energy use to ensure nothing is wasted. Driverless vehicles will be powered by batteries that make cars obsolete. All you do is type in your destination, and an electric carriage comes to your door to automatically take you to your destination on tracks using magnetic levitation. City founders hope say this will be the world’s biggest test bed for new technologies capable of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.
What about energy hogs—you know that kind of person who leaves all the lights on in their house at all times? To keep people aware of their energy habits, sensors throughout the city will keep residents aware of how much their energy usage will cost them, which serves as a nice little reminder to keep habits reasonable. The city's designers predict that efficiency improvements will result in a 75 percent reduction in energy consumption compared with a conventional city of the same size.
The Abu Dhabi government, however, is only footing $4 billion of the bill. The rest is coming from outside investors. Masdar's leaders hope that the city's extreme sustainability, low energy costs and tax breaks will attracts buyers to the properties.
"We want it to be profitable, not a sunk cost," says Khaled Awad, who is directing the development of the city. "If it is not profitable as a real-estate development, it's not sustainable. Then it will never be replicable anywhere else."
But it’s certainly not just the investor’s that would love for the city to be a success. If the project turns out to be viable over the next couple of decades, the city’s founders say we can safely predict that other developments around the world will follow suit.
Nobuo Tanaka, the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) has noted, "All countries must take vigorous, immediate and collective action to curb runaway energy demand. The next ten years will be crucial for all countries... We need to act now to bring about a radical shift in investment in favor of cleaner, more efficient and more secure energy technologies."
Posted by Rebecca Sato.