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Energy question of the week: Has the Emirate of Abu Dhabi overreached itself with its 'Zero Emission City' of Masdar City?

22. March 2010, 09.01, Jan Oliver Löfken, 2 Comment/s
By 2016, the world's first climate-neutral city - Masdar City - is set to emerge from the sands of the Arabian desert. By that date, 50,000 people in Masdar City should be able to meet their energy needs from solar power stations, to move between their 'intelligent-design' houses in electrically-powered cars, and to recycle all their household waste. Nevertheless, isolated cases of Masdar managers resigning their posts are starting to fuel rumours that this ambitious project may, quite literally, be running itself back into the sand. Were the goals of this 22-billion-dollar project perhaps set too high?

"Abu Dhabi stops Masdar City", "Sultan hits the emergency brake", "Breakdowns in Masdar City" said recent headlines in leading German dailies, while the English-language press has barely mentioned the word 'crisis'. This scepticism is founded in a six-week 'pause for thought' which Masdar boss Sultan Al Jaber is said to have called for, coupled with the latest resignations of Masdar managers Khaled Awad and Ziad Tassabehji. "The construction of Masdar City is still progressing, and we anticipate a critical mass of inhabitants by 2020", stated a Masdar spokesperson as she also confirmed that construction would take longer than originally anticipated. According to her, there is no talk of any halt in building work. At the same time, she emphatically denied that Masdar faced financial problems.

Masdar City in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi: 50,000 people are to live in the world’s first climate-neutral city. Both photos: MASDAR.

Flexible construction in several stages

The city will nonetheless take shape in a series of phases. Progress will entail learning from successes as well as from potential mistakes made along the way. The project plan is to be kept as flexible as possible, in order to keep abreast of the latest advances in technology at all times. This can have an impact on the mobility network with remote-controlled electric vehicles, the power station complex, which combines a photovoltaic as well as a solar-thermal plant, and on the recycling of water and refuse. This is a challenge being faced by the project's technology partners, ranging from BASF and Bayer Material Science through Siemens and General Electric to E.On and BP, each of whom is delivering their contribution towards keeping everything up to date with the latest technology.

The headquarters of IRENA, the international agency for energy from renewable sources in Masdar City are not under threat

At least the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), which is still in its infancy, has no need to be concerned about the financial support it receives from the Emirate. The head office of the agency, which Bonn pitched for last year and failed, is now to be expanded as planned in Masdar City. "Nothing has changed with respect to the pledged commitment to, and support for, IRENA", said a Masdar spokesperson.

The DLR Energy question of the week in 'The future of energy' Year of Science

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has given the Year of Science 2010 the motto 'The future of energy'. For this reason the science journalist Jan Oliver Löfken will this year answer a question on the subject of energy in his blog each week. Do you have a question about how our energy supply might look in the future? Or do you want to know, for example, how a wave power plant works and how it can efficiently generate electricity? Then send us your question by email. Science journalist Jan Oliver Löfken will investigate the answers and publish them each week in this blog.


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