Special Reports
Sustainable Buildings – Masdar City

Siemens AG
Fall 2008

Oil-Free Future?

The world’s first CO2-neutral city is taking shape in Abu Dhabi. Masdar City is
to consume so little energy that local resources will satisfy
require­ments—without generating net emissions. If the project is successful,
urban planners will have a blueprint that could help them prepare for an
oil-free future.

Today only a few buildings in the Middle East even have solar cells. But when
it’s complete in 2016, Masdar City will boast zero net CO2 emissions. Narrow
alleys and arcades will cool the city naturally
Abu Dhabi is tapping into a new source of energy that will never dry up. No,
it’s not oil—even though around nine % of the world’s known reserves of that
valuable resource can be found underneath the desert sand in the emirate.
Instead, a project known as Masdar (Arabic for "source") will point the way
toward a future without fossil fuels. In February 2008, construction began on
Masdar City, a futuristic, environmentally-friendly metropolis, which Abu Dhabi
will present to the world in 2016 as living proof that life without fossil fuels
can offer plenty of quality.

Some 50,000 people are expected to be living in Masdar City by 2016. The
car-free metropolis, to be located between Abu Dhabi City and the emirate’s
international airport, is a hugely ambitious project. In fact, plans call for
the city to emit zero net CO2 into the atmosphere. In addition, the city will
use solar-thermal plants and photovoltaic facilities, for example, to produce
clean energy at peak times above the level actually consumed. Powerful
accumulators will then make energy produced during the day available at night.
One possibility for such an accumulator is offered by molten salt batteries,
which have a very high energy density.

Conventional cities the size of Masdar can emit up to 22 t of CO2 per resident
per year, which translates into total annual emissions of around 1.1 mill. t.
Masdar City will get this figure down to zero using state-of-the-art
technologies. There are several steps that can be taken to achieve this
ambitious goal. The first is to minimize energy consumption. Here, Masdar City
will have to make do with only around 200 MW of installed electrical capacity
rather than the 800 MW that cities of a similar size in its climate zone are
accustomed to. Cutting down on the use of fresh water is one way to go about
this, as obtaining potable water requires seawater to be desalinated by
power-hungry facilities. In general, closed raw material cycles and consistent
recycling will keep resource consumption down in the desert metropolis. The
city’s remaining unavoidable energy needs will then have to be covered by power
generated from alternative sources such as wind, the sun, and biofuels made from
organic waste.

"We need to fundamentally rethink the ways in which cities can conserve energy
and other resources," says Sultan Al Jaber, CEO of the Masdar City Initiative.
"This will require extensive use of new technologies and even the creation of
new urban development models, which is exactly what we’re doing with Masdar
City." Jaber believes Masdar City will serve as a model for the urban centers of
the future—an important function, given that cities are now growing at a
breathtaking rate worldwide.

Effective Building Design. The celebrated architects from Foster + Partners, who
are responsible for Masdar City’s overall concept, have calculated that
energy-efficient city and building designs can reduce the future city’s CO2
emissions by approximately 56 %. Their current plans call for elongated parks to
cut through the city, serving as corridors that channel cool winds into its
center. As is the case in traditional desert cities, most streets will be
designed as small alleys rather than broad avenues. Like narrow tunnels, these
alleys will guide the wind between houses, while the latters’ arcades will
provide additional shade. There are good reasons why desert cities have been
built this way for thousands of years. While the temperature in Abu Dhabi feels
like more than 70 °C in the summer, the various urban architectural improvements
will make the temperature in Masdar City feel more like 50 °C.

The architectural approach being used for Masdar City has won praise from
award-winning urban development expert Philipp Rode from the London School of
Economics. "What exactly is sustainable ecological urban development?" he asks.
"Does it refer to futuristic visions based solely on advanced technology—or is
it more like ‘back to nature,’ where you live without electricity and artificial
light? For me, sustainable ecological urban development means balancing proven
elements with modern technology—and given the current plans for Masdar City, the
project just might achieve such a balance."

Some 24 % of the city’s envisioned CO2 emission reduction will be achieved using
renewable energy sources. Foster + Partners estimates that around half of the
city’s energy could be generated with photovoltaic systems, with the remainder
coming from solar-thermal power plants, solar collectors, waste burning,
composting, and wind facilities. Largely forgoing the use of automobiles will
also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which is why the city will be
provided with a tightly woven public transport network of electrically operated
vehicles (personal rapid transit). With this system, nowhere in the city will be
more than 200 m from a transport station.

Solar Power and Water Treatment. With Masdar City, Abu Dhabi is pointing the way
toward a future of resource conservation. The emirate also wants the rest of the
world to be part of the project, which is why companies from many countries are
talking to Masdar planners about the types of technologies that would be most
suitable for the city.

Under review are solar-thermal facilities that use parabolic mirrors to heat
water, which in turn produces steam to drive turbines and thus produce
electricity. Many other solutions from Siemens’ Environmental Portfolio, such as
those for low-loss power transmission, innovative lighting, and water treatment,
are also being discussed with a view to maximizing energy conservation.

Joachim Kundt, the CEO of Siemens LLC UAE, has lived in Abu Dhabi for many years
and is thus familiar with both the challenges and opportunities associated with
the emirate. "In extreme climates like those on the Arabian Peninsula,
intelligent building technologies can greatly help conserve energy," he says.

"For example, building automation systems that use sensors that recognize when a
room is unoccupied and then automatically turn off lights and air conditioning,
can significantly cut CO2 emissions." All of this can also be done—whether in
Masdar or anywhere else in the world—without restricting comfort. Suitable
technologies are already available (see Trends), and according to the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), consistent use of such
technologies could lower CO2 emissions from buildings by up to 40 % between now
and 2030.

"Masdar City is a model project," says Rode. "It will produce a man-made world
that will show us what is technically feasible. The challenge—from both an urban
development and technological perspective—will be to transfer the knowledge and
experience gained to established urban environments." Abu Dhabi is taking the
first step—and it appears that the emirate has realized that its biggest
treasure is not to be found under the ground after all.


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