Urenio Watch Watch: Intelligent Cities / Smart Cities

Building the Zero-Emissions City

zero-emissions-city.jpgA city being built in Abu Dhabi will serve as a large-scale test for renewable energy. The new zero-emissions city will house 50,000 people and 1,500 businesses but use extremely little energy, and what it does use will come from renewable sources. The initial building is a new research institute that the founders hope will be the seed for the equivalent of a Silicon Valley of the Middle East, only one centered not on information technology but on renewable energy.

The new zero-emissions city, which is being built near the city of Abu Dhabi in the center of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is part of the Masdar Initiative, a $15 billion government-funded investment program designed in part to ensure that the UAE’s prosperity won’t be linked exclusively to its oil. Its leaders say that the project will give the country a leadership position in renewable energy. If it’s successful, says Sultan al Jaber, Masdar’s CEO, “we’ll be sitting on top of the world.”

The city, which is expected to cost $22 billion, will implement an array of technologies, including thin-film solar panels that serve as the facades and roofing materials for buildings, ubiquitous sensors for monitoring energy use, and driverless vehicles powered by batteries that make cars unnecessary. Indeed, the city’s founders hope that it will serve as a test bed for a myriad of new technologies being proposed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

One of the main purposes of the city is to find out what works and what doesn’t. This experiment will continue even after the city is completed in eight years; “innovation hubs” throughout the city will test new technologies, including some developed at the new Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. The school is being developed in partnership with MIT, which is selecting faculty and designing curricula.