Masdar City is like the ultimate planned community for residential living. The focus, though, is not on recreational and entertainment amenities for families but on enhancements in energy efficiency for cities of the future.
Ground broke on the sustainability project, located in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UEA), in 2008. City developers and energy-efficiency experts are focused on clean, renewable energy development and research. Today, the city is growing and taking on new challenges.
One of the concerns of any city in the Middle East is proper air conditioning. The designers of Masdar City have taken a thoughtful approach to building services by placing the highest premium on energy efficiency in all the pumps and pump structures used throughout the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and other systems in each building.
"These are renewable and sustainable energy plans on a large scale," said Dr. Alexander Ritschel, senior manager of Masdar Special Projects. "The city continues to grow, and in each phase there are ambitious plans for energy-efficient buildings that use recycled materials and proper waste management. Planners are trying out new technologies.
"Pumps play a critical role in the city's development. Pumps require the most energy so they are the focus of much attention."
Currently, the buildings in Masdar City include those that are part of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, dorms for students, the Masdar corporate offices and offices of other companies that are assisting with research such as Siemens and GE.
Construction is under way on the first residential apartments, and a hotel is in the works. There are about 2,000 master's and Ph.D. students active at the school, studying disciplines surrounding clean technology and sustainability, as well as biology, water studies and various engineering fields.
"This is the development of an urban city, but it is also a research field," Dr. Ritschel said. "It provides students with real-world experience in sustainability for the Middle East and the world."
The new residential apartments will follow the same scrutiny in construction as the existing buildings.
"It is a very hot and humid environment. Planners tried to reduce the use of air conditioning with good insulation and improved energy efficiency," Dr. Ritschel said. "The way the buildings are built, the streets are very narrow, and the buildings are close together. This creates shade wherever you walk and shade on the buildings. It also creates a kind of breeze that blows through. The planners really worked on the shade."
The buildings are relatively low in height compared with many others in Abu Dhabi. The average building has five or less floors. The orientation is toward the prevailing winds. All of this combines to create cooler conditions, which puts less pressure on the pumps operating the HVAC systems.
"This (sustainability) is something we are thinking about in our governments, and we're thinking about the future generations for the next 50 years," said Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, at a Masdar City event.
Most electrical power is generated through solar energy, of which there is no shortage in the arid UAE. There are ground-mounted solar panels, as well panels on the roofs of most buildings. Wind power is also part of the Masdar master plan, as is extended desalination capabilities.
"We want to build desalination plants using energy-efficient equipment that is solar powered. It will be important for us to use the most efficient pumps and energy recovery devices (ERD)," Dr. Ritschel said.
The water-energy nexus is a concern of Masdar City planners. The group continues to pursue renewable energy-powered seawater desalination technology and created a demonstration project in Ghantoot, in northern Abu Dhabi. "The cost of desalination is coming down. The membranes for reverse osmosis (RO) are more reliable and durable. The more energy efficient the operation, the lower the cost," Dr. Ritschel said.
As Masdar researchers concentrate on sustainable energy sources and energy efficiency, they continue to partner with companies and governmental entities around the world. Masdar, for example, has worked with researchers in Iceland to test a closed-loop energy system that relies on heated groundwater.
Earlier this year, Masdar City opened its Solar Hub, which is helping city designers develop solar technology that can operate in the harsh environment of the UAE. "Masdar's Solar Hub, our company's newest initiative, will prove invaluable to the solar industry's entire value chain while enhancing Masdar City's reputation as a leading clean-technology cluster and innovation ecosystem," said Dr. Ahmad Belhoul, CEO of Masdar, as quoted on www.masdar.ae, the website for the initiative.