The first precept that reporters learn while traveling through the United Arab Emirates is that oil has a finite life and that the county is getting ahead of that curve by focusing now on clean energy. As such, in 2008 it started building a city-of-the-future that it named Masdar City, which has the goal of becoming the world’s most sustainable province — and a magnet for like-minded multinational companies.
The Emirates, or the UAE, has relied on the cash generated by the oil industry — money that it has used to build hospitals, schools and roads. But the nation’s leadership understands that technology is radically reshaping society and it has thus created a 2030 plan to steadily change and expand its economic base.
A trifecta consisting of the economy, the environment and society is the base from which leaders are implementing technologies, committing to timelines and generating returns, which is providing the citizens job security and quality of life. Smart cities can be replicated around the world. But each region has its culture and its climate that would make their endeavors unique. The underlying premise is that innovation and sustainability are paramount.
“We have to be ready to celebrate the last export of a barrel of oil,” says Yousef Baselaib. executive director for sustainable real estate in Masdar City. “It is cheaper to produce solar than to use a conventional gas plant. But it is not 24-7. No matter how many megawatts, we still need backup and we are investing in research and development such as energy storage.”
The city is powered by a 10-megawatt solar farm that is connected to the local grid. Each building in the complex is also equipped with solar panels. Director Baselaib says that every structure on campus is certified by the highest efficiency standards: there’s been a 30% decrease in water consumption and a 35% reduction in energy since 2008. At the same time, the narrow streets and cozy buildings are kept naturally cool while the local avenues use only unmanned electric vehicles.
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