Rhein on Energy and Climate

In February 2008, the construction of the first sustainable city that is expected to run completely on solar and wind energy has been formally launched. Not in Europe, Japan or USA, but in the middle of the Arabian desert, 35 km away from Abu Dhabi City. We better remember its name: Masdar, the “source”; we shall hear more about this unique experiment in city planning during the coming 10 years when the city will progressively house some 60 000 people on an area of 640 ha.

The basic idea is not new: make housing independent from external fossil energy sources. A few thousand low-energy buildings have already been constructed, especially in Germany, in view of minimising fossil energy consumption through perfect thermal insulation and solar panels for heating and electricity generation.

Masdar goes an essential step further: it will be an experiment in sustainable town planning. It will be a car-free city. Citizens will have to rely entirely on public transport, driven by electricity generated from wind or solar power. Buildings will be no higher than five storeys, laid out south-west /north-east so as to benefit from a sea breeze and avoid extreme sunshine.

Electricity supply will be a combination of decentralised solar generation on every roof top, and centralised wind and solar-thermal power plants outside the city walls. The latter will also provide the city with desalinated water.

Masdar aims not only at being the first zero-energy city but also at becoming a “Middle East Silicon Valley” for advanced solar and wind technology. To that end, it will host the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology and hopes to attract a myriad of high-tech companies in advanced energy technologies.

Masdar might become a prototype city for small population numbers in extremely hot climates, with summer temperatures exceeding 40°. We shall need similar prototypes for northern climates and mega-cities with insufficient sunshine for heating and power-generation.

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