Sunday, January 20, 2008

United Arab Emirates About to Start Building Green City in Desert

DUBAI - The United Arab Emirates plans to start building a multi-billion-dollar green city in the desert in the first quarter of this year, as the oil producer looks to become a pioneer of alternative energy. The zero-carbon, zero waste city -- actually a town of up to 15,000 residents -- is being steered by Masdar, an initiative set up by the Abu Dhabi government to develop sustainable and clean energy. It is one of a string of projects that the world's fifth-largest oil exporter is eyeing as it looks to reduce some the world's highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions, Masdar's Chief Executive Sultan al-Jaber told Reuters. "We will break ground on the city in the first quarter," Jaber said. Taking old cities from the Arab world as inspiration, the plans show narrow streets, squat buildings and no cars. Solar panels will act as awnings to shelter pedestrians from the sun. Transport will be futuristic travel pods that do not consume gasoline. Solar and wind energy will power the city and its water desalination plant. "We recognise the carbon footprint of the UAE and are working on a number of fronts to help reduce our emissions. Our objective is to make Abu Dhabi the centre of the future of energy." According to a UN Development Programme report issued last year, UAE greenhouse gas emissions were 34.1 tonnes per head in 2004, the third highest in the world after Qatar and Kuwait and well above US per capita emissions of 20.6 tonnes. The alternative energy projects also aim to place the UAE at forefront of the future energy industry after oil and enhance its reputation at a time of growing concern over climate change. Jaber declined to estimate the cost of building the city in the harsh desert climate, but said it would be above previous estimates in local media of US$5 billion. It will be part funded by the Abu Dhabi government with partners investing the rest. The city will house around 14,000 to 15,000 people and have workspace for around 50,000, he said. UK architects Fosters & Partners, famed for such designs as Berlin's Reichstag and London's Wembley Stadium, are the master planners. The first stage of construction should be finished in 2009 and the entire city completed in 2016, Jaber said. Masdar aims to build a 30 megawatt solar power plant to power the construction and intends to attract companies working on clean and sustainable energy to the city. The earliest stage involves the construction of a graduate research institute dedicated to alternative energy. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is collaborating with Masdar on development of the institute. Masdar is working with the World Wildlife Fund to ensure the city meets WWF principles of sustainability, Jaber said. CARBON CAPTURE, INVESTMENT Masdar plans to develop a nationwide network of carbon capture and storage projects (CCS) to pump greenhouse gases into oilfields, reducing emissions while boosting oil output. CCS, an as yet commercially unproven technology, should free up natural gas that is now reinjected to push oil out of oilfields. The UAE needs the gas for power generation to meet rising demand as petrodollars fuel an economic boom. Canada's SNC-Lavalin is finalising a feasibility study for the project and Masdar hopes to have a better idea of how to proceed by the second quarter this year, Jaber said. Masdar is investing in energy and sustainable technology companies through a US$250 million clean technology fund. The fund is a joint venture with Credit Suisse and the UK's Consensus Business Group, which invests in companies that may have technology that can be commercialised in the UAE in future. "We have been investing in early stage companies, mainly solar and wind, we've invested in a number of them," he said. Abu Dhabi is one of seven emirates in the UAE, and holds over 90 percent of the country's oil reserves. (Reporting by Simon Webb, editing by Anthony Barker) Story by Simon Webb

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