Thriving without oil: the Arab Emirates

Written by Carlotta Werth

Think of an environmentalist. Is he, or she, a mix between an anarchist and a hippy, waving a shield with pictures of dead animals and red blood-like writings? Screaming and shouting, standing on top of a boat in some exotic sea? Fighting against multinationals, overfishing, mass extintion?
We should all be thankful towards those people -they are real heroes-, but, believe it or not, when it comes to being sustainable, there's a lot more than that.
What if I told you that sheikhs -those men walking around with thick black beards, long tunics, heads covered by white pieces of cloth, eating no pork meat, and praying several times a day- are the world's new environmentalists?
It should't surprise you: this is simply one of the many cases where mental sharpness meets with sustainability.
Suppose you owned a lot of oil, and had a lot of money. Suppose you knew these reserves would only last about 40 years. What can you do, today? The options are two: 1. Enjoy life and spend all your money, and then, well, you'll let your children and grandsons figure out what to do in order to survive. 2. Gather some of your huge amount of money and build an empire. Something that will last for decades. Something innovaitve, efficient, autonomous. A world wide model. That will secure you, and your children, and your grandsons, and many more to come, an amazing life.
The latter has been the choice of the United Arab Emirates' sheikhs, when they decided to build Masdar City (littlerally, “the source”): a 100% renewable city.
Located in Abu Dhabi, a few minutes drive from the international airport, it was designed by the British architectural firm Foster and Partners. Once construction is completed -bewteen 2020 and 2025-, Masdar will be home to over 40,000 people.

Be ambitious. Think big.
Masdar City is planning to become not just one of the many green cities of the future, but the global model and the largest world lab for renewable energy.

Take a look at the following points.

1) Architechture
The design of the city is a wonderful combination of ancient Arabic architecture and modern technolgy.
Drawing inspiration from old Arabic cities, the streets are narrow and shaded. The city is oriented in such a way that it gets the maximum possible shade all day long. This way, Masdar City is 10 degrees Celcius cooler than downtown Abu Dhabi.
At the same time, the building's energy and water needs have been reduced by 40%.
Construction materials are entirely bought from local suppliers and manufacturers.
But even more stunning is the city's recycle center. This place is huge: basically all of the waste from construction is being reused. Experts came up with innovative soultions, for example, plastic waste it is used to produce new furniture.

2) Control over the whole value chain
Core to Masdar city is its super advanced Instute of science and techonolgy. This university is dedicated to developing the “theory” in the fields of energy and sustainability. This theory is then put into practice and tested by the city. The optimal solution is found. Ad commercialized.
This way, Masdar is going to have control of the entire value chian of green energy.

3) Solar energy
What source of energy should a desert rely on? The answer is pretty clear: sun.
Masdar City uses a mixture of two technologies to overcome the issue of cooling its buildings. On the one hand, it uses concentrated solar power: concave mirrors reflecting the light in one spot, where the temperature reaches 400 degrees Celcius. They are very powerful, but expensive. For this reason, it also uses “vacuum panels” -which look like traditional solar panels-, they are somewhat less powerful, but more convenient.
To meet other energitic needs, a huge fotovoltaic field has been built, in the desert besides the city. And, of course, the roofs of the buildings are equipped with solar panels, which alone produce 1/3 of the entire energy labs, offices and homes need.

4) Transportation
Here comes the coolest part of all. The city is going to be entirely pedestrian and cyclist friendly. How? Vehicles are only allowed underground. These sort of cars, called "Personal Rapid Transit", work on electric power produced by fotovoltaic. They are driverless, operated -through wifi- from a single central location. Also, those PRTs can be used on any road, so that inhabitants can drive to wherever they wish.

5) Fascinated by the project? Take part of it.
Even though the majority of capital is provided by the Governement of Abu Dhabi, Masdar is welcoming foreign investors.
But that's not all. If you like to think green, you should consider establishing a business in the city. The opportunities offered are unbelievable. First of all, close collaboration with the advanced renawble energy research institute. Secondly, the city allows 100% foreign ownership, 0 currency restrictions, 0% import tariffs, and no limitations on capital movements. Last but not least, it offers the astonishing rate of 0% corporate and individual taxes.

After having read about such an amazing project, one question arises: are there any downsides?
Apparently, there seems to be just one. As Greenpeace pointed out, the project is worth of support, but it would be better to focus on fixing already existing cities, rather than building many new ones from scratch. On top of that, solar panel fields take up a lot of space, spoiling the beauty of many natural landscapes. But, on the other hand, a solar panel field is always more pleasant at sight -and way safer- than any huge nuclear or water-powered plant.

Foresighted. This is the appropriate word to describe today's oil tycoons. They are going to keep that wealth they have accumulated, and they'll add much more to it.
Someone aiming to a thriving future can't just passively rely on the past. And that future, they want to hold it in their hands.