Abu Dhabi: Making (Green) Waves In The Desert

By all accounts, when it comes to green, Abu Dhabi has got it going on. The capital and second largest city of the United Arab Emirates has helped to push the envelope on sustainable development in a number of ways in recent years, the most well-publicized of which is Masdar City. This multi-faceted green “city within a city” aims to be the world’s first large-scale carbon-neutral development, and is being constructed at a cost of $18 billion. Situated in the heart of  heart of the Middle East’s oil country, it was launched to act as incubator for newly emerging green collar industries, and a bridge to a renewable energy future.

Masdar City

image via Masdar Corporation

But there are other, less extensively publicized ways that Abu Dhabi has been pursuing its green agenda that you may have missed. In its run down of a number of ways that this city is leading the Arabian Gulf’s green revolution, Green Prophet highlights a number of other stories we’ve covered here at EarthTechling, and some that we haven’t as well.

1. Shams 1 Concentrated Solar Power Plant

The Shams 1 solar plant in western Abu Dhabi, begun in 2010, is slated for completion this year, and will generate 100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 20,000 homes. The solar plant uses a concentrated solar power system, in which sunlight is reflected from mirrors onto a glass collector tube; highly concentrated heat and light then spur the power generation process. The largest such plant in the world and first of its kind in the Middle East North Africa region, this plant could set a deep green precedent for turning the world’s deserts into power plants via solar parabolic trough technology.

Shams 1 CSP

image via Green Prophet

2. Estidama Green Building Standard

As a large commercial, carbon neutral district, Masdar City’s green building goals nearly necessitated the creation of a new green building standard to certify them. Which is exactly what Abu Dhabi created with Estidama, a green building system that rates the ecological performance of building based on the number of “pearls” they earn (not unlike the equally quirky “petals” of the U.S.’s Net Zero Energy Certification system, we think). The standard was established in 2009 by the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council (UPC) and is the Arab world’s first sustainability rating mechanism that assesses the eco-performance of buildings, communities, and villas.

3. Abu Dhabi 2030: Urban Structure Framework Plan

A great city needs a great plan. New York City has PlaNYC, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s vision for how the city can cut its carbon emissions by 30 percent (while housing a million more people) by 2030. Abu Dhabit has Plan Abu Dhabi 2030: Urban Structure Framework Plan, a comprehensive plan for the development of Abu Dhabi that will guide planning decisions for the next quarter of the century. This plan was developed by His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, for the continued fulfillment of the grand design envisioned by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and the ongoing evolution of Abu Dhabi as a global capital city.  It established the UPC, which sets a sustainable foundation for all Emirate development, and forms a best-practice benchmark for future urban design within the UAE and beyond.

4. CNG Fleet Vehicles and EV Charging Network

The mission of the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA) is to develop a sustainable agriculture and food sector that “ensures the delivery of safe food to the public and protects the health of animals and plants while promoting sound environmental and food practices.” Which is why it seems fitting that the ADFCA is currently in the process of replacing the gas-powered vehicles in its fleet with CNG vehicles, as part of its commitment to reduce emissions. With a carbon footprint about 75 percent that of a comparable gas-fueld automobile, CNG vehicles are expected to make up 20 percent of the ADFCA’s total fleet by the end of 2012.

In other green transportation news, Masdar City now features the region’s first rapid electric vehicle (EV) charging station certified to meet the Charge de Move (CHAdeMO) industry standard. This standard mandates that a charger bring up an EV’s battery up to 80 percent charged in just 30 minutes (as opposed to the six hours or so required by a standard charging station).

Talk about seeing the light: in an effort to reduce the amount of electricity used in Abu Dhabi across the board, over 6,000 units of high-efficiency public lighting fixtures have been installed across the capital city. This is just one part of the UAE’s overall Sustainable Public Lighting Strategy, which has also set very detailed standards for municipalities, including permitted types of lighting, poles, shapes of lighting, heights of lighting poles, nature of lighting, gradual dimming applications, and lighting sources. These standards extend not just to municipal buildings, but to streetlights and other forms of public lighting as well. This broad-based sustainable lighting strategy is expected reduce total public lighting costs by as much as 40% over the next 20 years.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.