Masdar City, the clean energy community being built on the outskirts of the capital, has unveiled a wide-ranging review of the project. The "green" development will keep its goals of being carbon neutral and producing zero waste to landfills, but there will be fewer buildings, they will be taller and built over a longer period of time. Meanwhile, previous assumptions about the energy and transport technologies are being reconsidered.
"Our strategy is the same, our vision is the same, but we have become much smarter in our approach," said Sultan al Jaber, the chief executive of Masdar. "We had to go up the learning curve to get to this point. But all along we have said this is going to be a learning exercise, and we have always known it's going to be a challenging journey." He emphasised: "Our tactics might be different but the vision is the same."
In the two years since the city plans were unveiled to the public, demand for both residential and commercial property has fallen, while Masdar has engaged in lengthy experiments to choose suitable energy technology and carbon-neutral materials. The development is also awaiting a promised energy policy to establish subsidies for renewable power. Meanwhile, expected public transport systems linking Masdar to the rest of Abu Dhabi, which would help Masdar reduce its carbon footprint, have also been delayed, said Alan Frost, the director of the Masdar City property development unit.
Masdar officials originally aimed to bring the whole city, with a floor space of 5.5 million square metres, to market by 2016. Now the goal is to complete 360,000 sq metres by the end of 2013, and only if executives are satisfied that there would be an adequate market, Mr Frost said. As part of the review, Masdar has brought in a project management team from Aldar to ensure delivery of the first building, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, which is due to open in September.
Aldar was behind major developments including Yas Island and Raha Beach in Abu Dhabi. "Given the importance of getting the Masdar institute up and running for September, with the first students on site, we took a view that it made sense to get a small team from Aldar to assist us with that delivery," he said. The company has met success in the commercial market by signing preliminary agreements with firms to lease out 100,000 of the 120,000 sq metres of commercial space in the first phase, he said. But only one rental agreement has so far been finalised: a five-year deal for 1,000 sq metres with the US-based multinational General Electric.
After the first stages of the city are completed, Aldar and other property firms could expand their role in the project as Masdar looked to shift its role into a master developer, Mr Frost said. Another option would be to allocate large swathes of the city to foreign governments, which would assume responsibility for developing and marketing the property within Masdar's strict environmental guidelines.
Masdar laid off 34 people from its property division this week, or about 20 per cent of its staff, he said. A futuristic electric "pod car" system would serve the initial phase of the Masdar institute, but might not be rolled out across the city, he added. Meanwhile, Masdar is re-evaluating previous assumptions that almost all of its power needs would be generated on-site through rooftop solar panels and other technologies. The city could instead import some of its electricity from Masdar's solar plants in other parts of the emirate, which are expected to be more efficient.