Masdar's decision to reassess its budget and completion date for Masdar City demonstrates maturity and flexibility in an endeavour that requires both.
As we reported yesterday, Abu Dhabi's signature carbon-neutral development plans to reduce its costs by up to 15 per cent, or US$3.3 billion (Dh12.12bn). The city will be completed between 2020 and 2025 rather than in 2016 as first planned. "The vision as a whole remains intact," said Sultan al Jaber, the chief executive of Masdar. "No scale-back, no scale-down," he continued. "There isn't a model or example any where around the world today that we can use. We have to come up with the answers ourselves".
He is right. Masdar is, after all, a lab and an incubator of new ideas and approaches to energy. In part, Masdar's reassessment is a response to what has been learnt since its inception in 2006. Concentrated solar power (CSP), a system by which mirrors reflect sunshine on to a central area to collect energy, has been less efficient in Abu Dhabi than Masdar first anticipated. While Abu Dhabi has plenty of sun, humidity and sand in the air can make its rays less intense than they must be to create an efficient source of CSP. In order to create geothermal power in Abu Dhabi, another source of clean energy Masdar hopes to tap, they must drill several kilometres under the desert, much further and more costly than generating this power in many other places around the world.
Masdar has also had to grapple with difficulties in the property market that few anticipated when it was launched. That development is not entirely negative. "In some ways, not having built a whole lot of stock has allowed us to reassess the market," said Alan Frost, the director of Masdar City There have been changes but not to the project's fundamental goals. Instead of building underground electric-cars, streets have been widened to carry more traffic. While small-scale waste-to-energy power plants are no longer on the cards, the goal to achieve zero waste is still on.
It is far better for Masdar to confront its challenges honestly than push forward with the same plans in spite of them. Masdar is like all ventures into the unknown: for dreams and risks to bear fruit, a dose of realism is necessary.