x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Masdar drops 2016 date for completing clean city

Masdar, the Abu Dhabi Government's clean energy firm, has discarded a 2016 final completion date for its signature US$22 billion development.

Masdar, the Abu Dhabi Government's clean energy firm, has discarded a 2016 final completion date for its signature US$22 billion (Dh80.8bn) development as the challenge of building a carbon neutral, zero-waste city has proved greater than first expected. Masdar officials emphasise that the first phase of Masdar City will be finished by the original 2013 deadline. The rest of the development at the edge of the capital will emerge gradually over the ensuing decade as the company experiments with new technology, officials said.

"Masdar is not a typical real estate development and is not bound by similar pressures of fixed completion dates," said a Masdar spokesman. "For Masdar, success will not be measured on the speed with which the city is constructed, but the standards it sets in addressing today's energy and sustainability challenges." At the city's groundbreaking in early 2008, the year 2016 was put forward as the final completion date, but the spokesman's comments suggested it had been pushed back by at least four years.

"Once phase one is completed in 2013, the remaining six phases will be developed over the next decade," he said. "The city is expected to have a critical mass of residents and businesses by 2020." Sultan al Jaber, the company's chief executive, told Reuters last month that Masdar was eyeing 2020 as a launch date. He characterised it as a one-year delay. At a conference in the capital in November, Dr al Jaber described the city as a "12 to 15-year development".

Officials have not referred to the global financial crisis as playing a role in the delay. The $22bn was originally expected to be provided largely by equity partners and debt finance, with Masdar coming up with $4bn towards the city's construction costs. Masdar yesterday said the construction of the city had served as "a test-bed for pioneering research", and the project required a flexible schedule.

"Much of what is being done in the city has never been done on such a large scale," the spokesman said. "Thus the complexities involved in such a project are generally unprecedented, and while these realities might affect construction, the key point is that Masdar City's experience will make it easier for the development of other sustainable cities." The company made some surprising announcements on its technology choices last year. In a departure from previously disclosed plans, it announced in September that it would drill two wells deep below Masdar City in search of geothermal sources to produce electricity.

The company also indicated it was re-evaluating the case for deployment of large-scale solar thermal technology - using mirrors to concentrate the heat of the sun to power generators - in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. Computer tests had shown that dust and haze reduced the technology's performance. The findings bolstered the case for using photovoltaic solar panels, a competing technology. Sources in the company said the 2016 deadline had long been thought unrealistic and Masdar was now focused almost entirely on the first phase, which includes building the Masdar Institute, the Masdar company headquarters and the surrounding neighbourhood.

The institute was originally scheduled to be completed by last year, but is now on track to open in time for the start of classes this autumn. The headquarters building, billed as the world's first "energy positive" building because its rooftop solar panels will produce more electricity than the building uses, will also house the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency, which boasts 138 member nations.

Together, the headquarters and institute will form a hub of the city, with the immediate surrounding neighbourhood containing a mix of residential, commercial and hospitality developments. AECOM, the US engineering and architectural firm, was awarded a project management consultancy for the Masdar Institute Neighbourhood early last year. @Email:cstanton@thenational.ae