Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Diversification In The Oil-Rich Desert

Who ever might have imagined that the most modern city in the world would be designed for placement in the desert of the Middle East, paid for with oil money, envisioned by an emirate in the full knowledge that its oil-derived riches could be put to useful purpose, quite understanding that the source of its riches are finite.

The United Arab Emirates has unveiled a plan to invest US$15-billion in the development of alternative energy sources, fully committed to reduce its dependence on revenue from fossil fuels. Surprisingly, the UAE emits more pollution than any other country, as a report dated October 2006 by the World Wildlife Fund would have it. Using a far greater proportion of the planet's resources per person annually than comparable numbers for the United States.

The demand for energy is expected to double the current rate, and the rich sheikdom is committed to the development of enterprising new industries and infrastructures. The plan is to build the world's largest hydrogen-generated power plant. Makes sense; hydrogen is the most common element in the universe, why not harness it? Some 500 mega-watts of energy capacity is being planned for.

And it's also actively exploring the feasibility of harnessing nuclear energy, starting off with a newly-signed agreement with France for co-operation in the development of nuclear power.
How's that for irony, at a time when the Western world; scrub that, the world at large, is clamouring for more access to fossil fuels.

The developed countries of the world are vexed with their dependence on traditional fuel sources that have become ever more problematical from the viewpoint of political and economic complexities and world-view challenges - along with the inflexible dilemma of tossing ever more pollutants into the atmosphere through the profligate use of conventional hydrocarbons.

And here is Abu Dhabi, stealing their thunder. It does take a massive capital investment, though, and where better to find all that loose change than inside the UAE, wallowing in oil-derived capital. Standing ready, willing and able to invest a good chunk of it in an experiment in creating a truly viable world-class city meant to be self-sustaining, in the most unlikeliest geography for that purpose, in the world.

"This is a place that has no carbon footprint and will not hurt the planet in any way" promises Khaled Awad, director of the proposed new city's development unit. This is to be a zero-waste, non-carbon-dioxide-emitting, car-absent city - located in the desert. Its design was accomplished by a British architect, and the plans for Masdar - Arabic for "the source", encompasses everything a space-age, 21st-Century city should embrace.

Low-rise buildings with roof-top solar panels. Where? - on a six-kilometre-square site with no fresh water and where temperatures soar to 50C. And, its inspiration derives in part from methods utilized by ancient desert settlements to defy the harsh climate. Masdar's site has been selected to take advantage of cooling sea breezes, while a surrounding wall will shield its interior from the hot desert air.

Buildings are designed for cooling by wind towers - who knew this represents a traditional Gulf architectural feature by which natural circulation of air can be harnessed to cool interiors? Solar power will generate most of the required electricity, with a state-of-the-art desalination plant producing fresh water. Isn't that brilliant? The use of solar power in a part of the world where the presence of the sun is guaranteed.

Within the city and without, landscaping and crops will be irrigated with brown, recycled-and-treated wastewater. And now here's where science fiction comes on strong; since no cars will be permitted within the city, people will have to depend upon other modes of transport. Accordingly, it's planned that the city be designed in such a way that pedestrians will never be further than 200 metres from a mode of public transit.

Which will include light rail, to from move Masdar to Abu Dhabi, the capital city. And, ta-da! personalized rapid transport pods will run on tracks to be used within the city itself. Mr. Awad's promise that "...the city will offer the highest quality of life possible for its residents", appears no idle boast.

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