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All Eyes on Masdar

12 August 2010




Masdar is a key force behind the global renewables revolution. Ozge Ibrahim investigates the strategy behind one of the world's most ambitious energy players.


Masdar is currently attracting a lot of attention, primarily because the self-styled renewable energy player has invested in a large number of multifaceted projects.

The Abu Dhabi-based company is focused on developing commercially scalable and sustainable energy projects, and has plans that stretch far and wide as it develops some of the most ambitious clean energy projects in the world.

Its biggest and most ambitious project is Masdar City, a clean technology cluster currently being built on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, which will be powered entirely by renewable energy.

Following a period of uncertainty, architects Foster & Partners announced in July that a first review - an important prerequisite for the next stages of construction of Masdar City - was almost complete, allaying fears that the project could be cancelled. "The master plan has been designed from the outset to be highly flexible, in order to anticipate and incorporate emergent technologies, as well as to respond to lessons learnt during the implementation of the first phases of the project," Foster + Partners said in a statement.

According to regional media reports, Masdar CEO Sultan Al Jaber reaffirmed in June the company's commitment to the project's green credentials, saying that "the vision remained the same" in spite of the review. The carbon-free city is now reported to cost $22bn and it is estimated it will take at least a decade to complete, when it is expected to house 45,000-50,000 people and 1,500 businesses.

Education powers Masdar City

"The most ambitious project is Masdar City, a clean-tech cluster being built in Abu Dhabi."

The engineering plans behind the Masdar City project come from its tailored educational establishment, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology.

The institute is described as the "nucleus of the R&D activities in Masdar City" and will play a major role in building the city and working on sustainable technologies.

Developed in cooperation with US-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the building itself boasts at least 70% less electricity and potable water use than conventional buildings of its size. It is wired throughout with a metering system that monitors energy consumption.

In an exclusive interview with Power-technology.com,  chief executive of Masdar Power Frank Wouters said the institute was "very unique" due to its sole interest in training and sourcing talent for Masdar's own renewable projects. While he didn't rule out collaborations with other similar institutions, Wouters emphasised plans to remain at the helm of future renewables technology. "There are some young institutes that have many focused areas that are relevant to us, things like looking at the bio market within the EU particularly. We really want to be at the cutting-edge of what is available," he said. 

Masdar's renewables - Shams 1 and the future

Masdar's Shams concentrating solar power station in Madinat Zayed, Abu Dhabi, UAE, is a perfect example of remaining at the cutting edge of renewables projects. The first part of the project, called Shams 1, will have a capacity of 100MW-125MW, and when complete Masdar hopes it will be the largest parabolic trough power station in the world. In June this year, Masdar awarded a $600m 25-year build, own and operate contract for the project to Spain's Abengoa Solar and France's Total SA.

The ambitious Masadar project might still be a good few years away from completion, but Wouters still has big plans to conquer the renewables power space. "We are looking into other things, like elongated power within several projects. We have invested in a number of projects," he explains.

"Shams 1 will be the largest parabolic trough power station in the world."

In July, the company participated in and hosted an international renewable energy conference as part of the 32nd Assilah International Cultural Festival in the Kingdom of Morocco.

This followed a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in May this year, who together with a delegation of key German business leaders and officials was briefed on the status of Masdar's numerous projects.

The officials represented several German firms including E.ON, BASF, Bayer, Deutsche Bank, MANSchüco, as well as research institutions such as RWTH Aachen and Fraunhofer. The company is also investing directly in Germany's Masdar PV, a solar thin-film module manufacturing facility in Ichtershausen, Thuringia.

However, the most ambitious project of all is Masdar City, where most of the attention lies. If it can successfully function as a carbon-neutral, self-sufficient city, who knows what Masdar and its growing army of global business partners can achieve next.

Masdar City is designed to be completely reliant on solar power and other renewable energy sources.
Masdar City is a clean technology cluster currently being built on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi.
An aerial view of the Shams 1 solar plant.