Abu Dhabi Do

by Richard T. Stuebi

In the middle of the Middle East, built upon riches generated from the region’s vast oil supplies, the city-state of Abu Dhabi is turning to the future.

Abu Dhabi sees that petroleum is a finite game, and that its future success (and the planet’s) depends upon moving onto the next game.

So, in the middle of the desert, Abu Dhabi is building a new city called Masdar. As discussed in an article in the December 6 issue of the Economist, the Masdar Initiative was launched in 2006 to pursue “solutions to some of mankind’s most pressing issues: energy security, climate change and truly sustainable human development.”

The goal of Masdar is to become an innovation center and applied test-bed for environmentally-friendly technologies, with a goal of housing 50,000 people and 1500 businesses at a zero carbon footprint. Abu Dhabi is pulling out all the stops, with a $15 billion commitment to bringing Masdar to fruition.

Clearly, Abu Dhabi is intent on getting good visibility with Masdar. The city is also profiled in an article in the November 24 issue of Forbes (a good issue, incidentally, entitled “Energy + Genius”, focused solely on energy topics), and an article in the September/October Technology Review shows how Masdar is collaborating closely with MIT to create the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (MIST). Later this month, Abu Dhabi will be hosting the World Future Energy Summit, including a long-list of high-profile speakers.

It seems to me like something of a PR blitz, so one must be at least a little skeptical if Masdar is more hype than reality. However, if Abu Dhabi is able to achieve even a quarter of what they aspire to with Masdar, then it will definitely be a significant step forward for cleantech.

More broadly, if a desert-based city can become close-to-sustainable, then civilization in more temperate climes has a good long-term future.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc. Later in 2009, he will also become a Managing Director of Early Stage Partners.

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