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NYT update on building at Masdar, Abu Dhabi

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  • Christopher Miller
    Frm the New York Times on line:
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 14, 2009
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      Gulf Oil States Seeking a Lead in Clean Energy

      Daryl Visscher for The New York Times
      Recycled rebar is being used for a concrete foundation at Masdar, a
      model city being built in Abu Dhabi that is designed to generate no
      carbon emissions.
      COMMENTS (27)

      Published: January 12, 2009
      ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates � With one of the highest per capita
      carbon footprints in the world, these oil-rich emirates would seem an
      unlikely place for a green revolution.

      Enlarge This Image

      Daryl Visscher for The New York Times
      Different types of solar panels are being tested at Masdar. The city,
      designed by Norman Foster, will include a research park.
      Readers' Comments
      Readers shared their thoughts on this article.
      Read All Comments (27) �
      Gasoline sells for 45 cents a gallon. There is little public
      transportation and no recycling. Residents drive between air-
      conditioned apartments and air-conditioned malls, which are lighted

      Still, the region�s leaders know energy and money, having built their
      wealth on oil. They understand that oil is a finite resource,
      vulnerable to competition from new energy sources.

      So even as President-elect Barack Obama talks about promoting green
      jobs as America�s route out of recession, gulf states, including the
      emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are making a concerted push to
      become the Silicon Valley of alternative energy.

      They are aggressively pouring billions of dollars made in the oil
      fields into new green technologies. They are establishing billion-
      dollar clean-technology investment funds. And they are putting
      millions of dollars behind research projects at universities from
      California to Boston to London, and setting up green research parks at

      �Abu Dhabi is an oil-exporting country, and we want to become an
      energy-exporting country, and to do that we need to excel at the newer
      forms of energy,� said Khaled Awad, a director of Masdar, a futuristic
      zero-carbon city and a research park that has an affiliation with the
      Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that is rising from the desert
      on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi.

      These are long-term investments in an alternative energy future that
      neither falling oil prices nor the global downturn seems likely to
      reverse. Even as the local real estate market is foundering, leaders
      in politics, business and research from across the globe will flock to
      this distant kingdom for three days starting Monday for the second
      World Future Energy Summit, which just one year after its inception
      here has become something of a Davos gathering on renewable energy.

      This year�s guest list includes a former British prime minister, Tony
      Blair, and the European Unionenergy commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, as
      well as the oil and gas ministers of Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab
      Emirates. In attendance will also be executives representing hundreds
      of companies, large and small, from BP and Credit Suisse to dozens of
      start-up companies from Europe and the United States.

      �Truth is that locally money is tight as everywhere, and the property
      market is certainly taking a correction downwards,� said Richard
      Hease, whose Dubai-based company, Turret Middle East, organized the
      conference. �But on the renewable energy front, it is business as

      This new investment aims to maintain the gulf�s dominant position as a
      global energy supplier, gaining patents from the new technologies and
      promoting green manufacturing. But if the United States and the
      European Union have set energy independence from the gulf states as a
      goal of new renewable energy efforts, they may find they are arriving
      late at the party.

      �The leadership in these breakthrough technologies is a title the U.S.
      can lose easily,� said Peter Barker-Homek, chief executive of Taqa,
      Abu Dhabi�s national energy company. �Here we have low taxes, a young
      population, accessibility to the world, abundant natural resources and
      willingness to invest in the seed capital.�

      The vision of a renewable future in the gulf is rooted not so much in
      a fuzzy green sentiment � though that is starting to take hold � as in
      analysis of the region�s economic future and the high-end lifestyles
      of its citizens.

      �You see what the gulf states have achieved in terms of modern
      infrastructure and beautiful architecture, but this has come at a very
      high environmental price,� said Mr. Awad of Masdar, standing in a
      field of 40 types of solar panels that the project�s engineers are
      testing, and using to power offices.

      �We know we can�t continue with this carbon footprint,� he said. �We
      have to change. This is why Abu Dhabi must develop new models � for
      the planet, of course, but also so as not to jeopardize Abu Dhabi.�

      The world is now consuming 80 million barrels of oil a day, and that
      could continue to rise steeply over the coming decades if population
      and consumption trends continue. That could mean having to add six
      Saudi Arabias worth of oil output just to keep up, according to Mr.
      Barker-Homek, at a time when scientists are warning that carbon levels
      need to be cut significantly to avoid potentially disastrous global

      To hedge their positions, then, an increasingly sophisticated
      generation of largely Western-educated leaders in the Middle East are
      seizing on green business opportunities, by seeding research in
      faraway nations.

      The crown prince of Abu Dhabi, the wealthiest of the seven emirates
      that make up the United Arab Emirates, announced last January that he
      would invest $15 billion in renewable energy. That is the same amount
      that President-elect Obama has proposed investing � in the entire
      United States � �to catalyze private sector efforts to build a clean
      energy future.�

      Masdar, the model city that will generate no carbon emissions, is tied
      to the crown prince�s ambitions. Designed by Norman Foster, the
      British architect, it will include a satellite campus of the
      Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as a research park with
      laboratories affiliated with Imperial College London and other

      In Saudi Arabia, the new state-owned King Abdullah University of
      Science and Technology, or Kaust, gave a Stanford scientist $25
      million last year to start a research center on how to make the cost
      of solar power competitive with that of coal. Kaust, now in its first
      grant cycle, also gave $8 million to a Berkeley researcher developing
      green concrete.

      And it has other agreements as well, with Caltech, Cambridge, Cornell,
      Imperial, La Sapienza, Oxford and Utrecht, to name just a few.

      In November, the Qatari government signed an agreement with Britain�s
      visiting prime minister, Gordon Brown, to invest �150 million, or more
      than $220 million, in a British low-carbon technology fund, dwarfing
      the fund�s investments from home.


      Christopher Miller
      Montreal QC Canada

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