NYT update on building at Masdar, Abu Dhabi
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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
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By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL
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.
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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.
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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
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
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
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.
Montreal QC Canada
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