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This, as least, is the theory. One of the main purposes of the city is to find out what works and what doesn’t. This experiment will continue even after the city is completed in eight years; “innovation hubs” throughout the city will test new technologies, including some developed at the new Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. The school is being developed in partnership with MIT, which is selecting faculty and designing curricula.

Of the $22 billion in expected costs, the Abu Dhabi government will provide about $4 billion for infrastructure. The rest of the money will come from outside investors. Masdar’s leaders hope that the city’s environmental credentials and low energy costs–along with tax breaks–will lure buyers to the property. “We want it to be profitable, not a sunk cost,” says Khaled Awad, who is directing the development of the city. “If it is not profitable as a real-estate development, it’s not sustainable. Then it will never be replicable anywhere else.”

In some ways, however, it won’t be replicable. Al Jaber notes that the project could not have been done anywhere else–“It’s a huge risk.” The enormous wealth in Abu Dhabi, which Fortune ranked the world’s richest city last year, makes a zero-emissions city a tenable proposition. What’s more, the design is specific to Abu Dhabi, accounting for, for example, the position of the sun throughout the year (which is dependent on the city’s latitude), the high temperatures (which are bad for most solar cells), and the nature of the wind (the city will use wind turbines much smaller than conventional ones because of low wind speeds). As a result, future developments outside the region will have to be redesigned. “Everywhere we go, we will have to custom-tailor our model for the specific environment,” al Jaber says.

Nevertheless, Paul Dickerson, the chief operating officer for the United States’ Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, believes that Masdar will prove a valuable model. “We will no longer have to guess what the city of the future looks like,” he says. “In Abu Dhabi, we will be able to see it with our own eyes.”

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Credit: Foster + Partners and the Masdar Initiative

Tagged: Energy, renewable energy, solar, batteries, electric cars, oil, wind turbines, Abu Dhabi

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