When they tell the story of our transition to a smart, green urban future, how will they portray fossil fuels? The evil addiction that we couldn’t shake, or the fuel that funded our advancement into a greener more efficient energy future.
A quick look around the oil rich Arabian Gulf might have you thinking the latter, as groundbreaking smart city projects continue to mature in the region.
The concept is simple, “we are in the energy business, and this is the future of energy”. It is a feeling felt across many of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) member nations, some of the leading fossil fuel producers in the world. Admittedly increasing energy efficiency and diversification would also ensure valuable fossil fuels are saved for export, and a positive environmental image does no harm for a 21st century nation, not discounting sincere environmental responsibility.
Regardless of the motivation, such a bold and ambitious approach sets Arabia as a global leader in renewable energy and smart building technology. Below we review 3 GCC nations and their leading greenfield smart city projects, which are confirming their place on the future energy map.
The United Arab Emirates – “The Pioneer”
The UAE can be accurately portrayed as the pioneer of the region. Futuristic Dubai epitomises modern urban planning and building, home to the world’s tallest building and the “smart” Dubai Silicon Oasis suburb. Dubai’s diversification away from fossil fuels, which now comprise less than 6% of GDP, has seen it become a global logistics hub, financial centre and tourist destination.
The UAE is dominated by the oil-rich Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi’s pioneering spirit sees it home to the Middle East’s first nuclear power program, set for completion in 2017 and perhaps the world’s most iconic smart city.
Lying 17km south-east of Abu Dhabi, is Masdar City. The aim of Mubadala, the government owned developers of the $22 billion project, was to create the world's first zero-carbon, zero-waste city, with the emphasis on energy efficiency. The 36 sq km city, designed by British architects Foster 8c Partners, incorporated renewable energy and clean technologies as part of its design.
Unsurprisingly, there is a strong emphasis on natural cooling, with streets aligned to provide daytime shading, parks located to channel prevailing winds into the city, and traditional Arabic building principles such as wind towers. Exterior materials and windows were chosen to provide maximum cooling and reduce heat gain in buildings. Masdar City also treats wastewater for landscaping, to reduce the need for desalination, and uses 54% less water than the average UAE city.
Its 10MW solar-power plant, the largest grid-connected plant of its kind in the Middle East, is designed to produce more electricity overall than the city consumes, with excess transferred to the national grid (You can read more on our Smart Grid Research here - http://memoori.com/portfolio/the-smart-grid-business-2012-to-2017/). Every electrical outlet in the city is monitored, and smart meters collect and continuously analyse data about power usage to provide an accurate "live" model of energy use. Driverless electric pod cars have even replaced conventional vehicles.
Construction began on Masdar City in 2008 and the first six buildings of the city were completed and occupied in October 2010. When it is completed in 2025 the city is expected to accommodate 40,000 residents and 50,000 daily commuters.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – “The Giant”
Saudi Arabia is the region’s powerhouse, with the largest population, landmass and fossil fuel reserves. While Saudi may not move quite as quickly as it’s brothers in the UAE, but once it does set in motion, Saudi is on another scale.
The $86 billion King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) development, is one of six special economic zone cities in Saudi Arabia. The project is being built by the international arm of Dubai-based Emaar, partnered with the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority as the prime investor. Phase one, completed in the autumn of 2013, has produced one of the world’s most modern shipping ports.
Implementing “smart” transportation systems and solutions is the initial focus for KAEC’s Smart City strategy. Pilot tests of shipping container sensors are underway as a method to gather a vast amount of data from numerous sources. From the shipping palettes and containers to the trucks and trains that distribute the shipped goods, sensors are assisting KAEC with cost savings related to security, safety, quality assurance and efficiencies of knowing where assets are at all times.
This Smart City implementation with a focus on transportation also has the potential for use throughout KAEC, employing sensors to assist in data gathering that can be used and reused to assist with traffic management, public transportation schedules, congestion pricing, and driverless car systems through the implementation of smartphone apps.
KAEC has delivered approximately 15% of its development thus far, including a working port, smart residences and community support projects like schools, hospitals, markets, commercial buildings and life safety. When fully developed, KAEC will have a projected population of 2 million people, encompassing 66 square miles.
The State of Qatar – “The Perfectionist”
Qatar with a population of just over two million encompasses a peninsula extending into the Persian Gulf Sea, and sits on one of the world’s largest gas reserves. Qatar dreams big and insists on the highest quality, as reinforced by its global media and news agency Al Jazeera, and its hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Those characteristics have transferred to the state’s smart city, Lusail, and other urban development projects.
Lusail, is intended to be Qatar's biggest green-field project once it is completed over the next 15 years. Extending across 38 sq km, the new city includes four islands and 19 smart multipurpose residential, mixed use, entertainment and commercial districts. As well as 200,000 permanent residents, it will have 170,000 employees and 80,000 daily commuters. The promoters of the project describe Lusail as the "conscience of sustainable development".
It is hard to lay environmental blame on any nation for exploiting its fossil fuel reserves, but credit must be given to those who take risks to advance our society toward a greener, cleaner and smarter urban future. Whether it is Masdar for smart business and technology, KAEC for smart industry and logistics, or Lusail for smart living and entertainment, the Middle East is making its mark on the smart building industry.