Geothermal energy gains esteem in Masdar City

 By Sharon Fisher

The Middle East isn’t what you would typically think of as a haven of sustainable energy, particularly geothermal energy. But Masdar City isn’t typical…

Unlike most centuries-old Middle Eastern cities, Masdar City was planned just a few years ago. Located in the United Arab Emirates, near the capital of Abu Dhabi, Masdar City is a planned community intended, when it was designed in 2007, to demonstrate how a city – even one in a harsh desert environment – could be made zero-carbon, zero-waste. In some ways, it’s like the original concept of the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT), developed by Walt Disney.
The oil-rich Middle East may seem like an odd place for a sustainable city, but it’s exactly the region with the funding required to experiment. “The multi-faceted Masdar initiative looks and sounds like a lot of other renewable energy master plans”, wrote Edward Milford in Renewable Energy World in 2009, when Masdar City was just getting off the ground. “However, it does have that key ingredient, money – and plenty of it. As a result, it is able to move forward rapidly and purposefully across a whole range of projects”.

Concept art of the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) by Walt Disney (

An evolving vision

The design for Masdar City, measuring just 7 square kilometers, has been completed, though its timeline has been changed. Originally intended to be completed by 2015, practicalities led to amending the project’s target date. Now, about one-third is scheduled to be built by 2021, with completion by 2025. When finished, it is intended to house 40,000 people and employ an additional 50,000 commuters, Milford writes.
Planners have eliminated some original features to reduce a planned cost of $22 billion. A 2010 review of the project led planners to reassess its original vision, leading them to abandon a pod transit system, remove a raised podium design for the buildings that would have held utility conduits, and scrapping plans to install solar panels on all roofs, cutting costs by $2.5 billion. Prior to these changes, the original budget had already been reduced by spreading construction over a longer period of time and progressing incrementally by neighborhood, giving builders the advantage of making adjustments in construction as the project moves forward.
All of Masdar City’s buildings, none more than five stories high, are nine meters apart, acting as shade for people walking on the streets below. “The entire city is oriented north-east to south-west, to benefit from cool winds at night and to minimize the incoming heat during the day,” writes Susan Lee for CNN. “The main buildings – the Siemens Building, the IRENA Building and the Incubator Building – are highly insulated and energy efficient, with three-quarters of their hot water produced using solar energy. They also have angled facades to minimize the amount of glare and heat from the sun”.

Sheppard Robson's Siemens HQ in Masdar City (Paul McMullin/Nicole Luettecke,

A useful geothermal source

Without flowing lava, Dubai would seem an unlikely place to expect the advancement of geothermal power. But in partnership with Reykjavik Geothermal, the country drilled holes 2.5 deep to reach geothermal water below the surface. The temperature of the water that could be accessed easily was only about 95 C – not even boiling temperature. It is, however hot enough to power some of the city’s essential needs, most notably its cooling system. According to The Future Build, the available water will be able to generate up to 5 megawatts of power, using absorption chillers continuously supplied with geothermal heat. A second well re-injects the water after its heat is removed, adding to its efficiency.
Geothermal energy isn’t the only source of sustainable power in Masdar City. The majority of its power will be solar, as well as some biomass, according to Milford.
Of course, few cities are built literally from the ground up, like Masdar City. “While Masdar City started with an empty site, established cities have to work around existing infrastructure,” Lee writes. “Even so, as the global climate changes, warmer summers are expected to become more likely, so any case studies which show how buildings can be modified to mitigate the heat will be useful”.

READ MORE: Geothermal energy gains esteem in Perth by Sharon Fisher

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Sharon Fisher