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Qatar trumps Abu Dhabi with world's biggest solar energy complex
Source: BI-ME , Author: BI-ME staff
Posted: Mon February 4, 2008 12:00 am

INTERNATIONAL. If there was a world championship for ‘the next builder of the world’s biggest solar complex’, the trophy would be changing hands every week. The current contender for the honour is Abu Dhabi, according to reports of the masterplan for Masdar Economic City.

The British architect firm Foster + Partners is designing the world’s first zero-carbon, zero-waste city in Abu Dhabi. Masdar City, which means 'the source', the 1,483-acre project will include commercial and manufacturing space dedicated to developing ecofriendly products, housing, a university, and the headquarters for Masdar, the future energy company of the UAE, which is spearheading the initiative.

Although the desert might seem an unlikely location for such a large sustainable undertaking, Masdar will tread lightly on the landscape by harnessing solar power and relying on construction features that resist high temperatures, including extra shading and slab cooling. Its design is rooted in the Arabic tradition of walled cities, but Masdar’s stone-and-mud walls will be covered in photovoltaic panels capable of generating 130 megawatts.

Along the site’s Northern edge, the walls will be more permeable to let in breezes. Electricity will also come from photovoltaic cells integrated into rooftops and a 20-megawatt wind farm. The city will get its water from a solar-powered desalination plant.

Since Masdar will be car-free, shaded paths will make walking more bearable in the region’s extreme climate. Land surrounding the city, which is 20 miles outside the centre of Abu Dhabi, will contain wind and photovoltaic farms, as well as research fields and plantations that will supply crops for the city’s biofuel factories. These fields will also help reduce waste by acting as carbon sinks to offset gases produced in the factories, and they will be irrigated with grey water drawn from the city’s water treatment plant.

Masdar will be developed in phases centred on two plazas. The first stage includes construction of a 60-megawatt photovoltaic power plant that will supply electricity for constructing the rest of the city. This will be followed by a 130-acre main square. Foster finished the initial phase of master planning this spring. The project’s engineers include ETA, which is overseeing the renewable-energy components; Transsolar; WSP Energy; and Flack + Kurtz. Designers estimate that it will take ten years to build out the entire city, with structures ultimately occupying nearly half of the site.

When complete, Masdar will be home to 45,000 people and attract an additional 60,500 daily commuters, who will arrive in part via a new rail line.

“The biggest issue of all is to make sure that the city is balanced and will create as much energy as it uses throughout the time it is being built,” says Gerard Evanden, senior partner in charge of the project at Foster + Partners. “The scale of the project will have the density of Venice, so it will grow gradually. Hopefully the knowledge and the technology of efficient materials will grow too.”

Some of that future knowledge will be homegrown. Masdar’s university is set to open by 2009, with 30% of the student population housed on site. Its students will be encouraged to participate in the development of the city while working on graduate degrees in sustainability.

In Egypt, the New and Renewable Energy Authority (NREA), a subsidiary of the Ministry of Electricity, has put into construction the first Integrated Solar Combined Cycle Power Plant (ISCC) in Egypt. This will generate 62 megawatts of energy.

Now Qatar expects to add 16,260 megawatts of power to the national grid between 2011 to 2036, almost four times current capacity of 4,200 megawatts, Reuters reported, citing Salah Hamza, senior business development planner at Qatar General Electricity & Water Corp (Kahramaa).

The solar complex would have capacity of 3,500 megawatts by 2013, Hamza said.

"You can have up to 500 MW in one place," he said. "Then you will need about seven sites because the total capacity needed at that time is 3,500 MW," he said adding that solar capacity could increase to 4,500 megawatts by 2036.

Hamza said the solar complex was part of a wider plan for Qatar that could include construction of a nuclear power plant.

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