Masdar News

Masdar City - A template for sustainable urban development

18 Jun 2019

Our cities currently house over 54 per cent of the world’s population – a number that is expected to increase to nearly 60 per cent by 2030. 

The development of Masdar City as a low-carbon solution to urban living reflects the significant investment the UAE is making in sustainable development, and its clear understanding of the valuable role cities play in driving global sustainability. By applying real-world solutions in energy and water efficiency, mobility and waste management, Masdar City offers practical solutions not blue-sky thinking. 

A key requirement for achieving SDG11 is for cities to reduce their energy costs and emissions through more efficient buildings, and energy and water networks. Buildings are hungry consumers of energy and resources. In the Middle East, they account for up to 80 per cent of the total electricity generated. And according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), building-related power demand is expected to jump 70 per cent worldwide by 2050, underscoring the pressing need to improve building performance and efficiency. 

Masdar City adopts commercially viable solutions and environmental technologies aimed at reducing energy and water demand significantly. It contains one of the largest clusters of low-carbon buildings in the world.

The entire development, including its roads, utilities and public spaces, is being developed in accordance with “Estidama”, Abu Dhabi’s urban sustainability framework. A 10-megawatt (MW) solar array and rooftop panels with a combined capacity of 1MW provide clean power to the city. The plant produces 17,500MWh of electricity and displaces 7,350 tonnes of carbon emissions per year, while buildings within Masdar City are designed to reduce energy and water consumption by at least 40 per cent in accordance with Estidama guidelines. 

The urban space is optimized from a passive environmental design perspective. For example, buildings are shaped to enhance air flow and to provide shading to improve outdoor comfort. 

The Siemens Middle East Headquarters in Masdar City substituted external cladding systems for a cheaper alternative with a lower embodied carbon footprint. As a result, the building achieved energy savings of more than 46 per cent, water savings of 54 per cent, and it was the first LEED Platinum-certified building in Abu Dhabi.

The IRENA headquarters is another example of the city’s cutting-edge low-carbon, high-performance buildings. Its passive design and smart energy management systems reduce the building’s energy demands by 42 per cent, compared with global industry baselines. The IRENA headquarters building is the first in the UAE to achieve a four-pearl Estidama construction rating.

The Siemens and IRENA buildings are a testament to Masdar City’s leadership in sustainable technologies and environmental efficiency. Each new building in the city attempts to push the envelope further.  

In 2017, Masdar launched the Eco-Villa, a pilot project conceived as a template for affordable and highly energy- and water-efficient residential villas in the UAE. The first villa in the UAE to achieve a four-pearl rating under Estidama, the Eco-Villa uses around 72 per cent less power and 35 per cent less water than a typical villa in Abu Dhabi, while displacing an estimated 63 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. Construction costs of the Eco-Villa are similar to that of a conventional home of the same size, which underscores a key issue of green development – affordability.

Nothing is truly sustainable unless it is commercially viable. The insight that prosperity and sustainability are not trade-offs, but drivers of mutual progress, forms the foundation of Masdar City. The city has emerged as a thriving community made up of a clean-tech cluster, one of Abu Dhabi’s fastest-growing business free zones, a world-class research institute, and a residential neighbourhood with safe public spaces, including the 2,500 square-metre Masdar Park. 

Today more than 600 companies from six continents operate at Masdar City, from startups to small-to-medium enterprises to multinationals, all of which benefit from the city’s full range of business support services, access to education and R&D, and human capital. The city is also home to 1,300 residents and has a working population of 4,000. By continuing to add new businesses, schools, restaurants, apartments, Masdar City is creating the diverse mixed-use community characteristic of major, modern cities around the world, while demonstrating that ecological integrity, social well-being and economic growth can be aligned.

Affordable and efficient transport systems are an essential component of urban life, and a key pillar of SDG 11. Masdar City recognised early on the need for an integrated mobility plan that would prioritise low-carbon public transportation, walking, and cycling. Its transportation strategy puts pedestrians first, followed by sustainable public transportation using point-to-point services, and then personal vehicles.

A variety of low-carbon options exist for residents and visitors to move around the city. These include the city’s iconic Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system of driverless, electric-powered vehicles (developed by 2getthere and operated at Masdar City since 2010), a number of electric buses, electric scooters for ridesharing, numerous cycling routes and, of course, excellent walking paths. 

The latest addition to the city’s mobility network is a 10-passenger autonomous vehicle designed by French autonomous vehicle pioneer NAVYA, the AUTONOM. Masdar City marks the first operational use of the innovative technology in the Middle East and North Africa. Seven more shuttles are expected to come on-stream this year, providing an expanded network of emissions-free transport to visitors, workers and residents around Masdar City.

New sustainable transport systems are also available to help get people to Masdar City from surrounding neighbourhoods, including Masdar’s own Eco-Bus prototype, an electric bus designed and built locally to withstand the heat and humidity of the UAE climate, in partnership with Abu Dhabi-based bus manufacturer Hafilat Industry LLC , and leading technology company Siemens. 

Since January 2019, the Eco-bus has been integrated into the Abu Dhabi Department of Transportation’s existing public bus fleet. It seats 30 passengers and has a range of 150 kilometres per battery charge. Solar panels are also used to power the vehicle’s auxiliary systems. 

The introduction of the PRT system – which was the world’s first permanent autonomous passenger vehicle network when implemented nine years ago – the NAVYA autonomous shuttles, and the Eco-bus reflect Masdar’s commitment to commercialize advanced clean technologies. 

Masdar City is evidence that with the right mindset and commitment, realizing sustainable urban development is possible even in the harshest climates. 


Yousef Baselaib Executive Director of Sustainable Real Estate, Masdar