Energy Efficiency Hides In Plain Sight

Energy Efficiency Hides In Plain Sight

- in Efficiency, Energy

While much of the energy efficiency spotlight has been shining on next-generation materials, smart meters, and high tech building design, Masdar City is taking a different tack. Located in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the planned community is in the early stages of development with an eye towards tapping the energy efficient know-how accumulated by ancient city dwellers.

The basic Masdar City strategy is to set goals, not to dictate architectural elements. The resulting mashup of styles contributes to an overall impression of spontaneity more typical of an uplanned community, and some friendly cats also contribute to the human touch at work.

Energy Efficiency And Renewable Energy

Masdar City is still in its early stages, and with the first of its eight neighborhoods in development you can already feel the energy efficiency strategy at work — literally, feel —  asCleanTechnica learned during a quick tour of the city during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week(our visit was hosted by Masdar, the state-supported corporation tasked with diversifying the Emirate’s economy into renewable energy and clean tech).

Masdar City is billed as the “world’s most sustainable eco-city,” which necessarily means that it will be powered by renewable energy. That complicates things a bit if by “most sustainable” you mean off-grid.

While wind and solar are infinite resources, land for solar arrays and wind turbines is not. Land use is a particularly important issue for a planned city like Masdar, in which opportunities for foot travel, public recreation and other social uses would be limited by large on-site renewable energy facilities.

Masdar City does have a good sized 10-megawatt ground mounted solar field, but that could end up being the only large scale, standalone renewable energy facility within its borders. The city is already grid-connected and it appears that planners are looking to leverage grid-supplied renewable energy as the city builds out, supplemented by rooftop solar, while leveraging its research and demo projects (including solar-enabled desert agriculture) to promote Masdar’s (the company’s) global solar business.

However, the opportunity to draw from the grid doesn’t mean that Masdar City can go wild on energy consumption. The city is designed as a “greenprint” or model for future growth in Abu Dhabi. That growth will necessarily mean an increase in water consumption, and that’s going to mean more desalination, which requires lots of energy. In terms of big-picture energy planning, Masdar City’s future residential, commercial, and institutional buildings are low-hanging fruit.

Energy Efficiency And Air Conditioning

Air conditioning already accounts for about 70 percent of residential electricity use in Abu Dhabi, and that’s the key factor addressed by Masdar City’s architecture. The buildings are designed and positioned to use natural forces — wind and shade — to cool outdoor spaces and draw people outdoors, even in hot weather, just as ancient city dwellers did.

One key strategy is to space some of the buildings closely, forming wind tunnels. Walking into Masdar City from the still air outside, you immediately feel a strong breeze. The cooling effect is amplified by shade from the buildings, supplemented by the overhanging rooftop solar panels:

Masdar City energy efficiency 2


For fans of high density urban spaces, the narrow corridors between the buildings contribute to a cozy, familiar feeling. If you’re not such a fan, not to worry. Building height is limited to three levels (or four levels with lower ceilings), and kid-friendly public plazas are strategically positioned to create an overall impression of airiness:

Masdar City energy efficiency 1

The terra cotta buildings overlooking this plaza are residential, with heavily shaded terraces that encourage use of outdoor space at home.

Masdar City also deploys wind power to counteract the effect of sunlight on the open plazas. One approach gleaned from ancient engineers is a tower that captures wind from above and funnels it down, cooling it with water:

Masdar City energy efficiency 3

Another strategy leverages building design. In the example below, a large public space is shaded by a soaring, bowl-shaped entryway, strategically positioned opposite a narrow passage between two buildings. The bowl catches the breeze from the wind tunnel and circulates it around the space. The slotted roof enables sunlight to filter through narrow openings to achieve a more open effect without enabling too much heat to come through.

Masdar City energy efficiency 5

The terrace at the lower part of the photo serves as a fire escape — not the most attractive solution, but the exterior location saves energy and also enables the building to make more active use of its interior footprint.

Exterior fire escapes can also serve as anchors for shading to help keep buildings cool. The flap-like screens on this building overhang exterior walkways leading to stairs:

Masdar City energy efficiency 4

This is the Siemens headquarters for Middle East operations, by the way. When it opened in January 2014, it was the first LEED Platinum building in Abu Dhabi. The “box-within-a-box” design contributes to an energy savings of about 63 percent compared to conventional office buildings in Abu Dhabi. Siemens also claims a 52 percent water savings for the building.

That’s not all due to the influence of ancient city dwellers, of course. Masdar (the company) has just posted its 2015 sustainability report so we’ll bring you some details about that as it relates to Masdar City in the next post.

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All photos by Tina Casey.

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