DUBAI: Plans for an ambitious clean-energy city being built in the desert outside Abu Dhabi are being scaled back as part of a wide-ranging review of the $22 billion project, the government announced Sunday.
The state company behind Masdar City said the project won’t be completed until at least 2020 — four years after the original deadline — and that work could stretch until 2025.
The project was announced four years ago as a marked environment contrast to the other cities of the Emirates. Ground was broken in 2008.
The United Arab Emirates has the world’s largest ecological footprint per capita, according to the World Wildlife Fund. That means each of its residents uses up more of the world’s resources on average than those living in any other nation.
Perhaps even more surprisingly, the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Co. — known as Masdar or "source" — backed away from the original plans to power the city solely on renewable power produced on site to make the city 100 percent carbon neutral.
Masdar said it is exploring a range of clean-energy sources for the city, including geothermal energy and solar thermal cooling, but that it will also consider buying renewable power from other locations.
Vast solar arrays were originally slated to provide the bulk of Masdar City’s power.
Officials characterized the changes as part of an ongoing learning process in implementing new research and technologies as they become available.
The changes mark the biggest shift in Masdar’s strategy since the project was announced in 2006.
"As the construction phase progresses, we will be continually learning, adjusting and moving forward toward our vision for Masdar City. As technology and the market evolves so will our plan," Masdar CEO Sultan Al Jaber said in announcing the new plans. "The key is to be flexible and adaptable rather than rigid and dogmatic."
Also being scaled back are highly publicized plans for a network of personal podcars that would shuttle tens of thousands of Masdar City residents and visitors around the six square kilometer (2.3 square mile) development.
The "personal rapid transit" podcars, which would travel on fixed tracks, were meant to replace personal vehicles in a city that promised to be entirely car-free.
Masdar now says the podcar system will be limited to an "ongoing pilot project," and that other types of electric vehicles may be allowed in the future.
Some limited parts of Masdar City are already up and running.
Students and faculty began moving into six buildings housing a research facility known as Masdar Institute last month. While Masdar does not claim those buildings are carbon neutral, it says they use about half the water and electricity than other buildings in the Emirates thanks to rooftop solar panels and hot water heaters.
Al-Jaber told reporters in June that the overall aims of the project were not being scaled back amid reports that the company had shed jobs and was looking to cut costs.
Masdar City is at the heart of efforts by Abu Dhabi, one of the world’s biggest exporters of oil, to position itself as a world leader in renewable energy. The emirate is investing heavily in solar and nuclear power, and was picked last year as the home of the International Renewable Energy Agency.