Our buildings are designed to consume at least 40% less water and energy than conventional buildings.


Masdar: a model for future cities

October 20, 2023

Ahmed Baghoum, CEO of Masdar City, talks to The Energy Year about how the city serves as a model for future cities worldwide and how it is fostering innovation in sustainability. Masdar City is a sustainable urban community and business hub in Abu Dhabi.

What makes Masdar City a “greenprint” for smart and sustainable cities worldwide?
Masdar City is a sustainability pioneer and an R&D hub, driving innovation to realise greener and more sustainable urban living. Our journey started in 2008, and we have since become one of the most sustainable cities in the world and a “greenprint” for future cities to follow.
Several things make Masdar City unique in my opinion, including the strategic location between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and the fact that it is a free zone, which offers companies numerous incentives to set up here. Masdar City is also home to one of the largest clusters of LEED Platinum buildings in the world, a rapidly growing clean-tech cluster, and a sustainable residential community.
Our buildings are developed to the highest sustainability standards, using both the LEED green building rating system and the UAE’s LEED equivalent, the Estidama Pearl Rating System. They are designed to consume at least 40% less water and energy than conventional buildings.
They are also constructed with low-carbon cement and recycled aluminium and positioned to reduce the need for cooling: Windows are oriented to minimise direct sun, building envelopes are airtight, and the streets are narrow, shaded, and oriented to funnel desert winds through the city. These features as well as an iconic wind tower help make Masdar City’s core, called the podium, feel about 10 degrees cooler than Abu Dhabi.
Masdar has also become the ultimate hub for innovative and sustainable businesses. We’re currently home to over 1,000 companies, including SMEs and multi-nationals such as Siemens Energy and IRENA. We focus on critical business verticals such as energy, AI, healthcare, and space, which are elemental to supporting the UAE’s growth. University partners such as the Mohammed Bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence, based at Masdar City, are also vital to what we do: Education drives both innovation and development throughout the UAE.

Tell us about The Link project and how it aligns with Masdar City’s growth strategy.
Masdar City is growing faster now than at any time in its history. This year, we broke ground on The Link, which is a 30,000-square-metre development comprising sustainable offices, residences, a visitor centre, a multi-use hall and leisure amenities. One could say it will be a mini city within Masdar City.
It also includes a building called CO-LAB, which will be the region’s first net-zero energy shared working and living facility. We’re creating it for entrepreneurs, innovators and SME professionals who want the convenience and flexibility of living and working in the same building. It will use an energy-efficient structure and windows as well as sustainability features such as high-efficiency ventilation and cooling, energy monitoring, low-flow water fixtures, and Energy Star-rated appliances. It will also generate as much power as it uses annually via rooftop PV panels. We expect The Link to create more than 2,000 jobs in the UAE.
We are also growing the city by implementing better technologies to spur efficiency and construct more sustainable buildings to attract more tenants. Today, there are 4,000 people living in the city and 10,000 more working here. We want to double that number in the next five years.
Likewise, we are a strong supporter of the UAE’s Net Zero 2050 strategy, and we are working with government entities and local and international companies to advance decarbonisation, which is an even higher priority for us given this is both the Year of Sustainability and the year of COP28.
Overall, our strategy is to expand in response to market demand, foster sustainability through R&D, business, and innovation, and be a true reference point for sustainable architecture and development. We’re already considered industry leaders internationally – we’re invited to share our expertise at conferences worldwide, and we host hundreds of delegations every year who want to benefit from what we’ve learned over the last 15 years. We’re expecting an even bigger influx of visitors and other requests as we look to COP28. We’re very proud to be a proof point in the UAE’s sustainability legacy as the world gathers for the global stocktake.


How is Masdar City fostering pioneering pilot energy projects for the region?
We have created an ecosystem that nurtures R&D, innovation and sustainability – that is our raison d’être. In the past, we have invested in innovative projects such as the Seawater Agriculture and Energy System (SEAS), which was a pilot project that supported the emergence of a commercially viable aviation biofuel. The project recycles wastewater from an aquafarm to irrigate oil-rich and saltwater-tolerant salicornia plants.
We are important players spurring innovation as a means of fast-tracking the energy transition in the UAE. Green hydrogen is a space we are looking into carefully and we are now in discussion with several of our partners, including BP, ADNOC and Siemens Energy, on different ways to ignite the hydrogen scene in the region.
We are also very engaged in the development of solar technology. In 2010, we established a 10-MW solar PV plant that was the largest plant in the MENA region at the time and the first grid-connected renewable energy project in the UAE. The plant consists of 87,780 multi-crystalline and thin-film modules, producing around 17,500 MWh of clean electricity and offsetting 15,000 tonnes of carbon emissions annually. We also have a solar hub developed by Azelio. Managed by Khalifa University, it aims to develop concentrated solar power (CSP) and thermal energy storage (TES) solutions.

Through what means are you making Masdar City a smarter city?
Technology is key to making a city smart and sustainable. All buildings in Masdar City are intelligent because we have integrated the latest building management systems. Further, all buildings are in the process of being connected to our Command and Control Centre, which will monitor energy and water use as well as waste management in real-time. We are also looking to implement a smart city platform that combines physical infrastructure, open and shared data, and smart IoT applications to deliver unprecedented value. All this will be linked via 5G connection.
Although we measure the efficiency of each building on a standalone basis, centralising these systems will bring a further benefit where we not only measure the performance and behaviour of the buildings and their tenants, but we also start comparing and selecting the best systems and behaviours. By doing so we can eliminate some of our maintenance costs, as the system revolves around the principle of predictive maintenance. Technology will help ensure we’re ahead of the game and help avoid failures of pumps or HVAC units, etc.
On the transportation front, we’ve been pioneers in implementing PRT (personal rapid transit). We use the latest autonomous vehicles AVs in the city, which have carried more than 2.5 million passengers since they were implemented more than a decade ago. We are constantly upgrading our AV fleet. For instance, in 2018, we embarked on the next phase of our sustainable mobility network, with the adoption of NAVYA autonomous shuttles. These self-driving electric vehicles carry up to 12 people and have a top operational speed of 25 kilometres per hour. We are constantly seeking new technologies for driverless transportation and will be rolling out our third generation of autonomous vehicles later this year – we hope just in time to showcase during COP28.

How is Masdar City creating the right environment to incentivise SMEs and start-ups?
Masdar City is home to a rich business ecosystem that helps companies network and scale. We also offer support through the One-Stop Shop, which helps investors, local SMEs and international firms set up their offices quickly and cost effectively.
Together with BP, we have also created The Catalyst, which is the only venture investor in the UAE focused on clean tech. We support start-ups through capital and commercial space, and we are aiming to grow the impact and reach of The Catalyst in the coming years.
We are also aiming to grow the number of energy and non-energy clusters we have in the city. A clear example is the Space Economic Zone Program, which we launched in collaboration with the UAE Space Agency.
In the last 12 months, we have signed numerous MoUs geared toward enabling business, especially SMEs. In January 2023, we strengthened our ties with Hub71 to enhance Abu Dhabi’s global tech ecosystem to promote opportunities for clean tech and climate tech start-ups. Last year, we signed an agreement with Mashreq Bank to provide financial services to SMEs and startups based in the city. This agreement includes easy access to NeoBiz, the bank’s first digital banking platform designed specifically for start-ups and SMEs. On a similar note, we partnered with Wio Bank, which grants SMEs and start-ups based in the city access to the Wio Business app and innovative beyond-banking services. These agreements are crucial business enablers and incentivise entrepreneurship.

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