“The Source” to the future
Imagine a city waste-free, carbon-free and even car-free; a workplace without taxes or import tariffs and no restrictions on foreign ownership; a home surrounded by high-tech industries and research institutions. It seems anything is possible in Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City – meaning “the source” in Arabic.
As the source of energy, knowledge, and innovation, Masdar will pioneer the low carbon culture while establishing Abu Dhabi, which holds approximately 10% of the world’s oil and gas reserves, as the up and coming global capital of renewable energy.
The $22 billion Masdar project, funded by the Abu Dhabi Government, will seemingly revolutionize the renewable energy landscape. Since the city will be largely powered by solar and wind energy, Masdar will host a 40 to 60 megawatt solar plant, wind farms, photovoltaic modules, as well as the world’s largest hydrogen power plant. London-based architects Foster + Partners are the master plan designers of the 6 sq. km city based on the strategic concept of the Swiss planning company Maxmakers Ltd. and in accordance with traditional Middle Eastern cities – both dense and low-rise.
The first sections of Masdar City and a joint-venture university with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will be completed this year. The project’s completion is anticipated for 2018.
Masdar’s Swiss Village
Since Switzerland is a major energy actor and innovator on the global front, it only seemed natural that the Swiss developed a presence in Masdar City – what is now known as the Swiss Village Association (SVA). Headed by Nick Beglinger, who is Co-Founder and CEO of the Foundation for Global Sustainability, SVA has partnered with Masdar to create a Swiss Village in the centre of the city, which makes Switzerland the only country to date to sign a strategic partnership agreement with Masdar.
As a product of the Swiss Embassy to Abu Dhabi and the Swiss Sustainability Initiative, the well-balanced village will provide research labs and offices, restaurants and shops, residential apartments, business centre and a private school as well as the Swiss Embassy.
Ranking first in Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index, Switzerland is strongly positioned to become a global Cleantech leader; recent political efforts, such as Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard’s “Cleantech Master-plan” unveiled at the Innovation Forum in Basel, demonstrate its great initiative taken in the arena of climate reform.
In addition, a new Swiss industry association is emerging to represent the interest of sustainable business in politics and to actively promote Switzerland as a Cleantech leader both here and abroad. The new association – swisscleantech – is already making noise and gaining support among companies such as ABB Sécheron, Helbling, and Tritec. Members of its patronage committee include President of École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) Patrick Aebischer and Bertrand Piccard, who will speak at the swisscleantech launch event in Bern on 7 December – also the first day of the Copenhagen Climate Conference.
Switzerland’s – and particularly Geneva’s – involvement in Masdar City also surfaced in a 3-day delegation put together by OPI, the Office for the Promotion of Industries and Technologies, in an effort to extend Swiss avenues to foreign markets. The delegation was comprised of approximately 70 top Swiss business and political leaders being sent to Abu Dhabi, including State Councillor of the Department of Economy and Health Pierre-François Unger; this involvement allows leaders of the greater Lake Geneva region to make their mark in the Cleantech domain.
Swiss Ambassador to the UAE, His Excellency Wolfgang Amadeus Bruelhart, who was responsible for the Official Delegation and media of the event, arranged a line-up of knowledgeable and well-articulated speakers and presenters, including: Minister of Economy of the United Arab Emirates Dubai His Excellency Sultan Al Mansouri, Minister of Foreign Trade Her Highness Sheikha Lubna Al Qassimi, Minister of Health His Excellence Dr Haneef Hassan Al Qassimi, Minister of Higher Education His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, and Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qassimi.
Not only did members of the delegation have the unique privilege to meet the leaders involved in the construction of Masdar and the development of Abu Dhabi but also to see the first-hand the progress that has been made. Just a mile from the energy-sustainable Abu Dhabi, members of the delegation had the unique opportunity to visit the Yas Marina Circuit which hosts a Formula 1 race track and a state-of-art Ferrari Theme Park, as well as various marinas, amusement and water parks. The Circuit – to be completed by 2014 – will hold the last Formula One Grand Prix, one of the world’s most prestigious sporting events, of the season in November.
Chairman John Béguin of Swiss Style, and a member of the delegation, presented the “Swiss Style Global Innovation Award” to Dr Sultan Al Jaber, the CEO of Masdar City, who has helped make the Masdar vision a reality; the issues of energy security, climate change and the development of human expertise in sustainability are now being addressed in full force. In presenting the award, Béguin underlined the importance of Swiss companies by taking the examples of Swiss pioneers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries Hans Caspar Escher and Salomon von Wyss of Escher-Wyss and César Ritz of Ritz Hotels – even when thought improbable or impossible, the men knew how to take risks and overcome expectations.
The Swiss participation at Masdar is therefore a unique opportunity for Swiss entrepreneurs to reignite this tradition and re-establish ground-breaking projects.
Take on business
Not only will the village act as home to a number of the city’s projected 50,000 residents but also to Swiss companies looking for business and residential advantages, including the free zone, the incomparable location and the access to sustainable growth. Major sponsors OSEC are collaborating with the swisscleantech Association to align efforts in and outside of Switzerland. As the world’s first and most serious eco-city project, according to the Financial Times, Masdar offers the ideal setting to form a Swiss Cleantech hub, seeing as Swiss firms can also generate exports.
SVA encourages companies of Swiss origin involved or interested in Cleantech to apply to become a member of the SVA, choose the Swiss Village and their office, production or research location in the Gulf, and to sell their products or services to Masdar. Thus far, the interest has been very strong – over 100 Swiss companies have already joined the SVA.
Last June, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) concluded an agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to address competition and government procurement, as well as establish Swiss trade in goods and services with the Emirates, among other Gulf regions. The agreement allows Swiss companies immense market and development opportunities in a financially-booming location. Taking advantage of this agreement, BioApply, which is a member of the SVA, has already jump-started its eco-innovative process. The Geneva-based company provides biodegradable plastic packaging and products and, under the direction of CEO Frederic Mauch, will supply these eco-friendly bags at the Dubai Motor Show and Big 5 BioApply. Because BioApply encourages everyone to become an eco-citizen, its message and mission fits well within the framework of Abu Dhabi – as can most other clean-tech companies.
Geneva-based Sensometrix SA, a limited liability security company, will also continue to work with the Swiss Village at Masdar in order to further develop technology and sell it in the Gulf region. As leader of the next generation of biometrics, the company will revolutionize the authentication domain, particularly identity access management and provide future innovative solutions to more conveniently get hold of this information. The mission of Sensometrix meets at the intersection between security and convenience. Its range of products – SensoBox, EnrolStation and SensoBrain – offers simplicity, reliability and high-performance whilst offering solutions for small to medium and large businesses.
Research and development
The Swiss presence in the Emirates will extend past the fields of business and technology to research and development. In fact, the University of Geneva is looking to collaborate with prestigious academic institutions in Abu Dhabi to allow the exchange of students and their research. Joining the Harvard and Sorbonne campuses, a Creativity Centre in Abu Dhabi will bind the academic and industrial worlds, as well as facilitate and stimulate the transfer of ideas between research fields and practical applications. With Abu Dhabi as its location, the students at the Centre will thrive in an atmosphere brewing with strong academic competences and high-technology products.
The potential collaboration between the University of Geneva and institutions in the UAE therefore holds a promising future, with even more promising results.
Small footprints, big future
Upon the threshold of a climate crisis, Abu Dhabi and Masdar City will function as major actors in the development of strategies for renewable energy. Although there is some criticism surrounding the idealistic nature of a no-waste, carbon-free city, Masdar is the first step in the right direction – no waste, carbon-free and entirely recyclable. The purpose of the project is to “combine the high quality of life and the low environmental footprint that Masdar City is advocating,” according to Masdar CEO Sultan Al Jaber.
Masdar is just one of Abu Dhabi’s efforts to combat the climate crisis. As home to the third World Future Energy Summit in January 2010, Abu Dhabi will continue to refine policy and target innovation regarding renewable energy in the future.
Article by Kesley Garvey