New net-zero buildings in Abu Dhabi to boost UAE's decarbonisation efforts

Projects at Masdar City feature smart technologies to reduce water consumption, energy use and waste

UAE's first net-zero buildings

UAE's first net-zero buildings
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Three buildings under construction in Abu Dhabi mark a major step towards achieving the UAE's goals to reduce energy use and emissions, officials have said.

The net-zero buildings at Masdar City, one of which is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year, have high-tech features, including air-tight building envelopes to ensure less air leaks in and out.

Architects also used window ratios, window shading and orientation to minimise direct sun and lower the amount of power needed for cooling.

The buildings will run on solar power.

Mohamed Al Breiki, executive director of sustainable real estate at Masdar City, told The National that the buildings align with the concept of reducing reliance on fossil fuels and instead using renewable energy sources.

A net-zero building only consumes the amount of energy it produces on-site, Mr Al Breiki added, "so it wouldn't necessarily be reliant on the national grid for any energy supply".

"That is achieved by integrating energy-efficient systems as well as utilising renewable energy sources like solar panels."

The projects aim to contribute to the UAE's Net Zero 2050 Strategic Initiative which was launched in 2021.

"They make a valuable contribution to the UAE's decarbonisation effort, and it comes at a vital time as we pave the way for the UAE hosting Cop28 later this year," Mr Al Breiki added.

Mohammed Al Breiki, executive director of sustainable real eEstate at Masdar City, says three net-zero energy projects are under construction, with more planned. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

In addition to the three net-zero energy projects under construction at Masdar, more are planned in the future, Mr Al Breiki said.

The first of the three buildings – NZ1, which will be an office space – is on track to receive the LEED Zero energy certification and will be ready by the end of this year.

The other two – Masdar City Square's HQ building and The Link's Co-Lab building – are also on track to receive the certification awarded by the International Living Future Institute.

The HQ building, which is made up of a cluster of seven LEED Platinum-rated commercial buildings to be completed by 2024, has a canopy of 1,033 solar panels that will provide shade and generate renewable energy.

The building is designed to reduce energy by 102 per cent compared to international baselines.

Its solar panels will produce 9 per cent more energy than it needs during the course of the year, and the excess will be fed back into the grid.

The Link's Co-Lab is a net-zero energy shared working and living space to be completed by 2025.

This, too, is designed to reduce energy by 117 per cent and is projected to produce 233,969 kilowatt hours of excess energy every year to be fed into the local grid.

Energy efficient design

Architects used a cutting-edge approach to the net-zero buildings.

Lutz Wilgen, acting head of design management at Masdar City, told The National that the buildings prioritise "passive design" strategies that work well with the local climate and supplement these with technology.

"It is a holistic approach. Fundamentally, we look at it in terms of what we can do passively and then supplement it with technology," he said.

Instead of relying heavily on glass, they have used more solid walls, he added.

Mr Wilgen said that while there was ample sunlight in the region, which is a source of energy, developers also have to grapple with extreme temperatures.

"Using glass isn't the best way to insulate a building against thermal conditions, there are more cost-effective ways to do this."

Mr Wilgen said air-tight building envelopes help to prevent cool air from leaking.

Architects have used window ratios to lower the amount of power needed for cooling for the new buildings at Masdar City. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

"Our philosophy is to minimise the need for energy first and foremost," he said.

At the construction phase, builders will also use low-carbon cement, recycled aluminium and steel, low-carbon insulation and finishing material to reduce the carbon footprint.

Mr Wilgen said the emphasis is also on sourcing materials from local vendors to reduce shipping-related emissions.

Green template for future cities

As the Middle East works towards reducing the impact of climate change, Mr Al Breiki said the focus for Masdar has been to advance smart solutions across the sustainability domain.

The organisation's projects provide a "template for urban living", he said.

"Masdar City is a key pillar to the UAE's response to climate change. The need for climate-resilient developments is what inspired the creation of Masdar City 15 years ago.

"Today, the lessons learnt here at Masdar City are being applied elsewhere within the UAE and across the world too."

Solar panels above the car park at a building under construction at Masdar City, Abu Dhabi. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

Mr Al Breiki added that they deliver eco-friendly projects that are environmentally responsible, socially inclusive and commercially viable.

"Our objective is to create that roadmap or a green print for the future cities and smart cities in the world."

The thriving sustainable city in the middle of the desert, the official said, is an example.

By using smart and energy efficient technologies, Masdar City has managed to reduce its water consumption and energy use by at least 40 per cent, he said.

"We utilise smart technologies throughout Masdar City. Our buildings use smart devices to monitor the energy use, water consumption, and waste management in real-time.

"Masdar City became the first urban community where the autonomous vehicles are being used to move passengers from one point to another, utilising eco-friendly electrical shuttle buses."

The city’s energy needs are met by the 10 megawatt PV farm that was established back in 2009 and is one of the biggest of its kind in the Middle East.

There are more than 10,000 people working and living in Masdar City, said Mr Al Breiki.

Once the first phase is complete, it will be home to 16,000 people.

Looking ahead, Masdar City remains committed to innovation which is the key in pushing the climate change agenda.

"We are leading the pathway to net zero by 2050 in the UAE. Today Masdar City is currently working on a strategic initiative with key partners on establishing a demonstrated plant for green hydrogen," Mr Al Breiki said.

"We are committed to creating a sustainable market for green hydrogen, such that it becomes a reliable source of fuel for the future."

Updated: September 04, 2023, 9:15 AM