While Abu Dhabi’s global reputation and high per capita GDP are derived from the exploitation of its hydrocarbon resources, the emirate is also home to what has been described as the world’ first “cleantech” cluster. Masdar City was established in 2006 as a centre for research and development (R&D) for clean technology and is set to become one of the most sustainable cities in the world. The initial master plan for the 6-sqkm development was designed by British architectural firm Foster + Partners. The city is being built in phases, one neighbourhood at a time, and according to Masdar, this approach provides flexibility to adopt new technologies, apply lessons learned and make improvements each step of the way.
The city is home to the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (Masdar Institute) and the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency. From a business perspective, Masdar City seeks to establish itself as a testing ground for new technologies, as well as a magnet for global talent and research. Ahmad Belhoul, CEO of Masdar, told OBG, “The renewable energy sector is still fairly nascent. As a result, the organisations that are drawn to Masdar City come from regions where the renewable industry is more advanced, such as Europe and the US. However, as developing countries come to recognise the social and economic benefits of renewable energy there will be more interest from those regions in Masdar City.”
To attract leading technology companies and institutions, the city has established a compelling array of incentives. The city is a combined investment and free zone that offers 100% foreign ownership with no restrictions on capital movements, profits or quotas; a strong intellectual property protection framework; 0% import tariffs; no corporate or individual tax; and zero currency restrictions. Belhoul told OBG, “Masdar City is a free zone and investment zone. Third party developers can take a plot and develop residential or corporate space, as our principle is promoting mixed use. We have allocated plots for R&D, corporate offices, residential units and retail, and these are available to third party developers. Phase 1 is largely taken, but future phases have a growing interest. By 2020 you should expect to have the full mix of academic, residential, corporate, retail and hospitality offerings.”
The city is based on an innovative architectural concept, including features such as passive wind channels and walls designed to create substantially cooler temperatures in a sustainable manner. Just as important to potential investors, the city is also just five minutes by car from Abu Dhabi’s expanding international airport and only a 45-minute drive from Dubai. These factors have already persuaded a range of global companies and organisations to set up operations in the area, including Siemens, General Electric, Schneider Electric and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
According to Masdar, the city’s first commercial property, the Incubator Building, is now home to more than 60 companies. The building integrates retail and office space and houses a range of businesses from start-ups to small and medium-sized enterprises to regional offices of large multinational corporations.
In terms of education, the Masdar Institute is a postgraduate university and was one of the first buildings to be completed in Masdar City. As of early 2015, it had graduated four classes of students and had 491 active students. Student and faculty research at the university had also led to four patents, 42 pending patent applications and 69 invention disclosures.
The existing educational, retail and commercial facilities are key indicators of the government’s commitment to develop the Abu Dhabi’s technology and knowledge-based capacity. “In the medium term, Masdar City would like to add residential, educational and hospitality services, in addition to retail outlets. This will provide a nice environment to live, work and play,” Belhoul told OBG. With the construction of the city’s residential capacity now under way, the zone’s ambition to become a multipurpose, sustainable community is moving much closer to realisation.
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