Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Changes at Masdar - Some perspective

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It's certainly been disappointing to read reports about a scaling back on objectives by the Masdar sustainable energy effort:

But is it time to dismiss the whole undertaking as a failure? I think it's too early to tell. Here's what we know:

  • So far the news reports are based on comments by Alan Frost, manager of the Masdar property unit, including background that the Masdar City project will likely have a smaller footprint than originally planned, and build higher. A smaller, denser city may have less ability to create all its own energy, such as rooftop acreage for solar panels. This could explain why Masdar City may have to import power.
  • There is no indication one way or another that there are changes coming in Masdar's solar, wind, geothermal, or other energy projects elsewhere in the world. Therefore the funding of non-petroleum energy development -- the reason Abu Dhabi created Masdar in the first place -- is continuing unless we hear otherwise. While duplicating examples of these technologies at Masdar City could enable it to become energy sustainable, all that is really necessary is a showcase of each to demonstrate that the new technologies work under urban conditions; -- which doesn't even have to be done at Masdar City itself.
  • The Masdar Institute knows of no changes to its plans. This makes sense, since the science to be done there is the research meant to drive the commercial side -- tenants who will build facilities at Masdar to develop technologies based on the science. The Institute must continue to be supported, otherwise the business plan is undermined.
  • The already-iconic Masdar City PRT peoplemover may not serve the entire city. Frost's statements about PRT are actually rather ambiguous. He says PRT can't work at a "city-scale" -- based on what? Frost's perception that exclusivity of PRT guideways is a bad thing ("other electric vehicles would be excluded from the city") furthermore shows that he doesn't really 'get' the PRT concept (or possibly even the car-free goal).

    According to a source of mine who is familiar with the Masdar PRT project, the real test of PRT service will occur after its initial phase serving the Institute opens in September 2010, and that the decision to go ahead with a city-wide system will be made based on that operational experience. My source says that the Masdar organization is still committed to that trial -- this is as of today.

    In short, the testing hasn't been done yet that would enable Frost to make an informed decision, and therefore we have to see his statements about PRT as being his opinion. However, we have to acknowledge that if the city has a smaller footprint the eventual PRT network would also not be as large as originally planned.

    And of course, a scaling back of Masdar City due to the global property market is not a reflection on the technical feasibility or service concept of PRT.

Update (3/18): The above information about the PRT status and strategy have been confirmed today by Robbert Lohmann, of the system manufacturer 2getthere, in this post at Transport-Innovators.

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