Dubai turns desert into green urban laboratory

The Sustainable City development in Dubai aims to be a net-zero settlement that uses as little energy and water as possible. The ‘living laboratory’ will test future technologies and solutions.

Dubai is a city of contradictions. While it is best known for its skyline of air-conditioned skyscrapers, the small emirate has in fact been pursuing projects aimed at producing more than 40% of its energy from renewable sources. The latest of these is The Sustainable City development, located around 20 kilometers from Dubai’s city center.

According to an article by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the development, which was opened to the first residents in 2016 and is expected to be fully completed next year, aims to be a net-zero settlement that will produce all the energy it requires from renewable sources on site.

Home to nearly 3,000 people, the project consists of low-lying residential units and commercial buildings that are designed to avoid direct exposure to the sun and are covered in paint that reflects sunlight. Together, these keep the heat out and reduce the need for air-conditioning. Cars are banned in many parts, so residents get around on bicycles or in small electric cars on streets that are shaded by palm trees.

Solar panels figure prominently throughout, covering all buildings and parking spaces. A grey-water system recycles water from showers and washing machines to irrigate the development.

For now, the city still consumes more energy than it produces, but the developers are constantly looking for new ways to improve efficiency, such as by installing motion-activated lighting.

“It is not enough to design, build and then walk away,” Karim El-Jisr, head of the research arm of the city’s developer, Diamond Developers, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “You always have to make adjustments.”

Image credit: Jakob Owens via Unsplash

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