Abu Dhabi Building New Renewable Energy City

I once owned a very lovely Victorian mansion. It was very expensive to maintain and to run. The energy use, in particular, was great. So it is with our cultural system of suburban housing. I like the idea, in the Abu Dhabi city, of electric cars, hopefully able to run on a maglev system, picking up people. Instead of the constant headache of owning a car, one can travel in comfort while not worrying about dealing with break downs, insurance, etc. I know many humans love cars as extensions of their egos but that is childish and would be rather silly in the future, I would hope.

Here are two pictures of what this 'city' will look like:

From a 1980 publication: ISRAEL'S 150 KW SOLAR POND One of the most impressive sights of the entire excursion was a small power generating station located at the southern end of the Dead Sea. . . where a considerable amount of electricity is being produced, using solar energy. You might well assume that the plant operates on photo voltaic's, but if that's what you're thinking you'll have to guess again. The new power generating facilities are solar ponds. . . inexpensive, often naturally occurring phenomena that may just hold the secret to a safe and reliable, middle technology form of energy production!

I was involved in many of the debates about the structure of the early L5 proposals. The illustration above was what I called 'suburban space colonies' in that it looked an awful lot like Phoenix, Arizona or Houston, Texas. Surprise, surprise. It was, of course, financially impossible because it was a poor use of materials versus habitat use. Some of us argued that 90% of the habitat space would have to be used for food production facilities. Namely, farming. I even joked that the best space colonists would be Amish farmers! Then we had to figure out how to get them out to a space colony and decided to pretend they were being kidnapped by aliens. Heh.

Essentially, a solar pond is, in the words of the solar program's acting director Bruce Nimmo, "just water, salt, a hole and a liner." The hole is scooped out of "sabkhas," the salt flats which abound the eastern coastal region of Saudi Arabia, then lined with plastic and filled with salt water, found, usually just below the surface.

Once the project is built, MIT will have an ongoing role in monitoring the actual energy performance of the city, Glicksman says. And that could provide an extraordinary opportunity for students to learn about the potential for such large scale integrated approaches to innovative energy production and use.

My parents got involved in persuading the Arab rulers who were sitting on the biggest oil reserves on earth, to go into renewable energy research. This, when the Arabs were first seeing the benefits of higher oil prices and greater oil production. The various programs that were launched have had a checkered history due to lack of genuine fear on the part of the oil kingdoms concerning their future. But now that they a finally seeing their own Hubbert Oil Peak right before their own eyes, the interest in setting up a better system is growing more urgent by the day. When my parents came to Saudi Arabia, most of the people there lived in rather primitive conditions. For example, once there was a big rain storm and millions of bugs came pouring into the apartments where my mother was staying, covering all the walls with creepy crawlies.

A reader kindly sent me a story about the latest MIT/Abu Dhabi project to build an entire city that runs on only renewable resources. My parents went to the Arabian countries during the late 1960's and until the late '70's to help start up SOLARAS, the Solar Energy Research center there. This was because they persuaded the kings of Saudi Arabia to prepare for the future and to beware of the Hubbert Oil Peak. So now this sort of work is rapidly expanding with the foundation of this new, research city. The US should be doing this at home except there is still too little interest. We will also visit a Greenpeace model community in England.

One program, that is called SOLERAS (Solar Energy Research American/Saudi), addressed solar energy technological and economical related issues. SOLERAS was established in 1975 and concluded in 1997. A second program started as of 1 989 with DOE (Department of Energy in the United States), addresses in addition to solar energy R the other technologies of renewable energy.

But seriously, the proposals for the model city here leaves me cold due to a lack of greenery. The oxygen/humidity/psychological benefits should be obvious. Plants filter pollution and these places have indoor pollution up the yin yang. Also, the Garden of Eden aspect should not be ignored. I keep two small trees and a number of bushes and potted plants indoors in winter here for these reasons. Who wants to live in what looks like a mall with a food court? The other thing that bothers me in general about Abu Dhabi is the mania for tower building. Towers are not energy efficient buildings. They are grandiose expressions of human hubris. The energy consumption of elevator use not to mention the maitenance problems of big towers is not sufficiently appreciated. True, the Empire State Building has endured a long, long time. Even being hit by a plane. But it is much smaller in floor space than post WWII towers and has a much, much higher ratio of solid masonry material per square foot.

What happens then, however, isn't at all as simple. Based on certain principles concerning the loss of heat from liquids and gasses, the water in a solar pond gets hotter and hotter and can be stored without loss of the heat.

Some of the initial ideas for the zero energy plan came from the MIT collaboration, says Leon Glicksman, professor of building technology and mechanical engineering and director of MIT's Building Technology Program. "We did work with them when they were evaluating proposals for the architecture," he says, but now "they're on a really fast track for construction," so the British architectural firm, Foster + Partners, which did the principal design work, is taking the lead.

A blueprint for no carbon footprintMIT will maintain a close association with the Masdar Institute, whose faculty will spend a year here before beginning their teaching there. But the involvement with the creation of the new city and campus is more limited.

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From a 1981 Aramco newsletter: The utilization of solar energy in Saudi Arabia began in 1 960 when a French company installed a Photovoltaic powered beacon at a small airport. The research activities commenced with small scale university projects during 1969. The first large solar project was the construction of the world's largest solar heating system for a school in the late seventies. The systematized work in solar energy research and development was not genuinely inaugurated until King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) was established in 1977.

Today, the cities in Arabia are some of the most sophisticated on earth. But as King Faisal said about living in tents in the desert, moving into cities and eventually returning to the camels and the tents, the bounty from the oil profits can be fleeting. As with the high oil prices in the seventies and eighties, all this nearly vanished in the 1990's and Saudi Arabia nearly went bankrupt. Overspending on silly things while making zero preparations for the loss of oil profits, the entire enterprise nearly went under. This is why there is a lot of nervousness over there today. They know the profits can vanish along with the savings and investments. The US has tried to spook Saudi Arabia into supporting extravagant oil consumption over here in order to save their investments in our businesses and properties. But they are obviously going to just cut their losses.

The new zero emissions city, which is being built near the city of Abu Dhabi in the center of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is part of the Masdar Initiative, a $15 billion government funded investment program designed in part to ensure that the UAE's prosperity won't be linked exclusively to its oil. Its leaders say that the project will give the country a leadership position in renewable energy. If it's successful, says Sultan al Jaber, Masdar's CEO, "we'll be sitting on top of the world."

So far, the institute's modest experiments with a prototype pond built at the institute's solar lab last fall have been successful; a meter and a half deep (five feet) and saturated with salt in its bottom half, the pond, built above ground, registered a temperature of 129 degrees F in its "lower convecting zone" or salt saturated region just two weeks after start up. In sufficient volume, water at that temperature could be pumped out of the pond's lower half and piped to homes and buildings for heat, or to factories, for such industrial purposes as washing bottles in a bottling plant.

The urgency to develop a sustainable energy community is growing rapidly in the Middle East. Incidentally, another country that made it very clear they Cheap Women Canada Goose Expedition Parka Black Australia were interested in developing sustainable energy systems back in the seventies was China. My parents went there to work on similar projects which are still very much ongoing today. Only here, in America, was their message about the Hubbert Oil Peak and sustainable energy rejected by the government and incidentally, with the election of Reagan, the US voters.

The Masdar Institute is a non profit, independent entity established with the assistance of the world renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), under a cooperative agreement signed in December 2006. I hope some time to visit their offices and learn more. We should be grateful that the Arabs have chosen this joint venture and perhaps we will gain something from all this. The belief that the present set up we enjoy in America will be our future lifestyle is impossible. So we should start thinking hard, what will we replace it with? I suggested years ago that most suburbs without train service will be turned into scavenger zones and habitat for bears and wild birds in 50 years or less. When we travel about the Midwest, we can see abandoned Victorian farm houses left over from the days when it took an army of people to farm. As modern equipment took over human and horse labor, the percentage of farm labor in the population collapsed from over 60% to under 6%. So it is with our suburbs: they will be just as abandoned.

Years and years ago, in the Ice Ages, when MIT was being built [heh] I went to an L 5 meeting there. The new building we met in was in the cement Architecture Brutality style monstrosity which was supposed to be 'modernism' at that time. Moving beyond the Bauhaus Box style, these things looked like cement pill boxes from WWII. I decided to liven it up and drew a unicorn on the wall with a pen. It still didn't fix the psychological depressed state of the building. So I hope the people advising the Abu Dhabi project are not detached from the historic ideal for a place where humans should live: the Hanging Gardens of Babylonia. One of the Seven Wonders of the World according to the ancient Greeks.

Normally, in ponds, lakes or seas, the water, when it is heated by the sun, loses the heat at the surface through convection roughly defined as movement in the water caused by temperature, density and gravity factors. But if the water is heavily salted, the movement of the heated water at the bottom of the pond or lake is restricted by the high density caused by the high salinity. the loss of heat at the surface caused by movement no longer operates effectively; to the contrary, the water in the bottom half of the pond gets hotter and hotter; in the solar pond temperatures can go as high as 212 degrees F, enough to boil an egg or, more practically, provide hot water for dishwashers, showers, and washing machines in homes.

The Research Institute, however, has more ambitious goals. Its scientists want to use solar ponds to generate electricity by heating water to about 200 degrees F in the pond pumping it out and transferring the heat in the water to a fluid with a lower boiling temperature (a Freon, for example) which, as it vaporizes, could drive a turbine.

But the systems being set up in Abu Dhabi's experimental city is very similar to the L 5 Space Colony proposals. For human waste, water use, cooling and heating systems are all going to be bio and energy sustainable. And this is a good concept which all cities should have. Indeed, I proposed long ago, we should move all our manufacturing and cities to space and turn the planet earth back into the Garden of Eden for evolution and living things to recolonize it and continue their amazing evolutionary history! It would also remove us from the grave dangers of weather, earthquake and volcanic hazards. Not to mention bigger events like ice ages, for example. Then the earth could be a vacation spot to feel the force of gravity and enjoy viewing the wonders of nature, etc. Sigh.

Building the Zero Emissions City

A city being built in Abu Dhabi will serve as a large scale test for renewable energy. Last week, in the harsh desert climate of Abu Dhabi, construction started on a city that will house 50,000 people and 1,500 businesses but use extremely little energy, and what it does use will come from renewable sources. The initial building is a new research institute that the founders hope will be the seed for the equivalent of a Silicon Valley of the Middle East, only one centered not on information technology but on renewable energy. Indeed, the city's founders hope that it will serve as a test bed for a myriad of new technologies being proposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A Solar Pond A "solar pond" is an attempt to solve one of the more difficult problems associated with solar energy: how to collect it. Though sunshine falls on the peninsula in massive quantities, no one has yet perfected a way of conserving it efficiently, and the Research Institute hopes that what they call a "salt gradient" solar pond, may provide a solution.