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`Vigyan Jeevan Hai': Modi greets Abu Dhabi's Masdar City

17 August 2015

PM Narendra Modi took an hour-long tour of Masdar City, a hub of clean technology, which inspired to comment "Vigyan Jivan Hai" (science is life), as he signed on a Digital Visitor's Book at the smart city.

Narendra Modi toured Masdar in Abu Dhabi, a zero carbon smart city, on Monday, taking a ride in a self-driving car that runs on batteries powered by solar energy.

Masdar City is a 5.95-sq km strip located 17 km southeast of Abu Dhabi international airport.

Throughout the hour-long tour of Masdar City, Modi was greeted by residents and professionals in the city, which included a large number of members from the Indian community.

Modi discussed urban development and next generation urban spaces with UAE officials at Masdar, billed as the world's first zero-carbon, car-free city, and was briefed on its Private Rapid Transport (PRT) System, according to tweets posted by his official handle.

He also travelled briefly on the PRT car - a driver-less vehicle which runs from point to point on magnetic strips.

The PRT uses self-driving cars, manufactured by 2getthere and designed by Italy's Zagato, that use virtual software to guide them.

He also visited the Micro-Nano Fabrication Facility and the Microscopy Lab. The prime minister also took a brief walking tour of the city's public spaces and was briefed on the sustainable building methodology and key architectural elements.

The project is helmed by Masdar, also known as the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi government, and has two major objectives - to turn Abu Dhabi into an international hub for renewable energy, and to support the development and commercialisation of sustainable technology.

''It has the same rationale, the same philosophy as NASA when it started - put a man on the moon to show the strengths of the United States in that area of technology. Masdar is being developed to show Abu Dhabi's commitment to clean air and technology," Fred Moavenzadeh, president of the Masdar Institute for Science and Technology (MIST), said in an interview to Wired UK.

Masdar was intended as an incubator for new generation green start-ups in the  UAE. It was aimed at garnering investments in green energy and technology, which, in the long term, would earn Abu Dhabi significant revenue when its oil runs out.

It was designed by British architects Foster + Partners with inputs from artist Jean Marc Castera. The design was modelled on traditional Arabic cities narrow streets, natural shading, high-density and low-rise living, and mixed-use public spaces.

The city has terracotta walls and resembles a cube from a distance. The temperature in the streets is always a pleasant 15-20 degrees Celsius, thanks to a 45-metre wind tower at the centre that sucks in air from a height and pushes it through the streets. Masdar is raised above the surrounding desert to lower temperatures further.

The city is powered by a 54-acre field of 87,777 solar panels, with additional panels on the roof of every building.

There are no light switches or taps, just movement sensors that switch things on and off automatically. These sensors have helped the city reduce power consumption by 51 per cent and water usage by 55 per cent, according to city authorities

Private vehicles aren't allowed inside Masdar and residents can walk, cycle, use electric vehicles or hop on to one of the 3,000 driverless PRT trains that crisscross the city.

Started in 2006, Masdar was intended to be the world's first zero-carbon, zero-car city that would house 50,000 residents and 40,000 commuters by 2015.

And, in the aftermath of the 2009 global financial crisis, when Dubai's state-owned investment vehicle, Dubai World, ran up $59 billion in debts, UAE's planners in 2010 pushed the completion date to 2025. And, as of today, the completion of Masdar City has no scheduled deadline.

Dubai's housing market also crashed in 2009, the "plug was more or less quietly pulled on Masdar City", Steve Geiger, Masdar's co-founder and director during 2006-09, said in an interview.

''We promised the world it was going to be the first zero-carbon (city), but it's just not economically feasible. Now it's low carbon. We said it was going to be zero-waste. We said it would be car-free. We said it would be built on a nine-metre-high platform we had to backpedal on all those ideas,'' he said.

Yet, Masdar is one example of human determination to keep the world clean.

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