Masdar should focus on ecosystem development. Focus on regionally relevant technologies.

Greentech Media has a rather troubling future charted for the Abu Dhabi Masdar Clean City in an article today.

It is unfortunate that a project that offered such high hopes for a clean energy future, perhaps too much, has been mismanaged into a situation like this. While it probably wasn’t all a fault of the managers of this project – for example they could not have predicted the global economic recession and the real estate crash in neighboring Dubai and in Abu Dhabi itself – it would be wise to acknowledge that Masdar could have been planned better, and in more sustainable ways.

I argued a while back that Masdar should recognize the need to focus on ecosystem development, and not on gold-plated mega-projects that bring a lot of press/PR when they are unveiled, but also an equal dose of rotten eggs when things go wrong. Abu Dhabi does not have an urgent need for renewable power – they should NOT be in a hurry to build thousands of megawatts of renewable power in the desert. Why should they? But they should prepare for a future when the world economy will not run on oil/gas, and when Abu Dhabi will need to reposition itself as a global energy provider, and not an oil producer state. And they should plan for this carefully, deliberately, and by cultivating itself as the center of a thriving business/technology/finance/policy ecosystem.

Masdar is a mess partly because they ran too fast, and into too many unwieldy projects with inflated costs. While newspapers wrote ad nauseum about a utopian dream city in the desert, some of Masdar’s vendors and contractors looked at it as an opportunity to milk the rich cow some more. Now Masdar leadership seems to have run into quicksand, where the more they move more they sink. They need to slow down, re-assess the situation, focus on the learnings from the past few years and start building a future energy ecosystem block by block. Its time to go back to the basics since I believe the opportunity to chart the energy future of Abu Dhabi, Middle East, that region and the world is still not lost.

The Masdar Institute is a fantastic cornerstone of such a strategy – in addition to top faculty from around the world, it also needs to bring students from countries like Nigeria, Pakistan, Egypt, India to study and research there since those countries really need energy, and will be willing to pay even for renewable energy. Find/recruit/retain scientists and engineers who will exploit every available opportunity to innovate and create. That is how you build a future economy.

Masdar needs to cancel plans for shiny/glitzy projects, and instead focus on research, technology development, components manufacturing, and renewables financing in the short term. They should stop buying the snake oil that other people will be all too happy to sell them. Focus on what fits local needs, conduct thorough analysis on technology opportunities (since one learns much along the way),  and only participate in projects that actually make economic sense. And there are lots of them. How about novel polymers and plastics, for example? How about transportation technologies? Smart microgrid management systems? solar cooling?

Anyways…easy for me to say all this from thousands of miles away. Nevertheless, I would hate to see Masdar evaporate into nothingness, or worse, become a laughing stock for the rest of the world.

Masdar Update

Ship sinking.  Band instructed to keep playing.

Masdar UpdateShip sinking. Band instructed to keep playing.Recently, it has been tough sledding for Masdar, the green city under development in Abu Dhabi. But before we get into the latest developments, a little backstory…

via Masdar Update : Greentech Media.

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One Response to Masdar should focus on ecosystem development. Focus on regionally relevant technologies.

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