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Ahmed Shihab-Eldin Headshot

Oil-Rich Emirate Hosts World Future Energy Summit, Showcases Zero-Carbon City (VIDEO)

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Last week, environmental activists, politicians and business executives from the world's leading energy companies met in Abu Dhabi for the second annual World Future Energy Summit.

But why would a country with one of the highest per capita carbon footprints in the world and 10% of the world's known oil reserves be investing billions into the research and development of alternative and renewable energy?

Sooner or later their massive oil reserves are going to dry up and they will need a head-start on the inevitable transition that we all will make to alternative energy, especially if they want to support their lavish lifestyles. For those who believe solar energy will be a significant source for future energy, it is worth mentioning that the Persian Gulf's year-round sunshine makes it a promising testing site.

Watch top executives from companies like Siemens, ExxonMobil and Hydrogen Energy International, a company that designs plants that manufacture low-carbon hydrogen from fossil fuel feedstock and is collaborating directly with Masdar and BP, comment on Abu Dhabi, Masdar and the future of energy.

The three day summit offered a peek at what the future energy economy might look like and marked a rapidly growing trend in the Gulf of investing in research, education and technology in the renewable sector. The irony is that these oil and gas rich countries are allocating the profit from their oil revenues to invest in the development of new energy sources, aware that if they want to continue powering their massive air-conditioned malls and indoor ski slopes in the future, they are going to have to make solar, thermal, wind or some other combination work to their advantage.

Masdar City
, a futuristic zero-carbon city, was the focus of the summit. Following the trend of Western satellite campuses sprouting across the sands of the Persian Gulf, the city is set to include a research park with laboratories affiliated with a campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Even cars, which are abundant and luxurious here will not exist in Masdar city, instead residents will commute on electric driverless pods shuttling across the city.

But Abu Dhabi's ambitious plans have prompted those skeptical of the ability for locals to adjust to this "green lifestyle" to seriously question the feasibility of Masdar's aims. Still, at the summit progress was visible, enthusiasm was high and construction was already underway despite the difficult global economic climate.