ABU DHABI, UAE – The United Arab Emirates won't run out of oil for about a century, but it's already committing billions to help wean the world off the very product that made it rich.
The UAE, which pumps millions of barrels of oil every day, wants to become an alternative energy hub. It has made an initial investment of $15 billion for its Masdar Initiative, which it hopes will establish it as a leader in the field of green energy.
"We have a long history of being suppliers of sources of energy," said Masdar CEO Dr. Sultan Al Jaber. "We want to maintain that and always be enablers and a catalyst for providing the world with clean solutions of power."
With those billions at hand, the Masdar Initiative has the resources to pour into ambitious projects. The biggest: Masdar City, an eco-oasis in the desert that will be entirely carbon neutral, creating no emissions and no waste.
The UAE plans to run the city on futuristic rapid transport pods, elevated light railways and offer a wealth of pedestrian space — all powered and maintained by renewable energy.
It's part of a growing interest in green technology in Abu Dhabi, the UAE's capital and richest emirate. For the project, Abu Dhabi is collaborating with MIT, investing in companies in California and setting up ventures in Europe.
"We're not going to be able to do it alone," Al Jaber said. "We need to tap into the best minds, the best technologies, through collaborations and cooperations with companies that share our vision around the world."
In order to pull the best and brightest into the mix, Masdar has launched a contest — something like a Nobel Prize for renewable energy. The Zayed Future Energy Prize, named after the UAE's founder, will award a total of $2.2 million to three different people for an environmental idea, technology or project that has not yet been developed.
While Emiratis routinely crank their air conditioning units in the punishing heat and use gas-guzzling SUVs, there are some waking up to the global green movement. The UAE is hoping its city can be a model for others and that its sponsorship will make renewable energy affordable around the globe.