ABU DHABI: Masdar City, a sustainable urban community and a business and technology hub in Abu Dhabi, has just completed the region’s first net-zero energy commercial building, called NZ1.

The building’s simple design demonstrates that net-zero energy is possible for almost any developer, setting a new benchmark for architects and city planners worldwide.

“NZ1 is an incredible milestone for Masdar City and a fitting precursor to COP28,” said Ahmed Baghoum, Masdar City’s CEO. “Our vision has always been to accelerate the UAE’s ambitious journey to net-zero, and we’re closer now than ever. NZ1 is just the beginning. Through our distinctive approach to sustainability that prioritises community needs, financial viability, and environmental protection, we demonstrate that sustainability is not a luxury for the elite—it’s for everyone.”

“Masdar City has been pushing the boundaries of sustainable development for more than 15 years,” said Lutz Wilgen, Masdar City’s head of design. “NZ1 is our most energy-efficient building yet, representing the best of what we have learned so far. Its aesthetic design is also one of the simplest in the city, showing that any developer can create a green building with the right tools and expertise. We’re already working with other professionals who are hoping to replicate what we have done.”

NZ1 is designed to consume 53 percent less energy than an equivalent conventional building. On-site PV (solar) panels will generate 101 percent of the building’s annual energy needs, making it net-zero energy. Any excess energy produced will be fed into the Abu Dhabi electric grid.

Masdar City designed NZ1 focusing on passive design, an architectural technique that works with the local environment and a building’s physical components to minimise the need for electric heating or cooling.

For example, NZ1 has a low window-to-façade ratio and uses window angling and shading to minimise direct sun while maximising natural light. The building envelope is airtight and uses top-notch insulation to keep heat out and cooled air in.

The award-winning building was constructed with locally sourced, sustainable materials wherever possible, and approximately 90 percent of construction waste was diverted from landfills. The building also uses low-flow water fixtures and appliances, and the landscaping requires minimal water. The building’s total estimated carbon offset is calculated to be 550 kg CO2 per m2.

NZ1, only the first of several net-zero energy projects underway at Masdar City, is on track to be rated LEED Zero Energy and LEED Platinum, the highest international green building certifications awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council. It is also on track to be rated Estidama 4-Pearl, Abu Dhabi’s local green building rating system, and WELL Gold, which emphasises the well-being of building occupants.

The lobby will be outfitted with a plaque that shows water and energy use as well as waste management and building experience data in real-time to help tenants adopt more sustainable practices. Data will be fed to a new digital control centre in Masdar City that will monitor building performance across the city.

NZ1 won the MENA Green Building Awards’ Net-Zero Building Project of the Year in early November 2023. It has already been pre-let to a tenant who will strengthen Masdar City’s sustainable tech ecosystem.

Masdar City has two other net-zero energy projects under construction: Masdar City Square’s HQ building, which will be complete in 2024, and CO-LAB, a shared working and living space within a development called The Link, that will be completed in 2025.