LAGI insights

26 SEP 2019


  • What is the inspiration for the book? The inspiration for the book stems from the original inspiration for the Land Art Generator Initiative itself. We founded LAGI while residing in the UAE in 2008, inspired by the beautiful landscape, the ambitious development projects, the thriving arts & culture scene, and the abundance of sustainable natural resources, such as solar energy, that enrich the UAE. We wanted to provide a global platform for the exploration of how a wide array of renewable energy technologies could be artfully integrated into cities in a way that could inspire people about the beauty of a world that has successfully transitioned to be in harmony with the planet and the natural carbon cycle of the earth’s atmosphere. What do our cities and landscapes look like when we have implemented the thousands of gigawatts of required capacity to drawdown our carbon footprint and is there an opportunity to use these technologies and the media for public art and creative placemaking? This question we asked ourselves in 2008 while based in the UAE has led us to a decade of work at the intersection of energy and human culture. Since the first LAGI design competition for the UAE in 2010, the project has traveled to cities around the world, continuing to reimagine what our clean energy landscapes can aspire to be if we consider them as cultural landmarks of the 21st century.

    The inspiration for the title is a reference to the story of Masdar and to the founding of LAGI a decade ago in the UAE. Masdar is the Arabic word for “source.” As the name of Abu Dhabi’s multifaceted renewable energy company and most ambitious low-carbon development, it is a reference to the sun, the source of energy that sustains life on Earth and drives the wind and waves. Over millions of years, the sun has powered the transfer of ancient carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and into the ground, creating the climate habitable to humans that we are placing in peril through the combustion of fossil fuels.


    “Source” also has meaning within the context of the Land Art Generator Initiative and LAGI 2019. We were returning to the place that had first inspired us in 2008 to launch a global design competition for renewable energy as public art.


  • How important is design to sustainability in the 21st century? Design touches upon every aspect of our world, especially the things that we often take for granted. Decisions that are made daily by designers have ripple effects on the carbon footprint of human civilization. This includes the design of the products (and packaging) that we use, from toothpicks to toasters, the design of public policies, the design of economic systems, the design of our systems of mobility, our systems of food production, the planning of our cities, and, of course, the design of our buildings, which account for 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. In order to meet the challenge of staying below 2 degrees C of global warming, it is critically important that designers today incorporate sustainability into every aspect of their thinking and at every stage in the design process, integrating clean energy generation, net-zero carbon materials, and zero-waste solutions into products, building facades, and long-term planning.


  • How can human culture realise change in terms of sustainable design and eco-friendly living?

    Sustainable design needs to respond to human culture, realizing that all communities require unique design solutions that respond to place, culture, and local environment. If we do not address the human element in our proposed solutions to the climate crisis, we risk alienating key stakeholders, slowing progress, and dividing society into camps of relative environmental activism. If instead, if we leverage the creativity of human culture in the advancement of technical solutions, we can inspire everyone about the greatness of a post-carbon world and bring about massive change.

    While our culture is a reflection of our energy use, the way that we decide to produce and consume energy is also a reflection of our culture. To change one is to change the other. Often the solutions to climate change and resource scarcity are framed as scenarios in which the act of energy transition drives cultural shifts (we will need to conserve energy, use less material, limit our lifestyles), but the key to success may lie in understanding that culture has its own agency. In this equation, culture leads and transition follows.

  • What do you believe are important design features needed for smart cities? Everywhere we look we see opportunities for the aesthetic integration of clean energy systems into the design of our cities. The technology that exists today makes it possible (and economical) to clad our buildings in solar panels of custom colors and shapes, to glaze every window opening with building-integrated solar glass. We can bring clean energy power plants to our public parks, waterfronts, and plazas in ways that tell stories, engage the public with technology, educate, and inspire. We can co-design community energy installations with the people who live with them and who benefit from the energy, empowering the previously marginalized, and expanding the population who are actively invested in a clean energy future. As much as possible, we should be turning consumers into prosumers, creating a smart, resilient, and interconnected network of energy nodes that can decarbonize our supply and make demand more efficient. The design of market incentives should tie the everyday economic choices that people make to the value of natural capital, carbon reduction, and ecosystem services.
  • How can design competitions like LAGI help raise awareness for cities to become more sustainable and generate clean energy?

We see the value in healthy competition to drive innovation. As more and more cities are able to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable and equitable development through high-profile projects that capture the public’s imagination, we will see a more rapid adoption and more aggressive integration of clean energy into the fabric of our cities. We will see a shift in popular opinion related to the implementation of these new technologies, from a position that is hesitant and unsure or “not-in-my-backyard,” to one filled with a sense of desire and longing.

At LAGI we invite interdisciplinary teams to develop creative solutions in a collaborative effort. Tens of thousands of designers and creatives, engineers and scientists, have participated directly in LAGI competitions. It is our hope that they will bring this way of thinking into their own work and that LAGI can be a seed that will grow to impact cities around the world in ways that we can’t yet imagine.

By Elizabeth Monoian & Robert Ferry / Founding Directors, LAGI


15 JAN 2020

Rethinking energy mix is the need of the hour

By His Excellency Engineer Awaidha Murshed Al Marar, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Department of Energy 

With an investment of US$163 billion in energy mix the UAE aims to achieve 50 per cent clean energy capacity by 2050

As the world grapples with climate change and growing environmental concerns, we see an unprecedented need to shift from conventional energy sources to renewables. The time is ripe to make the energy transition and as a nation committed to the Paris Agreement, we are moving towards a sustainable future by optimising conventional energy sources and investing in low carbon energy sources such as solar and nuclear power. 

Clean energy is the cornerstone of sustainability and drives the UAE’s narrative to achieve a carbon-free future. The UAE has set out national targets to achieve 50 per cent clean energy capacity and to decarbonise the power and water sectors by 70 per cent in the next three decades as part of the UAE Energy Strategy 2050. For total power generation capacity by 2050, the strategy outlines targets of 44 per cent renewable energy; 38 per cent natural gas; 12 per cent ‘clean coal’; and 6 per cent nuclear energy, thereby improving energy efficiency by 40 per cent in all sectors. 

While driving the development of a cleaner energy mix, we need to ensure a reliable and secure supply of power to meet the ever-growing energy needs and also create an energy value chain that is economically viable. We believe that leveraging and optimising our natural resources such as solar irradiation, will go a long way in supporting non-petroleum dependent industries.

To this end, Abu Dhabi’s latest solar PV plant made a significant power contribution in 2019 to capacity mix bringing the Emirate closer to its 7% renewables target for 2020. Not only did the solar plant position the emirate on the global map as a leader in photovoltaic energy in terms of renewable capacity, but it also generated power at a record low cost of just 2.94 US cents per kilowatt/hour.

Thereby, furthering our goal of creating economically viable solutions. 
Another milestone in the clean energy segment is the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant in Abu Dhabi, which is nearing completion. Once operational it will offer nuclear power for electricity generation, in line with the UAE’s strategy for peaceful uses of nuclear power.  

Yet another revolutionary step in moving away from fossil fuels will be a rollout of electric vehicles (EVs). The move will also involve creating a reliable infrastructure around the same, complete with EV charging stations and regulatory aligned business model. We are currently finalizing a specific policy around EV’s to ensure a large-scale deployment of electric cars takes place without any glitches. 

More recently, hydrogen is gaining traction globally as a clean alternative and substitute for natural gas. We see huge potential in ‘green’ hydrogen from surplus solar PV generation, and ‘blue’ hydrogen from natural gas as a sustainable fuel of the future.

While formulating policies and goals, we are mindful of the importance of mobilising community in achieving sustainability and promoting social well-being by creating a cleaner, healthier living environment. Raising awareness about judicious use of energy is also a key element in furthering the cause of reducing carbon footprint. Focusing on small, incremental shifts towards demand side efficiency and developing skills of young professionals who will lead the charge of a greener energy system in the future are top on our agenda. 

Underlying these policies and goals is our drive towards a digital economy. Across every touch point in Abu Dhabi’s energy value chain there is deep focus on integrated digitisation, which serves in boosting sector efficiencies and reducing environmental footprint. Digitisation serves as a key to addressing sectoral challenges as well as creating new benchmarks for a sustainable energy future. I see digitisation as a vehicle to achieve the UAE Energy Strategy 2050 targets as well as playing pivotal role in establishing a more diversified economy. 

Thanks to a visionary strategy, the UAE is well on its way to becoming a significant global partner in mitigating climate change and harnessing social, economical and health benefits of a more  sustainable environment.


29 DEC 2019

Effective food security depends on partnerships and the community

By Her Excellency Mariam Almheiri, Minister of State for Food Security

The ability for a country to act sustainably is a determinant of its successful development. In the context of food security, sustainability means enabling all citizens and residents to have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food for an active and healthy life at  affordable prices at all times, including emergencies and crises. 

My role as Minister of State for Food Security sees me tasked with ensuring that the UAE is able to deliver food sustainably across the food supply chain - from harvest to the table - to feed the UAE’s growing population, which is expected to add another million or so people over the next 20 years. When you take the UAE’s adverse crop growing conditions into account - its poor soil quality, shrinking levels of groundwater, lack of arable land, and low annual rainfall - it is not difficult to see that this represents something of a challenge.

Thanks to the UAE leadership placing a priority on forging firm and friendly relations with other governments, the UAE has created strong import supply chains that deliver 90% of its total food. Although these have placed the country comfortably at 21st place on the Global Food Security Index, it means that it remains vulnerable to global supply chain disruptions.  

To reduce the UAE’s heavy reliance on food imports, my colleagues and I launched the National Food Security Strategy in November 2018. Through its various pillars, the strategy aims to take the UAE from its current 21st place in the Global Food Security Index to being in the top 10 by 2021 and number one by 2051. In devising the strategy, we were acutely aware that its success would depend on our ability to create meaningful partnerships and to involve the community. 

Initiating the strategy in the first few months meant finding suitable partners to help get it off the ground. A key pillar is enabling technology-based domestic food production, which has a target of increasing domestic yield by 30% by 2021. One of the first things we did was to remove perceived barriers to adopting technology in this sector. In doing so, we engaged with private sector stakeholders to create 10 new initiatives in 100 days.

Now successfully launched, my office is giving a stronger focus on involving the community – local and global – in our efforts to advance food security. In effect, we are making the community our partners towards our goals. In September this year, we announced, in partnership with Tamkeen, an Abu Dhabi-based company mandated to deliver projects to meet the UAE’s vision of knowledge-based development, the FoodTech Challenge – a global competition that aims to identify and implement sustainable and technology-driven solutions across the food value chain that enhance the UAE’s food security and self-sufficiency at the national, community, and household levels. Launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, the challenge is open to all and invites the youth, entrepreneurs and innovators to find solutions across the food value chain to identified challenges in the UAE with a shared prize pool of USD one million for four winners – the largest ever offered for a food technology challenge - winners will receive a host of benefits that include the offer to participate in a six-month business incubation programme by the Catalyst in Abu Dhabi to translate their ideas into actual projects and connection with international investors. 

With respect to creating a healthy population, the Food Security Office and the National Program for Happiness and Wellbeing launched the Nutrition Labelling Policy in September this year. This policy sees the adoption of a traffic light system for healthy and less healthy foods based on their ingredients and nutritional content. Red, yellow and green labels indicate sugar, salt and fat content, with the policy based on the results of a field study carried out by the Community Design for Wellbeing Initiative – another important partner who is helping us meet our goals.

Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) is essential to this concept of partnership. Masdar City is already an important ally in our efforts to create an advanced Agritech sector through its initiatives that include the shipping container vertical farming project, aquaculture farming scheme and the ‘Bustani’ Smart Home Farming Showcase. Each year ADSW further raises awareness of the importance of sustainability in all spheres, including food security, and we wish this year’s programme every success.


02 FEB 2021

2021: A year for climate action with a focus on green recovery

Almost exactly one year ago, I believed that 2020 would be remembered as the year the world finally got its act together on climate action. All the signs were positive: public pressure was being matched by political will. Ambitious milestones and targets were to be put in place, and, fuelled by footage of wildfires and storm damage, climate change was high on the media agenda. 

The pandemic put those hopes on hold, with climate change being eclipsed by a news cycle dominated by COVID-19. This year, it is my sincere hope that 2020 was just a bump in the road: opportunities delayed, rather than thwarted. In fact, with the world pinning its hopes on a post-COVID ‘green recovery’ fueled by infrastructure spending, I believe that this year we are looking at the best opportunity of our lifetimes to enact real, long-term change and limit global warming to 1.5C by the end of the century.

The pandemic may well have focused our collective will: unchecked climate change, after all, will be far more devastating for the world than COVID-19. The response to the pandemic, and particularly the speed in which numerous effective vaccines were developed, tested and rolled out, showed us that governments, businesses, investors and researchers can work together to ensure funding, personnel and resources can be allocated where they can be most effective.

It is my hope that this year’s Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW) will be remembered as a platform through which we helped forge this collective will in regard to the green recovery and to climate action. As one of the world’s most recognized sustainability gatherings for more than a decade now, ADSW is this year being held virtually, and bringing together more of the world’s most influential experts and leaders in sustainability and climate action than ever before.

We’re building on solid momentum: between 2015 and 2020, solar and wind capacity around the world more than doubled, from less than 700GW to more than 1,400GW, and by early 2020 renewable sources were accounting for 28 percent of global energy generation. At the same time, US President-elect Joe Biden, through his Build Back Better initiative, is putting sustainable infrastructure investment and clean energy transition at the top of his agenda. (We had the honor of hosting the president-elect at Masdar City, when he visited the UAE in 2016, and he expressed a keenness to enhance co-operation between the US and UAE in clean energy.)

For over a decade now, the UAE and Masdar have been playing a leading role in supporting climate action, both here and abroad. At Masdar City, for example, we have created a complete sustainability ecosystem that allows new ideas to develop and to thrive, and which is home to more than 900 innovative enterprises from around the world today. And, with partners including Taqa and EDF Renewables we are proud to be part of the 2 GW Al Dhafra solar project – a testament to the UAE’s commitment to clean energy.

This commitment was further reinforced at the end of 2020, with the UAE’s leadership announcing we would reduce our carbon emissions by 23.5 percent by 2030, in line with our commitment to the Paris Agreement. This translates into absolute emission reduction of about 70 million tonnes and will be achieved through more clean energy capacity as well as boosting energy efficiency; increasing carbon capture; promoting sustainable agriculture; and implementing environment-friendly waste management.

In the UAE, our clean power capacity – including solar and nuclear – is set to meet the target of 14GW by 2030, increasing from just over 100 MW in 2015, and 2.4 GW in 2020. Masdar pledged in 2019 to double the capacity of our generation portfolio – then at 4 GW – within five years. In fact, we have already exceeded that target in 2020. Our portfolio including operational projects and those under delivery, has a capacity of more than 10 GW, displacing some 16 million tonnes of CO2 each year.

Any green recovery that is committed to mitigating climate change will require the highest levels of collaboration and partnership between countries, businesses, and societies, and here, too, we see opportunities in 2021. With technology, we must invest more into the potential energy sources of the future, such as green hydrogen, as well as finding more efficient battery and storage solutions, developing smart grids, and introducing mobility infrastructure such as charging stations. 
The historic Abraham Accords between Israel and the UAE will bring about a new era of cooperation and co-investment in clean energy, among other opportunities. And, at the end of this year, we at Masdar will be part of the UAE’s delegation to COP26, the UN climate talks, where real progress must be made on drawing a roadmap to achieving the UN Sustainability Goals. 

In 2021, the stakes may never have been higher, but the opportunities have never been greater. 

By Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Masdar