Popular Science
Dubai Oil Science Technology Image Credit: Popular Science
Dubai Oil Science Technology Image Credit: Popular Science

The Future-Proofing Engine

Oil won’t last forever, and Dubai’s government knows it. To stay prosperous, the city-state bets big on science and technology.

Andrew Blum

I. After Oil

Dubai drops away behind us, its comic-book skyline replaced by khaki sand dunes and the occasional wild camel. The first sign of the technological ambition we are about to see is a billboard: a 20-foot-tall portrait of Dubai’s ruler, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, rendered in a mosaic of solar panels.

At a cluster of buildings about a half hour south of the city, a guard slides open a high steel gate for our white SUV, with Alhaz Rashid Khokhar at the wheel. A project manager for the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, Khokhar has, for the past several months, been working toward the opening here of a 200-megawatt expansion of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park. The dark panels stretch across the desert for more than 2 miles, a distance so far beyond the vanishing point that standing at one corner is like looking through a double mirror. The largest operating solar plant in the United States is just over 550 megawatts, but Dubai grows by exponents. This 200-megawatt section will soon be a smudge on the map beside an additional 5,000 megawatts planned to come online over the next 13 years—a $14 billion investment targeted to meet 25 percent of Dubai’s electricity needs. It is only one piece of a technological jigsaw puzzle that, once assembled, is intended to reinvent Dubai’s role in the world.

For more than a decade, this city-state’s story has been all about su

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