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A Sustainable City Rises In Sharjah With Smart Solar Homes, Driverless Shuttle

News March 16, 2022

Solar-powered smart homes, bio-domes for vertical farming and other community farming facilities, EV (electric vehicle) chargers, driverless shuttles and a waste-to-energy biogas plant — these are just some of the eco-friendly highlights of Sharjah’s first sustainable city that is rising in Al Rahmaniya.

The Dh2 billion Sharjah Sustainable City (SSC) is the first fully-integrated and sustainable development in the emirate that aims to create a net-zero energy community with the promise of reduced carbon footprint and savings of up to 50 per cent on energy bills.

The first batch of 280 villas are ready to welcome residents by the end of March, according to the developers.

Ahead of the opening of the first phase, Gulf News was given an exclusive tour of the community project, which is being undertaken as a strategic partnership between Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) and Diamond Developers, which also developed The Sustainable City in Dubai.

Located off Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road, SSC is the first urban mixed-use project in Sharjah, meeting the highest standards of green economy and environmental sustainability, said Karim El-Jisr, chief sustainability officer, Diamond Developers. The community spread across 7.2 million sqft of land features eco-friendly and energy-efficient villas, vertical farms, autonomous shuttles, as well as a school, a community mall and a sustainability experience centre, he said.

“We have 1,200 villas ranging from three, four and five bedrooms,” said Carl Atallah, marketing director, Sharjah Sustainable City. He said the villas are priced from Dh1.3 million to Dh2.5 million, depending upon the number of bedrooms and the size of the villa and added that the community was offering a complimentary service charge waiver for the first five years.

Net-Zero Energy Goals

Explaining the eco-friendly aspects of the project, El-Jisr said: “We are aiming for a net-zero energy development, which means we reduce the energy consumption using all the engineering and design tools and then we maximise solar production from rooftop modules. We also have a utility plot that is fitted with a biogas facility where all the waste from the community will be treated to generate electricity.”

While the biogas project will be completed in the upcoming stages of construction, what is fast developing on the other side, in the centre of the city to be precise, is a “green spine” around which pools and gyms have been designed. El-Jisr said the green belt that runs through the middle of the city is called so because it houses the bio-domes, the greenhouses where vertical farming will be done to ensure food security.

Soilless Vertical Farming

Different methods of soilless vertical farming will be used to grow fruit and vegetables inside the domes using hydroponics, El-Jisr said. “Every square metre has 48 planting pots. Here you can grow your lettuce, radish, baby spinach and so on,” he said, showing the special trays for vertical farming.

Lighting will be optimised to suit the growth cycles of different crops. “And it is extremely water efficient as the water flowing through these pipes and trays will be constantly recirculated. Anything produced under these conditions and systems will save 95 per cent compared to conventional systems.”

El-Jisr estimates that the closed structures that are climate-controlled and have customised lighting to aid plant growth, will help produce up to 50,000kg of fresh produce per year.

He said the bio-domes are also aimed to give people direct access to organic food and also help appreciate how food is grown.

Apart from the vertical farming facilities, each villa in the project has its own date production and garden area and there are separate areas for community farming in different plots and zones. “The date palm trees right outside the villas have been planted with an aim to have a productive urban landscape. Apart from the shade, these can also give fruit, harvesting dates. The date palm is irrigated with the treated sewage water from outside the cluster as it consumes about 100litre per day.”

The villas are designed to maximise daylight harvesting while avoiding direct sunlight. All villas are also equipped with indoor LED lighting, highly efficient kitchen appliances, water-saving fixtures and devices.

Smart Homes

When it comes to the smart features of the villas, El-Jisr said a lot of investment had gone primarily into lighting and cooling. “There are motion sensors to activate lights and air-conditioners. The lights and ACs can be controlled from anywhere and anytime though your smartphone. In terms of water, we have equipped all the units with the most energy-efficient water fixtures.”

He explained that the villas were built using thermally-insulated precast wall panels to optimise thermal insulation and reduce air-conditioning demand.

Taking a cue from the lessons learnt from the sister project in Dubai, the AC units and the water tanks have been installed on the ground to free up the rooftop for solar panels. And a separate access has been created from outside the villas for cleaning and maintenance of the solar panels to avoid any intrusion.

Interlocking pavers have been laid around the villas for better solar reflectance. “These are also porous for rain water to seep down,” said El-Jisr.

villas for sale in green community

Soft, Driverless Mobility

In terms of mobility in the community, he said: “The entire community is very well-connected. We have maximised soft mobility. You can walk and cycle everywhere in the community. You can connect any two villas on foot.”

Rubberised jogging tracks, cycle tracks and pedestrian sikkas (alleyways) are spread across the community.

El-Jisr said the community has also developed an EV charging infrastructure to enable customers to charge electric vehicles at home. “We want to encourage people to switch from gasoline cars to electric cars because the future is electric. It is efficient and environment-friendly.”

Not just that. The community is also introducing a driverless shuttle or autonomous vehicles. “Children and families can get on to the shuttle from different corners and points across the development to other points in the development along a 2.4km track,” explained El-Jisr.

New Era In Waste Management

Explaining the biogas project inside the community, El-Jisr said it would mark the beginning of a new era in waste management in Sharjah. “When it comes to waste management, we know that we have to do much better. It starts with consuming less and then about sorting. All the waste will be sorted according to the three streams we have —dry waste, wet waste and other waste.”

The biogas plant will treat organic waste such as food waste, green waste and sludge.

Sorting bins in the villas and sorting stations in the sikkas encourage waste separation and will help avoid landfilling and associated pollution. “The wet waste comprises food scraps and trimmings from the landscape and all of that will stay on site. To promote circularity, it’s going to feed the biogas plant. So the organic waste is digested to produce methane, which is converted to energy for cooling.” The residues from the biogas plant will be dried and used as fertiliser for landscaping.

El–Jisr said the segregated dry waste that are recyclable will be collected by Bee’ah, Sharjah’s waste management company. “Other waste such as electronics, batteries and unwanted clothes will all have dedicated drop off points inside the development,” El-Jisr said.

Meanwhile, he said, all the wastewater will be treated onsite and the treated sewage effluent will be reused to irrigate all the landscape through a smart system. The Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) to treat wastewater will produce Treated Sewage Effluent (TSE) for landscape irrigation, achieving 100 per cent water recycling, and avoiding emissions associated with tankers, he explained.

Future Responsibilities

As we took a tour around the first phase of SSC in a buggy and by foot on February 24, we saw workers engaged in giving final touches to the first phase of the project.

Carl Atallah said more than 1,000 workers were working onsite. “All our teams are currently working together to welcome our residents by the end of March.”