Masdar City is one of those projects I’d heard about from a distance, and didn’t know quite what to think about: a plan to build a carbon-free solar city near the oil-rich capital of Abu Dhabi along the edge of the Persian Gulf.

After a day with the good people at the Masdar Institute, however, I’m convinced it’s one of the sweeter efforts underway around the world. It’s not just the city, which will open in stages for the next decade and eventually house 50,000 people; it’s also a graduate school which accepts its first hundred masters students next month, and a policy think tank for the whole region, and a vehicle for investing in renewable projects around the world. Most of all, it seems like a beachhead for firing up the next energy economy smack in the center of the old one. (And it makes complete sense, too—the United Arab Emirates may have a lot of oil, but even more sun, if today’s roasting heat is any indication).

Anyway, the crew at MI (a thoroughly international lot of experts who include some of the world’s foremost energy and sustainability thinkers), as well as local NGOs like the Emirates Wildlife Society, joined me and my IndyAct colleague Sara el Choufi for a dialogue this morning. What’s needed, everyone agreed, was a mix of technical and political progress—and they promised to make sure Oct. 24 would be a red number day in Abu Dhabi!

Images:: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture