Mixed-use development for 300,000 inhabitants will rely on the sun for all daytime energy

Engineer Arup is planning the world’s first “solar city” in Phoenix, Arizona.

The prospective 33,000-acre development will include housing for 300,000 people as well as high-tech and commercial schemes.

Arup, which is helping to build the world’s first eco-city at Dongtan near Shanghai in China, will play a civil and engineering role. It is thought work on the site is unlikely to begin before 2010.

Gary Lawrence, Arup’s urban strategy leader, said: “We’ve just signed contracts to do a masterplan in Pheonix and that will be the world’s first completely solar city.”

The town will export energy to the grid in the daytime but will have to import it at night as solar panels cannot produce electricity when the sun is down.

It is thought the project will produce energy through a combination of photovoltaic (PV) panels on houses and solar farm technologies, where heat from the sun is used to generate steam and drive a turbine.

Questions have been raised about the suitability of solar technology to the area, where intense heat and dust cut the lifespan of a PV panel to about half its normal length. But it is thought to be the only renewable option in Arizona, where there is little wind or water.

Jonathan Fink, director of Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability, said the state was trying to catch up with California, which is seen as the American leader in solar power.

He said: “We have a good chance of being the number-two state in the country.”

The news comes after Arizona developers announced plans to build a year-round water park in a desert near Phoenix, where there has been a drought for the past 11 years.