By Teresa Rehman: DOHA, Qatar (AlertNet) – As Hashim Al Sada waits for children to arrive at the summer camp he helps lead, he sorts through the toys they made the previous day. They span a range of interests – music to ecology, robotics to animation.
The Qatar Scientific Club, a camp sponsored by the Qatari government, welcomes 1,200 children each year, all residents Qatar but representing more than 40 nationalities. But the children do more than play games during the two-week programme.
“My main emphasis is on teaching them to do things themselves, and to tell them about renewable energy and recycling,” says the 26-year-old Al Sada.
“We often talk about global warming and climate change and they teach me many new things as well. It’s good to learn from our children,” he says.
If this is not your typical summer camp, neither is Al Sada your typical camp counsellor. The inventor of a portable solar energy generator, Al Sada is an avid campaigner for the possibilities of solar power in a country that knows a lot about the heat of the sun.
Qatar is increasingly turning to sustainable energy resources to deal with the challenges of a growing population, economic expansion and climate change.
“There is a lot of talk to make Qatar green as we happen to be one of the countries which has probably the highest per-capita energy consumption,” said Al Sada.
Qatar’s carbon dioxide emissions are the highest per capita of any country in the world, largely due to electricity generation, processing of natural gas, and water desalination. Electricity and water are provided free to Qatar nationals, which experts believe has the effect of boosting consumption.
While his fellow Qataris shut themselves indoors in air conditioned environments to beat the heat, Al Sada is trying to devise ways to make the best use of the sun. After he saw a television programme on global warming while at college, he decided to focus on solar energy for his final academic project.
Al Sada’s idea was to power camps in the desert with solar energy, using solar panels placed on the roofs of tents.
“When Arabs go camping they usually carry all kinds of electronic gadgets with them. They usually use a diesel-driven generator to provide electricity. I surfed the internet and thought that I could make it better,” Al Sada said.
Al Sada’s solar generator had to be capable of powering the refrigerators, air conditioners and plasma TVs that are part of the camping experience for many Qataris. He tested 65 panels to identify the best one.
Then he developed a generator, capable of producing 60 kw of power, enough to run a television, fridge and air conditioner for as many as 50 people. The generator is compact, lightweight, and cheap to produce.
While not yet commercially available, the generator has been successfully tested at camps in Iraq, Algeria, Libya and Egypt. Al Sada believes it can be scaled up to provide energy for more widespread consumption in Qatar and elsewhere.
“We just need to change the battery every 10 years and some (pieces of) equipment every five years. This technology can be used in small homes and villages in poor countries in the Arab world,” Al Sada said.
Al Sada’s work has attracted the attention of industry leaders. In 2008 he was invited to the Shanghai Expo to speak about renewable energy. Closer to home, he has become well known through “Stars of Science”, a reality television programme broadcast in several Arab countries that aims to spotlight young Arab innovators.
Such innovators are still too few, he says.
“We have money so we don’t want to invent. We just buy solutions but don’t create them ourselves. Even to change our bulbs we are dependent on others,” Al Sada said.
Qatar depends heavily on imports to meet 90 percent of its food needs. The country’s rapidly rising population and economic ambitions, combined with international demand for Qatar’s oil and gas, are putting pressure on the country’s resources.
Rabi Mothar, executive director of the Qatar Energy and Environment Research Institute (QEERI), agrees that the country needs to invest in solar energy.
“We can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by going green. Part of the solution is solar energy,” Mothar said.
QEERI was established by the Qatar Foundation to boost sustainable development in Qatar through use of clean and sustainable sources of energy, and secure water and food resources while protecting the environment.
QEERI is working to design solar systems that can deal with extremely high temperatures, which can otherwise lower the efficiency of solar panels, and dust-repellent technologies.
Al Sada is optimistic about the potential for capitalizing on the free energy provided by Qatar’s blazing sun.
“It’s like you have money on the beach and don’t want to go and collect it,” he says.
Al Sada hopes that the stadium built to host the football World Cup in 2022 will be solar powered. And his vision extends further.
“Qatar is a small country. But Qatar can lead the other countries. I want to see a solar energy farm and smart houses run by solar energy in Qatar before I die,” he says.
Teresa Rehman is a journalist based in northeast India. She can be reached at http://www.teresarehman.net/.
Filed under: 5.Climate Change & Carbon