Blog: An Interview with Mohamed Alhaj, PhD
By Alfred Mayaki
This transcript is part of a series of Top Voice interviews brought to you by IBR Group International on the topic of sustainability. To learn more about our Top Voices in Sustainability interviews or to discover how you can contribute, please contact us directly.
Q1: Tell us a bit about yourself? Please introduce your background and area of speciality.
My name is Mohamed Alhaj and I am a Sudanese renewable energy consultant, and expert researcher, and a solar PV engineer. I am a strong advocate for Africa's sustainable development and this was the my main motivation to start the Clean Energy 4 Africa initiative. My main areas of expertise are concentrated solar power, desalination, environmental life-cycle assessment, and renewable energy policy.
Q2: Where were you educated?
I completed my bachelor's degree in mechatronic engineering at the University of Nottingham (Malaysia Campus) in 2012. I then completed a MSc degree in energy technology at the National University of Malaysia in 2014, where I did extensive work on the techno-economic assessment of decentralised power generation systems. I also hold a PhD degree in sustainable energy from Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar (2019), where I worked on the technical, economic, and environmental assessment of solar-driven thermal desalination technology.
Q3: What personal and business inspirations do you feel helped you achieve the goal of a PhD?
Deciding to purse a PhD degree was one of the most life-changing decisions that I made back in 2015. My main motivation was to explore new career opportunities in the renewables sector, especially because the university I applied to (Hamad Bin Khalifa University) had an ambitious vision and was also part of a unique learning ecosystem called "Education City". Moreover, I was very intrigued to be part of the research community in Qatar Foundation (which my university is part of), because of the numerous collaboration opportunities available and the immense support environment provided by Qatar Foundation to young researchers like myself. All of these factors contributed to me completing the PhD program with distinction, publishing numerous papers and presenting at several global conferences, and developing my professional skills and network. After graduating, I was privileged to be offered a full time position with the Qatar General Electricity & Water Corporation.
Q4: What impact is your organisation CleanEnergy4Africa having on the policy discussion in Sahel?
Within the Sahel region, Clean Energy 4 Africa has been actively promoting the adoption of renewable energy in Sudan. In less than three years, we have established a strong knowledge database on the Sudan market consisting of market insights, partners networks, and reports and articles. Clean Energy 4 Africa has also been a Lead country contributor for Sudan in the REN 21 Renewables Global Status Report 2021 and the Annual Solar Outlook Report 2022, published by the Middle East Solar Industry Association (MESIA), which is the largest solar energy association in the Arab region. We also recently published two studies on the Sudan solar market: "Technical Training in the Sudan Solar PV Sector" and "The Guide to Solar Energy in Sudan". We also recently hosted a unique discussion panel, during the inauguration of our Guide to Solar Energy in Sudan, where representatives from the government and private sector discussed the challenges and outlook of the solar sector in the country. Clean Energy 4 Africa has also recently published the first ever directory of solar energy companies in Sudan, as part of our efforts in facilitating access to data in Sudan. All of these initiatives provide a wealth of information and insights for sound policymaking and also support the efforts of the private sector in developing the local renewable energy industry.
Q5: In terms of the sustainable development agenda for Africa, how do you perceive the progress Africa is making toward SDG7?
Africa has made good progress in achieving universal energy access. Rate of access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole rose from 33% in 2010 to 46% by 2019. However, population growth rate has outpaced rates of electrification. As a result, 570 million people (mostly in rural areas) still lacked access to electricity in 2019. Moreover, energy access injustice is also a major challenge with nearly 37% of those who lack energy access living in three countries only; the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Nigeria.
Modern renewables such as solar, wind, and geothermal currently contribute a minimal share of Africa's energy mix according the latest Market Analysis released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). However, the contribution of renewables in new generation capacity has risen by nearly 7% in the last decade, mainly driven by utility scale solar PV projects in North Africa and Southern Africa. Countries taking the lead here include Egypt, Morocco, and South Africa. In 2019-2020, nearly 2 GW of new electricity capacity was added in Africa from solar and wind only. The total installed solar generation capacity in Africa by 2020 has reached 10.4 GW.By examining the data on access to clean cooking, we find that around 917 million people in Africa still lack access to clean cooking technologies. This a very alarming indicator for progress towards SDG7. Clean cooking plays a major role in ensuring adequate indoor air quality and overall human health.Another important indicator for SDG7 is energy efficiency. According a recent analysis by SE4ALL, Africa currently ranks as the least energy efficient region globally with an energy intensity estimate of 5.6 MJ/USD GDP, whereas this figure in Latin America & the Caribbean, as an example, is 3.4 MJ/USD GDP.
Overall, Africa's progress towards SDG7 has been stagnant. This is mainly due to the absence of comprehensive policy frameworks that create an enabling environment for investors and also support the growth of the local market. Further, there has been a major imbalance in allocating financing commitments for SDG7, leading to several countries in sub-Saharan Africa with the highest energy access deficits receiving minimal financial commitments from international donors and DFIs.
Q6: What do you see as the main drivers for achieving SDG7 in Africa?
As we have seen globally, countries have started gradually recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and the energy transition and climate change agenda have been become even more critical. The COP26 conference in Glasgow last November also saw major agreements on reducing global emissions, phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, and allocating more funding for developing countries to support climate resiliency and transition to clean energy. In this decade of action towards the SDGs, African countries needs to leverage their immense renewable energy resources, to scale efforts towards universal energy access through utility-scale projects, mini grids, and power pools. Furthermore, African policymakers needs to closely work with all relevant stakeholders to develop comprehensive policy frameworks that define clear targets for renewables in all end use sectors, prioritize investments in clean energy, support efforts to upgrade the power infrastructure, develop the supporting fiscal and financial instruments, support local value creation, and provide an attractive investment environment.
Q7: How can organisations who wish to collaborate with CleanEnergy4Africa contact you directly?
We welcome all collaboration opportunities with African and international organizations in accelerating progress towards SDG7. Interested organizations can directly contact me on LinkedIn or via my email: email@example.com.