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Corporate Profile: Interview with Zahra Al-Ali

TSIM Special Correspondant:

Energy, overstretched periods of time has traditionally been a male-dominated field. Despite all the global recognition and benefits of increasing women’s participation in employment and leadership roles, wheels of change still turn a tidbit too slow in this sector. However, even as many barriers continue to prevent women from working in the energy industry, some are defying all odds and calling shots in this space.

Zahra Al-Ali is Managing Director and Founder of Majan Modern Solutions. Majan Modern Solutions specializes in consulting services, construction and are green innovators within the Energy and Oil and Gas sector. Zahra holds MSc in Advanced Chemical Engineering and MBA in International Business from reputed universities in the UK. She also has 15 years of experience working for upstream and downstream engineering from some of the largest international companies like Schlumberger and Equinor thus exposed to working with contractors as well as Exploration and Production Company.

Carrying over 15 years of global experience in strategic planning, market analysis, project management, and risk assessment in the oil & gas industry, we were honored to sit down with her for an interview and engaged on wide-ranging Energy issues.

Energy covers a whole breadth of sources ranging from: Geothermal, Wind, Biomass, Solar, Water etc. For the interest of our readers, please speak to us more about your specific area of expertise.

My main expertise lies in the offshore oil field development, remote substation solutions, and operations related to Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC) for renewable energy and the oil and gas production markets; specifically in Norway and Oman in the last 15 years.  My 7-year experience working with Equinor in Norway where I closely worked with Scientists and Engineers who developed technologies for wind farm turbine solutions inspired me to set up Majan Modern Solutions MMS. This has given me the platform to transfer innovative solutions to the renewable energy and Oil and Gas production markets in Oman and other developing nations. Given this background and despite having vast experience, my current passion is in Wind as a form of Renewable Energy.

According to a 2019 report by the Centre for Climate & Energy Solutions, it indicates that renewable energy is the fastest-growing energy source globally and in the United States. It states that Renewables made up to 26.2 percent of global electricity generation in 2018. And that is expected to rise to 45 percent by 2040. From where you sit, what reasons convince you this will be attained, and how much is Wind energy expected to contribute?

Global investment in new renewable energy capacity over the last 10 years— 2010 to 2019 is USD 2.6 trillion USD, of which 1.3 trillion USD going to Solar and wind energy. The growth generation capacity of wind is anticipated to tremendously grow in the next decade to come. In fact, just recently, Germany revised their laws and regulations and increased its targets from 30GW to 40GW of installed offshore wind by 2040. UK government on the other hand has committed to 40GW of installed offshore wind by 2030.  Denmark produced 47% of its electricity from wind in 2019, 50% in 2020, and their vision for 2035 to be 84%. Norway is anticipated to spend 10 Billion EUROs in the coming years on offshore wind.  These facts and figures are a clear representation of Wind’s contribution to the global energy mix.

The International Energy Agency notes that the development and deployment of renewable energy technologies will depend heavily on government policies and financial support to make renewable energy cost-competitive. Paint for us a picture of the Laws and Regulations governing this sector here in Oman?

First let me point out that currently, Oman’s economy is driven by oil and gas.  However, in 2018 after a restructuring of its utility sector, Oman started moving towards the privatization of the electricity grid.  An accelerated drive initiated by the Oman government to diversify its economy away from hydrocarbon production towards regulatory actions that support economically viable energy.  What is more encouraging is Oman’s agile culture in enacting laws and regulations much faster than most nations. In a very short period, Oman has taken some serious actions towards renewable energy. Recently, Oman’s vision of 2040 to produce 20% of its power from renewables and 30-39% by 2040 was formed.  These are positive regulatory and visionary steps towards viable and cleaner energy sources.

So when it comes to regulation, on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest score); you score the Government of Oman a…?

It is too early to score the renewables regulations in Oman. However, as an Omani company driving change towards cleaner energy, the government has displayed tremendous positive vibes for offshore wind.

Connected to this, you sit at a vantage point based on your skills; experience and current role at Majan Modern Solutions where you position yourself as a driver of change and innovation; what kind of change do you see Wind as one form of renewable energy bringing not just to the Oman economy but the global economy at large?

Strategically located wind farms can bring down the cost of electricity which further supports economic growth, increase industrial presence due to cheaper electricity, increase jobs and prosperity of the country in unimaginable levels.  For investors, Wind energy provides sustainable incomes for businesses.

Across board, offshore wind energy has major potential in developing countries like Somalia. This has been proven in the Electricity Grid Carbon footprints from developed nations in Europe, Asia and the US. These are positive case studies which have shown that it is profitable to harness ocean winds to generate electricity. 

Usually, the conversation about Renewables is heavily focused on the Supply side of things, what does the demand-side of things look like? Are the industries having a strong appetite towards making the Switch? Are they aware of the implications of Renewables? 

International legislations are driving the appetite for the industries to make the switch. Green is becoming competitive in terms of production which eases its adoption.

Reports on Renewable power in the last 5 years have been very impressive; year after year, we hear success after success.  Solar and wind energy technologies continue to beat all other types of fuels in terms of their pricing and competitiveness. Moving towards renewables also means a reduction in Co2 emissions which is good for the environment.

Away from the Economics, numerous questions are often posed about the negative Environmental and Health Impacts of these technologies. For instance, in 2011 various lobby groups launched campaigns protesting against the erection of wind turbines in Ontario Canada putting forward “scientific evidence” that wind turbines were a health hazard. Can wind turbines make you sick?

Studies related to health are still ongoing as a number of offshore wind turbines increase knowledge on (if any) health effects.   Does it affect us? Indeed there could be potential risks as some released reports have indicated ringing in the ears, headaches, lack of concentration and sleep disruption for those people that live near the turbines. However, these are not related to offshore wind. On the benefits side, we do get a climate benefit from wind turbines as it improves air quality and humans get to breathe cleaner air. 

Speak to us more about “Wind Turbine Syndrome” what is wind turbine syndrome?

Wind Turbine Syndrome is not listed in the international disease classification system but rather as a pseudoscience (statements that are not scientific or factual, terms that have just been made up). 

In December 2019 for example, a recently installed wind turbine came crashing down in a New York City neighborhood and it tumbled down to the street and cars below. Thankfully, there were no injuries. What safety regulations guide/should guide such installations so as to guarantee safety?

No one in this world can guarantee that accidents won’t happen. Human errors are the major cause of accidents and eventually, we are all and individually responsible for our own safety. Having said that, it is also important for me to point out that, during construction and installation of wind turbines there are International safety standards codes that govern both offshore and onshore wind standards.

Environmentally, there have been claims and uproar regarding the safety and lives of birds and flying species. Do wind turbines pose a grave threat to the survival of these species?

From my knowledge, vulnerability and mortality from wind farms have largely been based on onshore wind farms. Direct measurements of mortality from offshore wind farms are much more difficult because of the difficulty of finding corpses at sea.  Therefore it is still okay to assume that there is considerable uncertainty of birds’ mortality estimates on seabird species.

As for Wind Turbines, what happens to the turbines at the end of their life?

They are usually dismantled, like many offshore installations they are re-used or recirculated or sold as scrap.

What is the future of Renewables in the current space of climate change? What are the prevailing climate change patterns telling us, are they asking us to move faster to renewables or are they saying “hold your horses now?”

Move faster to renewables, it’s cleaner, healthier and profitable!

Seeing as we live in a global village, here’s a question on other world economies. According to a June 2020 study conducted by the African Development Bank, Somalia has the highest resource potential of any African nation for onshore wind power and could generate between 30,000 to 45,000 MW. From an expert and experiential point of view, what would you say are some of the Strengths, Weaknesses, and Opportunities & Threats for a Country like Somalia?

There are many opportunities for a country like Somalia to adopt offshore wind energy. Somalia’s main strength is the long coastline and the available strong winds. One weakness remains the lack of elaborate government regulation and legislation in setting Somalia off on the right path. As for all the challenges including: financial, shortage of skilled labor, and any other challenge, why would a few challenges stop Somalia from realizing the dream of such a sustainable energy source? 

As you share your final thoughts, please share some advice, tips, or word of encouragement to any aspiring youth out there wishing to join or already pursuing a course in your field?.

My one piece of advice for the youth would be: don’t quit on learning, stay focused, be proactive, spot the career trends, broaden your network by joining professional groups and never give up until you attain your goal. 

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