Dr. Darwish MKF Al Gobaisi is one of the UAE national pioneers in the area of water and electricity services. Similar to his contemporaries, Al Gobaisi spent his early years under the guardianship of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the UAE. He worked in different positions with Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Department (WED) staring from Deputy Superintendent, Abu Dhabi power station, Director General, Power & Desalination (P&D) Plants, and for a brief period as WED Acting Under Secretary.
When and how you joined (WED)?
In the framework of the program of higher education envisaged and ordered by HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, I was sent to the UK for higher studies. To participate in the development of our country in the energy sector, I chose to specialize in electrical engineering and graduated from University of Westminster, UK in 1976 and in the same year joined the Water and Electricity Department (WED) which later became Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA). Thus started my work in the WED which gave me a great opportunity to serve and also learn a lot under the direct leadership and guidance of HH Sheikh Sorour bin Mohammad, who was already Chairman of the WED.
Subsequently in 1988 I earned my PhD degree in electrical engineering from Loughborough University, UK, by private studies and research outside my work hours in the WED submitting my thesis on energy systems. It was during this period the principle of economy of scale was realized by us. It was a breakthrough in the convictions of the desalination community. The plant scale was increased to reduce the unit cost of production which if taken over the past decades amounts to a saving of several billions of dollars. the capacity of which was increased to about 4000 MW and 280MGD respectively during my 22-year tenure, 1976-1998, under the guidance of HH Sheikh Sorour who ably led our department at the behest of HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
I served the WED in various capacities as Deputy Superintendent, Abu Dhabi power station which was situated in the Tourist Club Area, as Director General, Power & Desalination (P&D) Plants, and for a brief period as Acting Under Secretary. Most importantly during this period was my role in the integration of power and desalination as cogeneration projects for WED expansion of its facilities and departments. Coupling electricity generation with desalination results in bringing down the cost of water production to nearly half of the cost of production that arises in the case of separate power and desalination processes.
In the wonderful atmosphere of able leadership and inspiration, I was encouraged to organize refresher course programs to build human capacity in the people working in the WED. Many international experts were invited to give lectures and members of WED staff were sent to attend advanced courses and participate in scientific conferences on energy and water related areas abroad. That endeavor was our effort in realizing the vision of HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and turning into a valid concept-cogeneration, dual generation of electricity and water, better specification in plant design, even a breakthrough in the size limits of MSF desalination plants, despite serious suspicions of experts and consultants that economy of scale can only be reached after a thorough study of de-bottlenecking of constraints such as pump and valve sizes. By raising the capacity from 2 Mgd- through 6-8-12 to 16-17 Mgd, the cost of desalinated water was found to fall from $7/m3 to $0.7/m3.
The interaction with the global expertise was so extensive and close, that I took personal initiative privately, outside my duties in the WED to develop knowledge sources for education, training, research and development in desalination. The Encyclopedia of Desalination and Water Resources (DESWARE) which started in 1992 as a collective work authored by experts in desalination and related subjects became a reality within a decade. It was first released on CDROM in 2000. In 2002 the CDROM version was discontinued and a new edition was launched on the Internet at www.desware.net . It is continually updated and augmented with new information as and when deemed necessary. DESWARE is equivalent to 31 volumes, each of about 500 pages.
I, as a student, have indelible memories of the great moments with HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, his fond treatment and his caring attitude to all of us, later indirectly through HH Sheikh Sorour while in service with the WED. Sheikh Zayed used to take interest in talking individually to each one of us especially when we went to see him in London during his visits. His words not only gave us great strength and confidence in our lives but also provided a clear direction to us to serve our country and to care for our people. He used to tell us about the value of education and character. His words used to underline the importance of upholding our great traditions and culture and national identity amidst all the modern influences. Without the use of words his attitude to us alone taught also about the importance of human values.
The past and present:
A comparison between the Water and Electricity services in Abu Dhabi makes one thing clear. The vision of our beloved leaders made the huge difference. It has been a long and challenging journey to this day when we can boast of world class services.
I am personally inspired and guided throughout my life by the vision of HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan continued by HH Sheikh Khalifa, and HH Sheikh Mohammad, and HH Sheikh Sorour who planted the seeds of commitment to the development of our nation in my heart and mind. In my own vision which is a reflection of the vision our able leadership, the future of electricity and water are in the renewable resources and especially solar energy. WED has pioneered in solar desalination powered by solar energy; a demonstration plant was designed, built and operated in Umm Al Nar for 18 years (1984-2002).
In the future, I envisage solar energy taking a major share of the electricity demand in our country and also serve the energy needs for desalination of seawater to meet the fast growing demand.
I am reminded of a question put before an audience by HH Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan in his majlis in December 2011: How do we achieve water security in our country?
The answer to this most important question lies deep in our ability to manage our resources. If energy and water security is ensured (this issue is discussed in the response to Q 7 in more detail), security in other aspects such as food, health etc. will automatically follow. How resources are managed depends on human capabilities. Capacity building is mainly through education and the 21st century has to be prepared for it as indicated by Agenda 21 of the 1992 Earth summit in Rio.
Alongside the global concerns about sustainability in general, we in the WED were aware of the environmental impacts. Yearly emission of about 21 million tons of Carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is estimated due to fossil fuel powered co-generation. The share of desalination in this is 20-45% implying 4-9 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. Furthermore, in absolute terms, this fossil fuel powered energy and water systems are not sustainable.
According to surveys the capita daily consumption of water in multistoried apartments in Abu Dhabi is 170— 200 liters per person, in villas 270—1,760 liters per person. Developed societies in Europe, Australia and Canada consume 150 – 250 liters per capita per day. Sustainability is not only linked with the use of renewable natural resources used to generate water but also with consumption patterns. An integrated approach to the management of the water system encompassing scientific, technological, engineering, environmental, social and economic aspects is required to achieve sustainability of all human engineered life support systems including those of energy and water.
The concern for the environment and sustainable development became global. HH Sheikh ltan Al Nahyan was nominated as the Champion of the Earth-2005- 100 million trees were planted in the UAE at his behest and the UAE in general and the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in particular, are geared to become sustainably developed dreamlands on this planet.
One scarcity can be overcome with the abundance another natural resource with the help of resourcefulness of people. The world will apply this idea and meet the challenge of water scarcity but due to the vastness of the world and diversity of its regions, one single strategy cannot be applied to the entire world uniformly.
But the scenario of the gulf region is different. Most of the region is arid and the only water sources are usually the nearby seas. Seawater has to be turned into potable water by desalination and the energy required for this process should come from a renewable source, taking in mind that a solar collector of 1915 km2 can produce three more rivers (Nile, Euphrates, and Tigris) of desalinated water.
Thus I see a very promising possibility to achieve water security in the gulf region. This requires our determination to act towards viable realization of this objective and I am sure taking inspiration from the UAE other Gulf states will follow the path through solar energy towards water security.
Water, energy and society:
The social impacts of energy, in all imperatives leading to sustainable life and development including water cannot be overemphasized. With security in energy and water sectors, social security automatically follows through security of food, health, education and thereby relations that lead to peace and harmony which are critically necessary for sustainable development. Also the dream of sustainability will surely become a reality if we follow the path charted by appropriate science policy.
In the globalized world, those who achieve sustainability will reap the benefits of connectedness but will never be chained.
Over the last 50 years we have been enjoying, wealth, comfort and development through our fossil energy resources. We must now seriously think about the approaching limits.
Al Gobaisi has three sons and five daughters and the daughters are married and have children and he said; “I owe me a lot to Um Jamal because she was very patient in pursuing our family affairs while I am away doing researches and attending local and international conferences”.
Awards and certificates:
Al Gobaisi won a number of awards, honors and certificates from national and international organizations such as;
• Ministry of Environment and Water- The Federal Environment Agency, UAE
• UAE University
• The International Desalination Association (IDA)
• The international Biographical Centre of Cambridge- England
• The American Biographical Institute
• Corresponding member of Royal Belgian Academy of Overseas Sciences
• Member Arab Academy Of Sciences
• Fellow World Academy of Arts and Sciences