x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Company shows way to save water with help of interns

FuGu Energy – a play on Future Gulf – was formed by engineers and entrepreneurs to encourage young people to change their views about using energy and has big plans for the future.

Marwan Chaar, left, and Najla Ahmed al Midfa, founders of FuGu Energy, a sustainable energy consultancy firm.
Marwan Chaar, left, and Najla Ahmed al Midfa, founders of FuGu Energy, a sustainable energy consultancy firm.

DUBAI // Marwan Chaar started out like any other engineering student from a well-respected US university.

But then he took a different path from his fellow classmates: he turned to energy in the UAE.

Originally from Lebanon, Mr Chaar started up an energy efficiency project after graduating from Harvard in May 2009. He was joined by his Qatari friend, Abdulla AlMisnad, who graduated from Stanford.

FuGu Energy - a play on Future Gulf - was born, and it quickly began to grow.

The company has big plans for the future. It focuses on the consumption of energy by helping clients in the UAE decrease the amount of electricity and water they use. It also compiles feasibility studies and investment proposals that are environmentally friendly.

And it is going after young people, who its founders say are the key to conservation.

"We're working on putting together a sort of Facebook application through which students can compete with one another on different aspects - recycling, energy efficiency and water conservation. It's about getting the kids more aware by taking part so we are trying to do training programmes with the universities," Mr Chaar said.

The company has three core sectors: government (office buildings, complexes, mosques), education (schools, universities) and commercial.

The founders started an internship programme last July for students from UAE universities.

"You can really target mindsets with the education section, so what we're doing with Zayed University, for instance is something completely different," Mr Chaar said.

"We give [interns] an independent research project and they have to structure the energy efficiency industry in terms of the different aspects, and come up with ways to save energy, listing out the possible technologies," he said. "One student from [BITS-Pilani Dubai] has had the longest term so far. He actually helped us out in the studies."

Mr Chaar further elaborated on the growth of his company.

"We were working part-time in FuGu Energy until I quit my gas project development job in October, and that's when the business really picked up," he said.

Najla al Midfa, an Emirati and one of three founding partners, came on board from New York last April. She explained that "the idea is to have that social impact. We are in a region that has the highest energy consumption in the world, the biggest carbon footprint, so that's really key and it's very difficult to change the habits here because we're so used to such an easy lifestyle."

The up-and-coming company is proud of what it has accomplished so far: "We're working with the International School of Choueifat in Sharjah at the moment so the younger we can get started, the easier it will be," she said. "The idea is that at least, if not now, then the next generation will have a different perspective on energy."

Both Mr Chaar and Mr AlMisnad are mechanical engineers.

Ms al Midfa also works at Khalifa Fund, which helps develop small and medium businesses, as a manager of entrepreneurship development.

She said she is excited to see the potential opportunities in Abu Dhabi, a city that is very active in the renewable energy field.

"One of the initiatives in the pipeline is the solar rooftop programme, which encourages the installation of solar panels in private properties," she said. "Once that is officially launched, it could be a major opportunity for FuGu Energy to work alongside the government as they implement these energy changes."

Mr Chaar agreed that there are many opportunities for FuGu Energy.

"We've had great response from the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce," he said, "and we started a project with them as they are serious about sustainability. They're doing this because they want to lead the way in sustainable energy consumption."

He continued: "We got a project in Qatar with Qtel, in Zighy Bay with the Six Senses Hotel [in Oman], a factory here, so we were really testing the market and learning as none of us have a background in this," he said.

The trio is also dealing with the Knowledge and Human Development Authority in Dubai, which has created a sustainability task force for schools. The authority brought FuGu Energy onboard as a private sector partner in energy efficiency last month.

"You have companies that offer similar services in different parts of our space, but I can say with all certainty that there is no company that looks at schools and offers a turnkey approach that includes your awareness campaigns, your focus on training programmes, community building and energy efficiency altogether," Mr Chaar said.

Ms al Midfa agreed. "We like to position ourselves as a home-grown team with international experience," she said.