x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Academy brightens UAE solar horizons

Students gain solar skills as global firms offer quick courses at new Dubai training school.

DUBAI // The emirate's first professional solar academy opened yesterday with an inaugural class of 20 students.

The academy is a joint venture between the British University in Dubai, the green energy manufacturer PTL Solar and Solar Energy International (SEI), a training organisation in the United States.

The institution will run short courses for professionals in the industry or related fields every three months.

Three days of each programme will focus on theory and two will work on projects such as small home power systems at the PTL Solar facilities in Dubai.

Prabbish Thomas, managing director of PTL Solar, said the practical side was vital: "By the end of the five days, the students should be able to handle these small installations. The theory is good but you need to have the practical sessions."

Half of the first class live in the UAE, and eight are from African countries. Dr Martin Prince, registrar at the British University in Dubai (BUiD), said the project was "very much about linking in with Africa". "The challenge for Africa and the Gulf is huge when it comes to solar energy," he said.

William Asante, managing director of PTL Solar's operations in Ghana, said the Dh10,000 course opens up training opportunities not available in his home country.

"We need access to expertise from countries like the US, which is more advanced in this field, which this course provides us with," he said. "We'll be able to take this knowledge back home and share that, enhancing our own practices."

Dr Prince said professional development was vital in a sector and in countries that are developing so quickly. "This is about influencing the right people in government, business and industry and the five-day course is about helping to build up a real energy strategy."

Last month, the Dubai Government announced the launch of its Dh12 billion solar park project, but the emirate still lacks qualified staff.

"We're always talking about new technologies, but who's going to run it, install it, maintain it?" said Prof Bassam Abu-Hijleh, dean of engineering at BUiD.

"You can buy the technology but you still need the manpower to maintain and support it. This technology is guaranteed for 15 to 20 years.

"If you don't have the people with the know-how, that investment you make will be lost. Technology will not operate effectively and projects will fail."

Mr Thomas said he hoped the course, held at the BUiD campus in Dubai International Academic City, would help train local talent. "In time, we hope to get many Emiratis involved in the project," he said.

Prof Abdullah Al Shamsi, vice chancellor of BUiD, hopes the collaboration with PTL Solar may help fund more research into the area. It will complement the university's master's course in sustainable design and the built environment, which was the country's first when it launched seven years ago.

"Even though this country is rich in oil, solar is something we have to deal with," he said.

Nagla Ali is about to step into the role of deputy managing director at PTL's Grand Solar division in Dubai, which focuses on making everyday technology solar-friendly, from water pumps to street lighting and parking meters.

As one of the first cohort, she sees the training as vital on-the-job education. "You have to start by teaching employees the principles," she said. "You have to have a team under you that's supporting the drive in the correct way. We should be making all aspects of life we can, use solar energy."

Johnny Weiss, executive director at SEI, whose team will teach most of the courses, says it is a great introduction for people in the field.

"We're not training technicians, but we're getting people started with an overview of the applications, technology, systems design and installation - the practical aspects of how the use of solar power can change people's lives worldwide," he said.

mswan@thenational.ae