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Faisal Albirdisi

Faisal Albirdisi: Driving Renewable Energy Change

Pioneering Sustainability and Energy Innovation in a Hydrocarbon-Dependent Region!

Amidst the challenges posed by climate change and the urgency to adopt sustainable energy solutions, a global movement driven by innovation and resolve is taking hold. With the undeniable consequences of our dependence on fossil fuels becoming ever more apparent, the pursuit of cleaner, alternative energy sources has become an imperative mission. Climate change is not just a distant problem but an undeniable reality that we face on a daily basis. The evidence of rising temperatures, severe weather conditions, and the rapid melting of ice sheets reinforces the urgency for swift action. The primary culprit behind this crisis is the burning of fossil fuels, which emits a significant amount of greenhouse gases. It is a clear signal that we can no longer turn a blind eye to this issue.

In this challenging landscape, individuals like Faisal Albirdisi, CTO at Noor Energy 1, are inspiring beacons of change. His journey in the energy sector, particularly in renewables, showcases his unwavering commitment to addressing pressing energy challenges and his dedication to making a positive impact on our planet’s future.

Faisal’s foray into the renewable energy sector began during his college days when he found himself captivated by the incredible potential and applications of solar energy. His curiosity led him to delve deeper into this field, setting the stage for a lifelong pursuit of knowledge and innovation in the world of sustainability.

Recognizing the need for a strong foundation to effect change in the energy sector, Faisal pursued his education in a field that aligned with his passion. This strategic decision enabled him to not only gain expertise but also explore the renewable energy sector from various angles.

Hailing from a region that heavily relies on hydrocarbons for its energy needs, Faisal’s unique position gave him a profound understanding of the energy landscape. Simultaneously, he couldn’t ignore the abundant solar resources that his region was blessed with. This duality fueled his determination to bridge the gap between tradition and innovation, between fossil fuels and renewables.

His journey in the energy sector was not just a career choice; it was a calling. Driven by a deep-seated passion for sustainability and a genuine concern for energy security, he felt an undeniable urge to contribute to a more sustainable future. He understood that the world needed pioneers who could usher in an era of cleaner, more efficient energy.

Faisal’s journey was further enriched by the incredible opportunities he received right from the beginning of his professional career. His placements at institutions that were at the forefront of tackling energy transitions allowed him to be part of the solution, not just an observer of the problem. These experiences equipped him with the knowledge, skills, and networks necessary to drive real change.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Inception Story: Transforming Dubai’s Energy Landscape

Noor Energy 1 holds the distinction of being the world’s largest concentrated solar power (CSP) plant. As the fourth phase of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, its primary objective is to provide the Emirate of Dubai and the UAE with continuous, clean, and sustainable renewable energy. Boasting an impressive dispatchable capacity of 950 MW, the plant incorporates a wide range of commercially available and advanced solar technologies. These include Bi-Facial Photovoltaics, the largest Parabolic Troughs, and the Highest Concentrated Solar Tower. Noor Energy 1 goes beyond being a mere power plant; it serves as a powerful representation of how future energy requirements can be fulfilled and acts as a catalyst for much-needed positive change.

Insights on Leading the Utilities Industry

Faisal has had the privilege of serving at the higher management level in the utility industry for several years, most recently as the Chief Technical Officer (CTO) of the record-breaking Noor Energy 1 PSC. His experience in this role has been accelerated, rewarding, and dynamic. His journey in the sector began in Saudi Arabia, specifically at the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE). After completing his BSc in Electrical Engineering, he joined the renewables team as a research assistant focused on adaptive solar applications for the region. He then pursued an MSc in the same field and had the opportunity to intern with ACWA Power at one of their first CSP Parabolic Trough Plants in Morocco. This internship, combined with his studies, solidified his interest in a career in utilities and renewables.

After completing his graduate studies, Faisal made the decision to continue his professional career with ACWA Power. He values being part of a company and a family that is dedicated to developing, delivering, and operating complex infrastructure projects that have a lasting impact on the utility services and societies they serve worldwide.

In his current role as Chief Technical Officer for Noor Energy 1, his responsibilities include overseeing the management of operational units and guiding them through the critical phase of commercial operations. He strives to empower an integrative operational organization and direct collective efforts toward meeting organizational targets that prioritize safety, reliability, and performance.

Alongside the technical aspects, a significant part of Faisal’s role involves staying ahead of industry trends and regulatory changes. The utilities sector is undergoing a transformative period, with a growing emphasis on sustainability, renewable energy integration, and digitalization. As CTO, Faisal takes on the responsibility of ensuring that his organization effectively adapts to these changes. This often involves collaborating with cross-functional teams to develop and implement strategies that align with these evolving needs and those of their clients.

Power of Mathematical Modeling and Advanced Digitalization

In previous projects, Faisal has utilized their skills in Mathematical Modeling, Python, C++, Matlab, and Physics. These skills have been applied at Noor Energy 1 to adopt modeling tools and advanced digitalization. By closely monitoring the behavior of their units, they are able to make informed decisions on a daily basis. This approach maximizes production from the units and identifies areas for value addition.

Approach to Program and Project Management

Faisal emphasized the importance of following a standard approach in any business, project, or company. It is essential to have clarity on the objectives and understand the risks involved. By being prepared for potential setbacks and controlling them early on, the impact can be minimized. Trust and effective communication within the team are crucial. Creating an open environment where thoughts, concerns, issues, and ideas are transparently shared enables innovation and ensures timely support. This approach helps in staying focused on meeting the set objectives and overcoming challenges. Regular engagement with stakeholders is also vital for successful outcomes, as it allows for resource management and quality planning.

Overcoming Complex Challenges to Deliver Reliable Energy

There are many examples of experiences that may not fit the typical definition of success but still provide valuable knowledge. One such experience occurred in the recent history of the writer’s current role, during the operation of the 1st CSP PT unit of Noor Energy 1. This phase required active involvement from the EPC Contractor, Main Equipment Suppliers, and O&M Contractor to ensure reliable energy delivery to the grid while meeting the company’s needs and performance expectations. The challenge involved not only addressing technical operational issues and limitations in the complex and large-scale unit but also fostering collaboration between teams with different opinions and objectives. Despite the ongoing nature of this challenge, it has been overcome by implementing a transparent and concise operational procedure. This procedure captures the collective objectives of the different teams and connects them to a main objective that benefits all stakeholders and the plant as a whole.

By establishing clear responsibilities for each party and individual, identifying effective communication and reporting channels, and adopting streamlined workflows, Noor Energy 1 has created a proactive working environment. In this environment, all team members, regardless of their affiliation, contribute as part of a unified team working towards a shared goal.

Transforming Professional Growth

Education plays a vital role in shaping an individual’s professional development. It’s not just about acquiring technical knowledge and skills but also about the holistic growth that occurs during one’s educational journey. The classroom is not the only place where learning takes place; interactions with peers, extracurricular activities, and exposure to diverse perspectives all contribute to personal and professional growth.

Faisal’s education had a significant impact on his professional development. In addition to gaining valuable technical knowledge, skills, and tools from the courses and programs he participated in during his college years, his interactions with peers outside the classrooms also influenced his approach to leadership and project management.

Proactive Approach to Staying Informed

Staying informed and continuously updating one’s knowledge is crucial in any professional field, especially in rapidly evolving sectors like energy and utilities. Faisal’s proactive approach to staying updated serves as a prime example of dedication to professional growth and competence. He stays updated by regularly checking energy and utility sector news feeds, engaging with business social media platforms, and attending seminars, workshops, and conferences related to the field. He actively participates in conversations with key stakeholders and experts to enhance his knowledge and insights.

Expert Communication Strategies

Effective communication is the lifeblood of any successful endeavor, particularly in a professional context. Faisal’s approach to communication aligns perfectly with this fundamental principle, emphasizing key strategies that are both practical and considerate of diverse perspectives.

Communication strategies vary based on the situation, objective, and status. He always takes into account certain key approaches for effective communication. These include maintaining open and transparent channels of communication among managed teams, actively listening, and encouraging the sharing of ideas through open thought sessions. Cultural sensitivity and understanding of customs, traditions, and working styles are also crucial when working with a diverse group of individuals and organizations from different backgrounds.

Building Cultural Sensitivity in Diverse Teams

Faisal emphasizes that successfully managing competing priorities and meeting tight deadlines necessitates a strategic approach involving meticulous planning, effective resource allocation, and a clear focus on objectives. Often, multiple priorities demand equal attention and have simultaneous deadlines. To address this challenge, it is crucial to have a well-equipped team with diverse skillsets and adequate support, enabling parallel workstreams and the simultaneous pursuit of multiple objectives and priorities. Faisal also underscores the significance of cultural sensitivity and the understanding of customs, traditions, and working styles while collaborating with individuals and organizations from diverse backgrounds. By emphasizing these aspects, effective communication and collaboration can be fostered, leading to successful outcomes in cross-cultural contexts.