Salman Zafar, Founder of EcoMENA, talks to Bhavani Prakash of Green Collar Asia about cleantech industry trends, and offers tips for professionals trying to enter renewable energy and waste management sectors.
Green Collar Asia: How did you become so interested in renewable energy and waste management technologies?
Salman Zafar: I am a chemical engineer by education. After completing my Master’s degree program in 2004, I got the opportunity to work as a Research Fellow on large-scale biogas power projects which initiated me into waste management/bioenergy sector.
During the course of my fellowship, I was involved in the design, operation and troubleshooting of waste-to-energy plants and biomass energy projects. The idea of converting wastes into clean and useful energy appealed to me in a big way, and after completing my education in 2006 I started writing articles and blogs on biomass energy and waste management which were well-received around the world. A Swedish gentleman read one of my articles and was so impressed that he asked me to prepare a comprehensive report on biomass energy situation in Southeast Asia and there was no looking back from that day onwards.
Green Collar Asia: As a leading authority in Asia and the Middle East in this realm, can you give an overview of waste management trends in the region?
Salman Zafar: The rapid increase in population, rising standards of living and scarcity of waste disposal sites has precipitated a major environmental crisis in Asia and the Middle East. Municipalities are finding it extremely hard to deal with mountains of garbage accumulating in and around urban centres. Reduction in the volume and mass of municipal waste is a crucial issue especially in the light of limited availability of final disposal sites in many parts of the world.
The global market for solid waste management technologies has shown substantial growth over the last few years and has touched USD 150billion with continued market growth through the global economic downturn. Over the coming decade, growth trends are expected to continue, led by expansion in the US, European, Chinese, Asia-Pacific and Indian markets. Asian and Middle Eastern countries are also modernising their waste management infrastructure and have seriously begun to view waste-to-energy technology as a sustainable alternative to landfills for disposing waste while generating clean energy.
Green Collar Asia: What are the drivers that are required for waste-to-energy technologies to scale up? What kind of policy support would be conducive?
Salman Zafar: Waste-to-energy technologies cannot prosper without political, legislative and financial support from different stakeholders. Close and long-term cooperation between municipalities, planners, project developers, technology companies, utilities, investors and general public is indispensable for the success of any waste-to-energy project.
Energy recovery from wastes should be universally accepted as the fourth ‘R’ in a sustainable waste management program involving Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. An interesting fact is that countries (like Sweden, Denmark and Germany) which have reduced dependence on landfills have the highest recycling rates, and they have achieved this in combination with waste-to-energy.
Green Collar Asia: Which areas/regions are investing most in renewable energy, or rather where do you see a lot of activity?
Salman Zafar: China, United States, Germany, India and Brazil are witnessing a good deal of activity in the cleantech sector. China has made rapid progress in renewable energy sector, particular in wind energy, and invested more than USD 6 billion in different renewable energy resources in 2012. India is among top destinations for renewable energy investments with more than USD 6.85 billion pouring in for solar, wind and biomass projects in 2012. Brazil has also made strong investment in clean energy and is the market leader in Latin America.
Green Collar Asia: As a keynote speaker and panelist for several events, do you see a growth in the number of conferences in renewable energy and waste management, and new locations for these?
Salman Zafar: Yes, there has been significant proliferation in academic as well as industrial conferences in recent years. Renewable energy has caught the attention of the policy-makers, academic institutions, corporates, entrepreneurs and masses because of concerns related to global warming, industrial pollution and dwindling fossil fuel reserves. Infact, oil-rich countries like UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are working on large clean energy projects to mitigate the harmful environmental effects of the oil and gas industry and to augment their fossil fuel reserves.
As far as new venues for cleantech conferences are concerned, countries like United Arab Emirates, India, China and Singapore are in the limelight. Worldwide enthusiasm for renewable energy and green technologies has increased dramatically in recent years, and hundreds of conferences and exhibitions are being organized each year at hitherto unknown destinations which is surely helping in raising environmental awareness and career development.
Green Collar Asia: What skills and competencies are required for this field?
Salman Zafar: Skills for cleantech jobs are more or less the same as that required for traditional jobs. The capability to transfer traditional skills to a green energy project is a crucial factor for any industry professional. Renewable energy jobs are heavily based on core knowledge areas like math, science, engineering and technology.
To get an edge, it would be beneficial to get specialized knowledge and experience in the areas of energy efficiency, waste management, environmental policies, natural resource management, sustainability, computer modeling tools, artificial intelligence, IoT etc. A wide variety of jobs are on offer in the cleantech sector, such as managers, process operators, analysts, engineers, IT professionals, systems engineers, designers, technicians etc.
Green Collar Asia: What advice would you give to professionals entering this sector?
Salman Zafar: Being a relatively new industrial segment, it is advisable not to rush things while entering the cleantech sector. Focusing your education on core knowledge areas is the first step towards a green energy career. There is an avalanche of jobs in this sector, and key to success is to use your transferable skills to get a dream job.