Incentivizing an Abu Dhabi Neighborhood to Install Solar Panels: Emirati Youth Research Project

This post is a snap shot of another awesome project by a group of senior Zayed University students who have just recently graduated. They employed the principles of the UAE 2021 and Abu Dhabi 2030 Strategic Plans and a unique research method to develop a plan to incentivize families in neighborhood by neighborhood to install solar panels on their rooftops.


Saeed Al Romaithi, Sorour Al Muhairi, Khalf Al Sowaidi, Mohammed Al Midfa, 
Salim Al Midfa, Khalid Al Harmoudi

Research Problem

The UAE is one of the largest consumers of electricity per capita in the world - due in large part to the high demands of air conditioning and desalination. As part of a drive towards sustainability, the UAE government is investing large resources into research (Masdar Institute for example) and large alternative energy installations (e.g. HHS Mohammed bin Rashid Solar Park and Shams 1). However, individuals will also need to contribute to the "greening" of UAE energy and installing solar panels is one way in which families can participate.

Literature Review

Recent research suggests that people are not easily convinced about the long term benefits of installing solar panels (lots of research in Europe about this) - so the students concluded that to persuade people meant making people aware of the long term benefits (in the right way!). Moreover, cost sharing was a successful method used in many countries.

The young researchers concluded, that for Abu Dhabi the best way to move forward with the plan was to provide personalized information and to develop one-on-one relationships with families - something that has been used in China, the US and the UK.

Research Methodology

The students used a mixed method approach - interviews with managers/experts, surveys of 40 young Emirati engineering students and "the majalis approach". We developed the majalis approach as a hybrid of a focus group, tailored to Emirati culture and customs. The findings and analysis were also verified in another majalis setting.

  • Majalis Research Method
In the Arab Gulf the majalis is used as a time and place for meeting with family and friends and also for family, tribal and government leaders to listen to issues and problems faced by family/tribe/community members. These majalis are held by both men and women and are generally gender segregated - although government leader majalis are open to both men and women.

My students attended several family majalis to speak about solar panels and to get feedback from different generations. Abu Dhabi was set up in family or tribe neighborhoods - so a large majalis during Ramadan or Eid could have representatives from each house in the neighborhood. Even the daily or weekly majalis by senior tribe members can have dozens of attendees. 

Of course this makes an ideal setting (with informed consent of the person holding the majalis and each person spoken with) for research here. As a qualitative researcher I was very excited with this "innovation" and was happy to see the students excited by it too.

(As a non-Arab speaker it would be impossible for me to conduct research like this without a trained research assistant - but the data and knowledge gained by the students was quite amazing in its depth and richness)


The ten expert/manager interviews of major UAE green energy projects recommended Sharp efficient solar panels and Amonix efficient solar modules - and believed that government and semi-government organisations would need to work together to first raise awareness and also to develop programs to share costs with families wanting to install panels.

There were interesting results with the surveys of young Emirati engineering students and recent graduates and those spoken with in the majalis - Although 94% thought it would be cost effective in the long run, 86% were concerned with how they would make the house look "bad". Results also showed that they would appreciate government programs and that 82% were willing to sacrifice the "look" of the house for green energy.


Based on the literature review of how these projects have been done in other countries and the mixed-method primary research the students came up with several recommendations.

  1. As a major concern of the experts and managers (and confirmed in the surveys and visits to majalises) an awareness campaign was needed to explain the benefits and also the best ways and companies to use to install solar panels.
  2. They suggest that the government could develop a program to support families through cost reduction of the panels and or installation and hook-up.
  3. There is also a concern about the technicalities of the panels, which could be solved with an effective program.


Guide for Interested Individuals

Apex Power Concepts

Phone: +971-4-223-1185

Panels available: Mono-crystalline type, poly-crystalline type, thin-film type, and flexible

Shams Power Company

Phone: +971-2-653-7200

Panels available: Mono-crystalline type, poly-crystalline type, thin-film type, and flexible

Zenman Energy

Phone: (757)-679-6703

Panels available: Mono-crystalline type, poly-crystalline type, thin-film type, and flexible


Emiratisation Research by Young Emiratis

This blog post provides a snap shot of a Senior Project completed by four recent graduates of Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. They saw the issue of mandating a percentage of Emirati employees in public and private companies operating in the UAE as a financial, social and cultural issue. Their interpretation of the problem, where they looked in the literature for guidance and their proposed solutions follow.

Emiratisation: Lessons Learned from Affirmative Action

Ali Ahmed Al Dhaheri
Ali Hussain Al Khoori
Mohammed Humaid Al Dhaheri
Mohammed Saif Al Zaabi


Official Emiratisation began in 2000 to ensure full employment of UAE Nationals and also to decrease dependency on the expatriate population which represents over 85% of the working population. There is still a need to invest in the training and skills development of Emiratis to ensure that those hired are not just to fill quotas, but to contribute to the success of the organisation and their future careers.

Looking to the Literature:

Affirmative action research is established and has been used to create government and organisational policies in much of the Western world. While affirmative action aims to right unjust hiring practices for "under privileged" populations there are similarities to be drawn with the struggles of Emiratisation as they are both examples of "positive discrimination".

The issue of underemployment of Nationals in the Arabian Gulf Region has been met with similar programs in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman. The greatest successes have come with a focus on providing training and high level education and professional development to Locals.


Recent graduates want to work for government organisations - for job security, better pay, better working conditions and a greater sense of contributing to the development of the Nation. Private companies are seen as "not welcoming" to Locals and "only" seem to hire for positions in public relations and HR. 

An interview with an architect of a successful Emiratisation program with a private company in the banking sector suggests that hiring recent graduates in a group, training them together and providing career development opportunities and the possibilities of career and professional advancement seems to "work".

Some recommendations:

The students wrote that the dignity of all work (not just white collar jobs) well done needs to be recognized by Emirates. (Not everyone is qualified to have a desk job with a corner office) Moreover, self-dependency will only come through hard work on the part of Emiratis and an investment in education and skills training by companies and organisations operating in the UAE.

Their research poster  at the National Day Celebrations


Desert clean up project: a lesson in strategic implementation

One week to go until the end of the semester and graduation! Yesterday we took our class field trip to the Al Ain desert - to clean a small patch of well used public desert, that also happens to be strewn with garbage of all descriptions!

I know more traditional professors and people education in the rote learning tradition will not understand how these projects have anything to do with learning... well, you do not teach critical thinking, problem solving and strategic implementation memorizing definitions.

Action learning is a movement gaining steam in academia - it involves not only hands on learning but applying theoretical concepts in real situations... Our desert cleaning project in Al Ain involved discussing the AD 2030 and UAE 2021 plans, but also the nitty gritty of strategic implementation. The vision of the UAE and the Emirate of Abu Dhabi is based on sustainability of the economy, environment, the society, and culture. The desert has everything to do with all four... But there is a serious litter problem. Of course not everywhere is this "bad" and the students looked hard to find a "bad" spot that was also easy to get to. The desert in the UAE is breathtakingly beautiful, just certain well-used spots need some TLC!

It started with a small group in charge of the project (Hamad, Khalaf and Surour - awesome job guys!). They were tasked in finding the best place, leading class discussions on what would be needed, how we would organize, getting permission from the municipality, transportation, etc. I was in charge of sending countless email :) The municipality was very supportive and actually offered to send workers to help us out... Hamad knew what I would say to that and respectfully declined the offer!

Enthusiasm grew for the project over the past 8 weeks or so... being able to motivate is a helpful skill among professors of Generation Y students!

On to the photo essay :)

We arrive at the chosen - pre-scoped out site in the Al Ain desert. 

Garbage was everywhere, and actually was worse than I thought it would be... the students said it was because it was so close to the road and some great sand dunes...
Each group needed gloves, heavy duty garbage bags and a "stick" - Ace Hardware knew by the third group to visit that they were Zayed university students :)

There were skills to be learned, bags to be opened and lots of garbage! And every time you dug a little in the sand there was more :) Seriously some of it was super gross, luckily by the time we hit really gross stuff we had been at it awhile and had built up our immunity!

There were some weird "treasures" found... and I just love this photo showing enthusiasm, and even joy in our desert clean up project :)

Skills became talents :) Yes, not all students were feeling 100%, but they came out anyways!
Close up of the camels grazing - thanks Salem for the pic :)


OK, it is not that strange to see camels in the desert - but we all took photos and were excited all the same... and of course it was a stark reminder of the real dangers of trash in the desert... the camels graze in the open desert and eat the plastic... but the plastic isn't digested and the lump can grow so big the camel will die a quite painful death.

The January 2014 men's graduating class in the College of Business at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi with the "fruits" of our labor... some of it had already been hauled down to the big green garbage container just a few feet away (yes those containers are every km or so... the municipality provides them, people just don't use them!)

Part of the beautiful clean "patch" of desert!

Relaxing after the clean-up :) We had a lovely early dinner around the fire...
This is part of the great beauty of the desert - relaxing and sharing stories around a fire... watching the sun set, having the professor give suggestions on how best to manage the fire, ignoring those suggestions... etc!
The Maghreb prayer - I asked permission to take a photo and then to post it - they said of course Miss, this is who we are and why we are.
The Maghreb or sunset prayer is one of the five prayers that Muslims pray daily. I have had the honor of seeing my students pray on many occasions, but I wanted to share this special moment with you. The owner of the camels had noticed us cleaning and then joined the students in their prayers. He then talked with them and said he would send over camel milk from the evening milking to thank and welcome us. A photo of the still warm and frothy camel milk is below.

After dinner he came himself and sat around the fire - and asked about our project and then spoke of the importance of teaching each generation - parents to children - about cleanliness, the ways of the desert, their heritage and Islam. He asked each student to introduce himself, and from their names he would sometimes tell a story about the father or grandfather and guess where they were from. He also spoke of how proud he was of them and how proud the university and their parents must be.

He then asked if the professor (me) wanted to hold a falcon. So we walked the few feet to his truck and there was one of the most beautiful falcons I had ever seen! It was a Shaheen and had a royal lineage... let me tell you there were some excited students to see his falcons and hear about his hunting adventures around the world.

Camel milk is destined to become a super food in the next decade... and it is delicious :)

Me in a very warm jacket made for cold desert nights and a majestic Shaheen falcon
Action learning will always have "unintended" teachable moments... this project had too many teachable moments for all of us to count! Bravo gentlemen, I am proud of you... when you start your jobs in organisation in Abu Dhabi, just remember this was a valuable team building exercise :)

Smile and courage, Dr. Connie