Engr. Ibrahim Samak
A solar Energy genius: African Heritage
Man of the Year 2008
Mr. Ibrahim Samak was guest to the personality high profile report in the 17th edition (2006) of the African Heritage magazine. His achievements in the energy sector and philanthropic engagements are remarkable, making him one of the most successful Africans of our time. He is the Chairman and CEO of the Stuttgart based advanced technology firm, Engcotec. An Egyptian trained engineer with more than 35 years of experience in engineering, Mr. Samak has distinguished himself in the Solar energy sector where some of his pioneering work have been patented, earning him worldwide recognition. His company designs, develops, produces and markets photovoltaic cells which are required to transform solar energy from the sun into electricity. Under Mr. Samak’s leadership, Engcotec has become a global power in the area of alternative energy.
His philanthropic activities, conducted under the auspices of “African Hope”, a charity organisation which he co-founded, extend to African nations where AIDS/HIV and education have become issues of social emergency. Mr. Ibrahim Samak was last year awarded the Federal Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany by the German President, Mr. Horst Koehler, for his activities in research, as well as his business enterprise and humanitarian work. On the basis of these achievements, the Editorial team of African Heritage Magazine have chosen Mr. Samak as African Heritage Man of the year 2007. He has also been unanimously selected by the Heritage Media Consult Ltd in collaboration with NC news and Heritage Media partners to receive the “Kultural Ambassador Media Award” (KAMA), as “African Professional Personality of the Year 2008”. Enjoy an exclusive interview with our Man of the year in 2007 and KAMA AWARD recipient, Mr. Ibrahim Samak.
AH: Sir, many magazines including African Heritage have described you as a solar Energy genius. How would you describe the impact of your technology nationally and internationally?
Samak: The implementation of the feed-in tariff Law (EEG) by the German Government in the year 2000 caused a boom in the use of solar technology in Germany, especially in the field of photovoltaic. This trend is continuously developing and supported by a “green” awareness campaign initiated by political and private groups. The introduction of the EEG Law is responsible for Germany being the leader worldwide in the use of solar technology , while its basic rules have been adopted and implemented in 47 other countries. During the 33rd G8 summit last year, it was unanimously agreed that all G8 nations should aim to at least halve global CO2 emissions by the year 2050 in order to support climate protection. Consequently, emerging economies like India and China with huge greenhouse gas emitting problems will have to considerably increase their use of solar technology in the near future to give the world a chance to avoid a global climate collapse. Solar technology offers the world a realistic opportunity to become in the long-term, less dependent on fossil fuels. Oil formation for example is a long geologic process and its depletion comes as a result of it being consumed much faster than it can be replaced by the natural process. Renewable energy – especially solar technology – is an important part of the solution to this problem
AH: You have been involved in so many high profile solar energy projects around the world. Which of them would you consider as most challenging and why?
Samak: For me the most challenging photovoltaic project was the erection of the PV plant on the German Parliament Roof – the famous “Reichstag-Building” in Berlin. Firstly, I consider it a really exciting technical challenge and secondly, I also see it as a great cultural challenge, as this building is one of the most significant historical buildings in Europe and of remarkable public interest. I have a patent to install solar street lamps and my firm has been able to do so in many countries, for example in Germany, where we have installed solar lamps in more than 220 cities.
AH: Is there really an economic benefit in using alternative energy sources such as solar on a large scale?
Samak: In future, more emphasis will be placed on the aesthetic aspect in public and private buildings. Building-integrated optimised designs, coloured cells with beautiful new effects will play a decisive role in the near future and will open new markets within new customer groups. We are part of a team to develop colour cells, a completely new technology – an additional interesting economic point of view in the advanced development of photovoltaic technology.
AH: The global energy situation indicates that the pressure to seek an alternative source of energy is more pressing ever than before. So why is it taking the solar industry so long to cash in on the energy industry, especially in the developing countries?
Samak: In developing countries, it is in fact crucial to implement alternative sources of energy, especially in agricultural productivity as well as in improving health care services and the general quality of life. In such countries, photovoltaic energy systems would go a long way to solve some of the energy problems that prevail there. Unfortunately, PV solar systems are still relatively costly; in addition, governments of emerging economies are often not in a position to finance schemes of such magnitude. To sum it all up, these factors are the main barriers preventing developing and developed countries from fully embracing the use of solar energy: The lack of adequate economic power in developing countries and the absence of investment in the third world countries by of solar energy companies in developed nations.
AH: What has been the secret of your success, what motivates you?
Samak: My work is not only a profession but also a mission to me.
AH: Africa has the most natural source for solar energy but it seems to be dragging its feet with its development. Why do think this is so?
Samak: During the EU-Africa Summit of December 2007, it was suggested that the EU should in future support the use of nuclear energy on the African continent. However, I believe that African nations can afford solar energy systems, with a little supporting push from the EU. Austria for example is of the opinion that, faced with its huge energy resources, Africa does not need nuclear energy at all.
AH: How important is Africa to your business?
Samak: I have been working on African solar projects such as the Egyptian Awlad El Sheikh solar village since many years. Awlad El Sheikh is a complete village running on solar energy. Furthermore, we installed two building-integrated facades on governmental buildings in Egypt. We have also worked in many other African countries like Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Sudan and many others. In 1994, I acted as the main coordinator for the APAS Renewable Energy Program which was an EC-supported program to study the use of solar energy home systems in South Africa.
AH: As a professional, scientist and industrialist, how would you describe the business environment for foreigners in Germany?
Samak: In contrary to the “producer market” of the past, we have today a “consumer-market”. This fact needs to be considered when starting any new business – the marketing strategy must be adapted to permanently changing market conditions where the customer has the power to choose. In spite of the demanding economic situation and competition from emerging markets, German market opportunities still provide great opportunities for foreigners who can identify their target group at the right time and location.
AH: Sir, tell us more about your philanthropist and charitable organization in Germany and in Africa?
Samak: I founded African Hope e.V. in 1998 to support needy Africans, irrespective of their religion, race or political convictions. The organisation has five main issues on its priority list: Hope for Education, Hope for Work, Hope for Health, Hope for Youth and Hope for Energy. To date, we have successfully sent eight containers of second-hand or surplus goods consisting of different kinds of machines and tools to workshops and small enterprises, as well as medical equipment and medication, etc., to Africa. In addition, African Hope e.V. works as a kind of platform to register areas where help is needed in Africa. Our office then relates this to the corresponding German aid organizations. All overhead and administration costs are settled by the support of volunteers, while all the donations collected go directly to our different projects in Africa. As part of a support action program to help needy African clinics, we plan to approach Arabic-African doctors who work outside Africa to offer their services voluntarily for a period of two weeks in any African clinic.
AH: Sir, you recently received the Federal Cross of Merit award of the Federal Republic of Germany from the President, Mr. Horst Koehler. How did you feel and what is the award for?
Samak: I have always felt comfortable and have always been accepted by my German fellow-citizens. Receiving the Federal Cross of Merit affected me very much as a foreigner and for once, I felt that I had made the right decision by making Germany my home. Personally, I think the award is not only for me but for my fellow Egyptians and other Africans in the Diaspora.
AH: What is your relationship with Africans in Germany?
Samak: I have been the Chairman of the Egyptian Society of Baden-Württemberg for more than 20 years. I help them in integration issues, especially those concerning their daily and professional lives. I feel privileged to be called upon to support my fellow African citizens.
AH: What is your plan for Engcotec in 2008?
Samak: 2007 was an exciting year which has just come to an end. For sure, Engcotec is going to be involved in a lot of new PV projects in Germany and beyond the German border – both in executive and consulting aspects.
AH: Do you mind sharing your background with our readers?
Samak: I graduated from the Engineering department of the University of Assuit, Egypt in 1963. After some years of engineering practice I came to Germany, got married, had three sons and founded my first company in Stuttgart – Engco Engineering and Consultancy GmbH & CoKG. in 1974. The founding of my second company followed in 1987- Engcotec GmbH, also located in Stuttgart. In 2006 I became the Co-founder of Consulting and Coaching (CCS), and I was also made vice president of African and Arabian countries by European Coaching Association (ECA).
AH: Sir, on a personal note, how do you spend your free time?
Samak: Mainly with my family and friends. They are my backbone and I would like to thank them all, mostly members of my family, who have always supported, understood and encouraged me to go this way.
AH: Thank you Sir for sharing your time with us
Samak: It has been my pleasure and thank you too for your time
Dr. Brando Okolo
Article first published in 2008: Part of our flash back articles this season