Prof. Getachew Assefa
Professor Wolde-Ghiorgis Woldemariam Desta, a distinguished scholar, passed away on December 26, 2023, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He was 82. Born in the Adwa Rural District of the Tigray Region, Ethiopia, he dedicated his life to advancing knowledge in electrical engineering, renewable energy systems and promoting sustainable rural development, particularly in the Horn of Africa. He will be laid to rest on Saturday, January 6, 2024 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Professor Wolde-Ghiorgis’s academic journey began at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering in 1963. He continued his pursuit of knowledge, completing his Master’s degree at Lehigh University in 1967 and obtaining a PhD in Electrical Engineering from McGill University in 1972.
Throughout his illustrious career, Professor Wolde-Ghiorgis held various academic and professional positions. He served at Addis Ababa University, holding roles from Lecturer to Professor Emeritus in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. His tenure included periods as Assistant Dean, Associate Dean, and Head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
In addition to his teaching and research activities at the Addis Ababa University, Professor Wolde-Ghiorgis had provided energy-related managerial and advisory services to the Ethiopian Government (1992-2011): first, as General Manager of the Ethiopian Electric Power and Light Authority, EELPA (1992-93), then as Special Advisor on Energy in the Ministry of Mines and Energy (1993-94), and further as chairman and member in technical committees related to the energy sector, hydropower feasibility studies and designs (1995-98). He had also served as a Member of the Management Board of the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation, EEPCO (i.e. of the former EELPA) since 1997-2011.
Outside his teaching and research activities, he was successfully engaged in providing services as a Professional electrical Engineer in industrial electrical installations designs, urban water supply systems, contracting and sub-contracting of industrial installations with control and instrumentation systems. He holds permits and licenses for industrial electrical installations and consultancy services. In addition, he had been actively and continuously involved in the development activities of urban dwellers’ associations in his residential areas/sub-districts in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 1977 to 1995. His contributions to the field included his work as a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) in New York, USA, from 1985 to 1994.
Passion for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Development:
Professor Desta’s passion for sustainable development, particularly in renewable energy technologies (RETs), was evident in his consultancy services and research activities. As a Principal Researcher with the African Policy Research Network (AFREPREN) in Nairobi, Kenya, he played a significant role in understanding applications of bagasse-based cogeneration of electricity and geothermal energy studies.
From 1999 to 2010, Professor Wolde-Ghiorgis served as the Principal Renewable Energy Researcher for African Energy Policy Research Network (AFREPREN), further contributing to the advancement of energy policy in Africa. His commitment extended to founding the Insight Development Research Institute (IDRI), an independent organization focused on consultancy services and research activities in RETs and Information-Communication Technologies (ICTs).
Teaching and Mentoring:
Professor Wolde-Ghiorgis was not only a distinguished scholar but also a devoted mentor and teacher. His extensive experience in teaching graduate courses and supervising research projects showcased his dedication to shaping the next generation of engineers and researchers. His teaching career included impactful roles at the Defense Engineering College at Debre Zeit (Bishoftu) and Addis Ababa University.
Legacy and Contributions:
Professor Wolde-Ghiorgis Woldemariam Desta leaves behind a legacy of over 100 publications, including papers, books, and teaching materials, focusing on energy and communication engineering. His work aimed to advance research and development activities with initiatives, innovations, adaptations, and applications for the promotion of RETs and ICTs, all for sustainable development in rural communities and urban poor populations of Sub-Saharan African countries.
In his later years, Professor Wolde-Ghiorgis continued his research from his residence in Canada, actively engaged in ongoing projects focused on energy efficiency improvements in industries and providing supervision and advisory roles for PhD dissertations, particularly in Ethiopian industries.
A man of diverse interests, Professor Wolde-Ghiorgis was not only involved in academia and research but also committed to volunteering work. His desire to contribute to the community and mentor the next generation persisted, as evident in his interest in consultancy services and applied research activities on RETs and ICTs in Calgary, Alberta, and Canada.
Although I had heard about Professor Wolde-Ghiorgis while I was studying Chemical Engineering at Addis Ababa University through his students in the Electrical Engineering cohort, I had the opportunity to meet him in person for the first time after he relocated to Calgary, Canada in 2013. His contagious passion for the rural people of Ethiopia was unmistakable, evident in his decades-long efforts to enhance the lives of those grappling with energy poverty. In our limited yet delightful conversations, his unwavering commitment to development and education capacity building became apparent. His humble demeanor and warm smile were truly infectious.
Even during my visit in September, the first time in years since losing contact, Professor Wolde-Ghiorgis, though significantly weakened and struggling to speak due to declining health, remained engaged in discussions about energy poverty issues and the training of students. His enduring dedication to these causes was a testament to his remarkable spirit and commitment to making a positive impact.
His impact on those who directly benefited from his teaching and supervision, as well as the broader community touched by his lifelong dedication, ensures that his legacy of addressing energy poverty issues, especially in vulnerable communities, will endure for generations to come.
Professor Wolde-Ghiorgis Woldemariam Desta’s contributions to the fields of electrical engineering, renewable energy, and sustainable development will be remembered as a beacon of knowledge and inspiration for generations to come.
Professor Ephrem Isaac, who shared his thoughts with UMD Media following the demise of Wolde-Ghiorgis, reminisced about their time together when he was at Harvard and Wolde-Ghiorgis was at MIT. During this period, Wolde-Ghiorgis was described as a man who, despite lacking political interest, dedicated himself to assisting the people. Professor Isaac recalled their collaborative efforts on the “Ye Fidel Serawit” campaign, also known as “the army of the alphabet,” which aimed to promote literacy by teaching people how to read and write during the era of Haile Selassie I, the last emperor of Ethiopia.
Professor Wolde-Ghiorgis Woldemariam Desta is survived by his wife, W/o Kebra Gebregiziabher, his three daughters, Berhan Wolde-Ghiorgis, Zufan Wolde-Ghiorgis, and Timnit Wolde-Ghiorgis, and grandchildren.