TBY talks to Ken Paton, CEO of Symtech Solar Middle East, on the vast solar potential of the country and the wide range of opportunities for solar power solutions in Oman and further afield.

Ken Paton
Ken Paton has over 30 years experience in senior management roles in the Middle East with particular expertise in executive and general management. He is currently the CEO of Symtech Solar Oman and CEO of Speedy International Asset Services Oman. He has an MBA from Manchester Business School in the UK.

How difficult is it to realize Symtech Solar's sustainable innovation mission here in Oman?

From an outside perspective, I was quite surprised to see the lack of solar uptake in Oman considering the sun shines for 320 days of the year and Oman has one of the highest solar radiances in the world. It was important for my chairman and myself to diversify into a different business sector, but one that was analogous to what we already do, which is generate electricity. As government subsidies for petrol and diesel are being reduced, government subsidies for electricity are likely the next ones in line. Recognizing that solar was a massive, untapped opportunity and the likelihood of reductions in government subsidies for electricity being combined with reduced customized service costs in this sector, has created a perfect storm. The government has a great opportunity to encourage the uptake of rooftop solar, which is exactly what it is doing.

What are the product lines and services that Symtech offers, and what industries or sectors are you looking at to introduce this technology?

We are concentrating on three main areas; rooftop solar systems for domestic, industrial, and commercial use, solar street lighting, and solar powered water irrigation pumps. With regard to the rooftop solar sector, a survey was completed for the government two years ago that recognized that there was an opportunity for 1.44GW of electricity to be generated from domestic rooftops in Oman and one-third of that would be in Muscat. Muscat has low-rise buildings and flat rooftops that are ideal for the installation of rooftop solar systems. We are structuring so that our installation teams will arrive at a home with everything necessary in one box. Within 36-48 hours, the panels will be connected and households will be producing their own electricity. If there is a feed-in tariff from the government, they can feed in their excess electricity into the national grid and receive credit for it on their monthly electricity bill. The excess electricity fed into the grid then goes to power schools, hospitals, and their neighbors. After the sun goes down, the system automatically senses it and the system automatically switches over to the grid. In the industrial and commercial sectors, we are concentrating on hotels, tourism, food manufacturing, and infrastructure sectors.

Is there a specific market, apart from Oman, that you are focusing on?

For obvious reasons, we will focus on Yemen when the current hostilities cease. The war has resulted in widespread destruction of infrastructure, especially electricity infrastructure, and that will need to be improved. We believe this will offer an opportunity for Yemen to leap forward in technology, analogous to what happened in Africa with the uptake of mobile phones and we believe that Yemen will skip two or three generations and go straight to solar. The uptake of solar now in Sanaa and around Yemen is massive. When peace finally arrives, there will be an opportunity for Symtech Solar to assist in rapidly providing solar electricity to relieve the suffering of the people of Yemen.

What needs to be done to unleash Oman's full potential in renewable energy?

The Authority for Electricity Regulation will need to promulgate specifications to allow solar power to connect to the national grid system. Currently, we are not allowed to connect anything to the grid for electrical safety reasons. We are expecting the AER to issue specifications for equipment and standards for installation by early 2017. Until then, we will concentrate on solar street lighting, solar powered water irrigation pumps, and totally off-grid solar systems. Incentives from the government, often called a feed-in tariff, would certainly assist in the rapid uptake in rooftop solar to achieve the government's objectives of 10% of Oman's electricity derived from renewable sources by 2020.