SUNNY SULTANATE

Oman 2017 | ENERGY | FOCUS: RENEWABLES

Long reliant on oil, the energy strategy of Oman is shifting to include more renewable energy sources, with a special focus being placed on solar power.

One of the first things people associate the Middle East with is the sweltering heat and sprawling deserts that permeate the region. The obvious upside to the heat is that it can be used to generate potentially large quantities of energy. As the technology becomes more widely available and investments fall into place, solar power will introduce changes into the energy landscape of Oman in the near future. Developing this idea further, the country is in the midst of finalizing a National Energy Strategy 2040, which will lay out a more specific plan for the use of renewables within the country's energy infrastructure. This is not, however, to suggest that no plans have already come to light. A tender is expected to be released soon for the construction of Oman's first large-scale solar energy project, for example. While the specifics of the project are still under consideration at the Authority for Electricity Regulation, the planned capacity of this venture will be 200 MW. The Oman Power and Water Procurement Company has collected data on solar radiation at the proposed sites of this project since 2010 in anticipation of this venture.

An inadmissible piece of the solar puzzle in Oman comes in GlassPoint Solar's Miraah project, which is being developed on PDO's Amal oilfield. It is not only one of the largest solar projects in the world, but it is also the first Solar EOR projects to be constructed in the Middle East—a notable distinction in a region lauded for its oil output. This project also represents a sort of convergence between former rival industries of oil and renewables; Miraah will use the sun's power and mirrors to boil water to create steam, which will be used instead of gas in EOR activities, saving 5.6 trillion BTUs of gas per year and subsequently millions of dollars. Reflecting the maturity of the project, the first steam is set for 1Q2017. This project is highly important to the country for a few reasons. In the same way that Oman is already recognized as the foremost center of excellence for EOR techniques in the world, the hope here is that Oman can also become a similarly position center of excellence for solar initiatives and technology moving forward. The Miraah project is a manifestation of the progress already made in Oman as pioneers in this industry, utilizing solar power not through traditional photovoltaic panels, but through their new and innovative technique using mirrors to produce steam. The technology jump apparent in the sprawling 3sqkm project from GlassPoint signifies that Oman is already on the forefront of a clearly burgeoning industry.

Also a technical partner on the Miraah project, Shell Development Oman is embarking on a special solar project in the country as well. Through its gift to the nation, Shell is outfitting 22 different schools throughout Oman with rooftop solar panels designed to dramatically reduce electricity operating costs at the schools and even to act a source of energy to flow into the wider electrical grid on non-school days. This project is also designed to pique the interest of Omani students into renewable energy sources as well.

Symtech Solar Group has addressed the Middle East market by commencing operations in Oman. Symtech Solar Oman will be managing the entire GCC region and will be supplying a complete off-grid photovoltaic system to Oman's first building run entirely by sustainable solar energy. Symtech Oman is also installing solar panels on commercial, industrial, and industrial rooftops and parking areas across the country. With a number of large solar projects either almost online or in planning stages, at least one local company has announced it will start the construction of a solar panel production facility within Oman. Such competition will likely accelerate the technology side of solar energy and drive up the frequency and efficiency of these projects. In addition to the power of the sun, Nama Group subsidiary Rural Areas Electricity Company has also announced its plans to build the first large scale wind-based renewable power project in Oman—again providing further proof that Oman is taking concrete steps toward renewable energy solutions and is not simply paying the topic insincere lip service.