UTILITY UTOPIA

Oman 2017 | ENVIRONMENT & UTILITIES | REVIEW: ENVIRONMENT & UTILITIES

With strong growth projected in every utility sector, Oman is busy designing the future of its power generation and desalination infrastructure.

Robust growth rates across the sultanate have spurred demand for electricity. By employing cutting edge technologies across the public and private sector and encouraging industry liberalization and privatization, Oman has developed one of the most impressive utilities infrastructures in the region.

According to the Oman Power and Water Procurement Company (OPWP), peak demand in Oman is projected to grow 8% per year for the next seven years, representing demand growth from roughly 5,565MW in 2015 to nearly 9,529MW in 2022. Average demand is expected to grow at similarly robust levels, jumping from roughly 3,236MW in 2015 to 5,714 in 2022.

There are three discrete power networks in Oman, each of which provides power to separate sections of the country. The systems are the Main Interconnected System (MIS), the Dhofar Power System (DPS), and the Rural System of the Rural Areas Electricity Company (RAECO). According to the OPWP's latest seven-year statement, the MIS is expected to undergo a number of vital expansions by 2022, including the addition of two new independent power producers (IPPs) in the cities of Ibri and Sohar with combined generation capacity of 3,240MW by 2019; the decommissioning of the Ghubrah and Wadi Jizzi plants by 2018; and the development of a spot market for electricity by 2020, to name but a few. In the DPS, construction has begun on the new 445MW Salalah II plant, which is expected to be online by January 2018, and in the RAECO system the new 123MW Musandam plant is expected to be finished in January 2017.

As Oman strengthens it electricity capabilities, officials and industry leaders have redoubled their commitment to renewables, and the sector, though in its infancy, is rife with potential. Though a concrete plan of action has yet to be developed, the OPWP is working with the Authority for Electricity Regulation to develop a framework for developing an extensive renewable-oriented generation project, and is expecting to announce competitive tenders in the near future.

Desalination

With limited naturally occurring fresh water reserves, Oman has necessarily turned toward desalination to fill demand. Responsible water management, sustainability, and efficient water generation drives the government's approach to its most precious resource.

Desalination operations are integral pieces of Oman's utility infrastructure, and they provide millions of Omanis with potable water. According to OPWP, water demand in the MIS is expected to grow between 5 and 7% annually for the next seven years, surging from 281 million cubic meters in 2015 to between 390 and 440 million cubic meters in 2022. In order to keep up with this growing demand, a number of desalination plants have been commissioned, two of which, the Muscat City Desalination Plant and the Barka I Plant, commenced operations in the first quarter of 2016. Two other large-scale projects, the Barka IV Desalination Plant and the Sohar III Desalination Plant, are expected to become operational in May of 2018.

In Dhofar, water demand is expected to eclipse 8% growth per annum, with peak demand increasing from 139,000 cubic meters per day in 2015 to 229,000 cubic meters per day in 2022. In order to keep up with this increase, the OPWP initiated a new Independent Water Project (IWP) with a daily capacity of nearly 100,000 cubic meters that is set to come online in 2018, and they are considering an additional plant which would commence operations in 2021. Utility operations in the sultanate are ready to handle strong growth across all sectors.

Environment

Located on the eastern end of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman boasts a variety of ecosystems and a wealth of bio-diversity. The geography of Oman consists of desert plains, mountains, coastal plains and marine regions and as of 2015, these spaces hosted more than 1,700 species of plants and 2,454 species of animals. In order to protect this large and dispersed population of flora and fauna, the Omani Government has established a total of 18 nature reserves, and the reserves are broken into four types: desert reserves, marine reserves, mountainous reserves, and marine and mountainous reserves. More than 4.27% of the landmass of Oman falls under some category of protected status and there are plans to add even more. The struggle is far from complete, though, and according to theMinistry of Environmental and Climate Affairs (MECA) more than 55% of Omani plant and animal species are threatened by various pressures, including pollution, overgrazing, climate change, habitat fragmentation, poaching, desertification, and urban expansion.

The Omani government has long been concerned with protecting and preserving its natural heritage, and a number of offices and ministries have been tasked with this responsibility. Established in 2007, the Ministry of Environmental and Climate Affairs (MECA) is the latest iteration of this commitment, and the Ministry spearheads the Omani Government's environmental policy, directing many of its projects and defining the parameters of its operations. The Ministry is composed of three discrete Directorates General; the Directorates General are tasked with specific roles and responsibilities according to their office's areas of expertise: the Directorate General of Conservation of Nature focuses on distributing and enforcing laws regarding the nature reserves; the Directorate General of Environmental Affairs develops and implements environmental plans and is responsible for inspection procedures; and the Directorate General of Climate Affairs develops and implements policy focused on climate change and monitoring.

As MECA strives to develop and achieve sustainable environmental goals for Oman, it has extensive dealings with other ministries and institutions. Creating comprehensive policy with input from many different Omani stakeholders is an integral aspect of MECA's mission, and it goes to great pains to ensure it is assessing information from all available sources. In an exclusive interview with TBY, HE Najeeb A. Al-Rawas, Undersecretary of MECA, described the ministry's commitment to partnership, noting “the development of partnerships with other ministries is of great importance to us, as are partnerships with the private sector and society as a whole." This commitment to unified progress is a core MECA commitment, and, according to Al-Rawas, “the ministry plans to continue its dialogue with other ministries covering different development sectors to foster collaboration and encourage sustainable development policies and practices."
MECA also has a number of partnerships with key civil society groups. One of the most prominent of these is the Environmental Society of Oman (ESO). Operating under the patronage of HH Sayyid Tarik Shabib Al Said, ESO focuses on number of awareness and conservation programs, the flagships of which are a capacity building program aimed at training the next generation of Oman's environmental professionals and stewards, a loggerhead turtle conservation program and a program focused on surveying the sultanate's Egyptian Vulture population. Moving forward, Oman is better positioned than ever before to preserve its ecological and geographic heritage.