POWERING THROUGH

Oman 2019 | GREEN ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

A variety of firms under the Nama umbrella are utilizing cutting-edge technologies to integrate sustainable solutions into their business plans.

Omar Al-Wahaibi
BIOGRAPHY
Omar Al-Wahaibi is CEO of Nama Holding, which oversees electricity generation, transmission, and distribution companies in Oman. In his 30-year career, Al Wahaibi held various senior positions in the oil, water, wastewater, and power sectors. He is a member of the boards of the GCC Interconnection Authority (GCCIA), Oman Broadband company, and REN, an electricity and gas transmission company in Portugal.

How well-positioned is Oman to meet increasing power demand?

Oman's interconnected power system is in a great position because of the way the sector is set up in terms of load, generation, and our annual plans that project increases in demand going forward. Oman Power and Water Procurement Company (OPWP) publishes seven-year statements containing its future projections that help determine when we need new generation plants. In terms of installed capacity and projects for the near future, we are doing well.

What are the primary challenges in distributing electricity to rural parts of Oman?

The entire country is now connected with electricity. Through the main interconnected system and the rural areas system, we have 99.9% coverage. The job is done in terms of coverage; it is now just a matter of maintaining it by ensuring we have adequate capacity in the system. The main challenge is to optimize costs in rural areas. There is a great deal of dependency on diesel for generation, and electricity companies in rural areas are working on alternative solutions. These might include the use of renewables under a hybrid model, or interconnection with the main system where it is economically feasible. However, these proposals present challenges in themselves. In the case of renewables, energy sources are not all available all of the time, so it is necessary to create hybrid systems integrating renewable and conventional generation sources. And in the case of rural connections to the main system, sometimes an area is just too far away to connect, and the cost of infrastructure is not justified by the savings in diesel costs.

Which of the Nama Group companies is most involved in the integration of renewables into the system?

Most of Nama Group is involved in some way, though OPWP has been tasked by the government with helping ensure that by 2025, 10% of the electricity consumed in Oman will be from renewables. This has given us the mandate to enhance the utilization of renewables in the grid. OPWP as the main power procurement arm in Oman has already kicked off a number of projects, and there are others in the pipeline aimed at achieving this capacity. These include wind and solar projects, and there is another project lined up based on obtaining energy from waste recycling. The second company focused on this agenda is the Rural Area Electricity Company (RAECO). The regulator in Oman has also introduced a scheme to encourage people to place solar panels on their rooftops. This scheme is making progress, and all our distribution companies are required to support people looking to install such systems.

What technologies are being introduced to make the distribution system more efficient?

Our focus at the moment is on automated meter reading, such as smart meters. This is together with pre-pay meters and using IoT technology to help us with data analytics that will make the system more efficient. Smart meters are for customers who consume more than 150MW per year. This includes commercial, industrial, and government accounts, though it does not include residential accounts.

How have the cost-reflective tariffs changed the power model in Oman?

Cost-reflective tariffs have had an impact on consumers' consumption behavior. The entire purpose of the cost-reflective tariff is to reduce peak load. All utilities providers worldwide invest large sums of money to meet peak-hour demand, and if that peak demand can be lowered, it saves money and reduces the strain on the system. As a result of cost-reflective tariffs, we have already seen consumers shifting power consumption away from those times. The strategy is beginning to work, though it takes time for consumers to understand and adopt this new approach. They have to adjust their machinery and optimize their behavior to shift away from peak consumption because it now hits them economically if they consume during peak times. ✖