THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING

Oman 2019 | GREEN ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

The government is working with firms like Symtech to put solar panels on the roofs of one-third of Omani homes.

Ken Paton
BIOGRAPHY
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 has Symtech used the success of its project in Sharqiyah for its ongoing projects?

We completed our first off-grid project in Oman in October 2017 for the Outward-Bound Desert Centre in Sharqiyah sands. Designed by local design consultants 23 Degrees North, the centre makes substantial use of solar energy, treats and re-uses all water on site, and has already been nominated for and received several design awards. We have a number of ongoing projects, and our project pipeline now has a value of over USD50 million.

Where is growth in demand for solar energy coming from?

Our clients come from a wide variety of the Omani commercial and industrial sectors. The introduction of the Cost Reflective Tariff in January 2017 has resulted in commercial and industrial clients seeing an increase in their monthly electricity bills, and we have, therefore, concentrated on assisting clients who use more than 150MW hours of electricity to significantly reduce their energy costs by installing solar power at their premises. Typical clients include logistics companies that need to ensure perishable foods are kept at controlled temperatures and industrial clients who have energy-intensive processes such as desalination and cement plants.

How economically viable is solar energy as a source of power in Oman?

The promotion of solar in Oman and the transition toward a clean energy future has already begun. The Authority for Electricity Regulation and the District Code Review Panel have been successful in ensuring that the regulatory framework and technical guidelines are in place to support the uptake of solar in Oman, and various seminars have raised awareness within the local industry regarding the benefits of transitioning to solar. Oman uses natural gas for the vast majority of its energy needs, with over 97% of electricity coming from gas-fired power stations. Government subsidies mean that domestic consumers pay only one-third of the actual costs of their monthly electricity bills, a subsidy that costs the government over OMR600 million per year. This is clearly unsustainable given the lower worldwide prices for the oil that Oman produces. Solar power is the only renewable energy source that can keep pace with global energy demands. If we can harness just a fraction of the sun's power, we could transform our world from one that is driven by fossil fuels and threatened by climate change to one this is entirely fuelled by clean energy. From an industry level, the downward price of solar energy is encouraging businesses to make the transition to solar on a purely economic basis. Payback periods are becoming shorter as the falling cost of solar panels make the investment in solar energy more attractive. The Authority Electricity Regulation has an ambitious program named Sahim 2, which will eventually see one-third of the homes in Oman have solar panels installed on their roof. This will significantly reduce Oman's dependence on natural gas for domestic electricity production, while the gas saved can be exported at a profit. There is one more amazing fact about our star: solar power is the last energy source that isn't owned yet; nobody taxes the sun, you don't get a monthly invoice from it for the energy you receive.

What are your biggest operational challenges?

These center mainly around how we can assist local industry to first accept and understand how the transition to solar power can assist them in significantly reducing their operational costs and then enable our clients to secure funding at reasonable rates in order to finance their investment in solar power. We are partnering with financial institutions to be able to offer a turnkey service that includes financing for solar projects.

How is Symtech expanding its regional presence?

We have partnership agreements with renewable energy companies operating in Yemen, Syria, and Sudan, and we are committed to assisting our partners with their business via our solar partnership program.