Solar Energy in Oman: Potential and Progress

Oman-renewable-energySolar energy is a vital and strategic solution for the provision of electric power in the Sultanate of Oman. Given the vast unused land and available solar energy resources, Oman has an excellent potential for solar energy development and deployment. Solar energy is a viable option in Oman and could not only cater to the growing need for energy diversification but also would help in economic diversification.

With a total dependence on fossil fuels and increasing population combined with rapid industrialization in cities such as Duqm, Sohar and Salalah, Oman’s power infrastructure and hydrocarbon reserves pose a challenge on the economic growth. The strategic importance and geographical location of Oman makes it viable to harness renewable energy technologies on both, smaller and larger scales, for further development of its economy. It not only helps in reducing dependence in fossil fuels but also helps in creating a cleaner and sustainable environment.  Research and development and high-technology services related to renewable energy could create new business and employment in Oman and could bring about a paradigm change in diversification of Oman’s economy.

Solar Power Potential in Oman

Oman receives a tremendous amount of solar radiation throughout the year which is among the highest in the world, and there is significant scope for harnessing and developing solar energy resources throughout the Sultanate.  The global average daily sunshine duration and solar radiation values for 25 locations in Oman are tremendous, with Marmul having the highest solar radiation followed by Fahud, Sohar and Qairoon Hairiti. The highest insolation of solar energy is observed is in the desert areas as compared to the coastal areas where it is least.

A Renewables Readiness Assessment report was prepared by IRENA in close collaboration with the Government of Oman, represented by the Public Authority for Electricity and Water (PAEW), to study potential usage of renewable energy. The government seeks to utilize a sizeable amount of solar energy to meet the country’s domestic electricity requirements and develop some of it for export. The Petroleum Development of Oman (PDO) has initiated to conserve Oman’s natural gas resources in the production of heavy oil by harnessing solar energy to produce steam for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR).

A study commissioned by the Public Authority for Electricity and Water (PAEW) revealed that Photovoltaic (PV) systems installed on residential buildings in the Sultanate could offer an estimated 1.4 gigawatts of electricity. It is estimated that Muscat Governorate alone could generate a whopping 450 megawatts, similar to a mid-sized gas-based power plant.

Major Developments

The Authority for Electricity Regulation Oman (AER) – Oman’s power sector regulator is taking steps to pave the way for homeowners to install rooftop solar panels with any surplus electricity sent back into the national grid. Some prominent companies, including Majan Electricity Company, Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM) and Sultan Qaboos University have already adopted piloted schemes to generate solar power.

Due to declining costs of photovoltaic (PV) panels, production of solar energy has become an attractive option for the process of water desalination. Solar thermal desalination processes using solar collectors are being tested in pilot projects and expected to soon become available as commercial solutions.

Miraah solar thermal project will harness the sun’s energy to produce steam used in oil production.

Miraah solar thermal project will harness the sun’s energy to produce steam used in oil production.

A combination of concentrated solar power and photovolatic technologies are likely to be deployed for the development in Dakhiliyah Governorate which is one of the largest solar energy projects in Oman's National Energy Strategy 2040 with a plant capacity of 200MW.

Oman has already geared up in attracting private investors to power and water production by offering Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs).  The government has embarked on a mission of opening a stronger and sustainable market giving oil companies a chance to strengthen their footing in the country to tackle with the jeopardy posed by depleting oil resources.

However, there  are challenges arising out of the lack of involvement from stakeholders in framing polices and in decision making; and lack of regulatory policies, in the sector of renewable energy, is hindering its pace of development. Specific resource assessments are needed in order to determine the market potential and should be the key research areas.

Future Perspectives

Solar energy in Oman is expected to become progressively cheaper in the near future and could be a best return for investments.  Its success is merely determined by the government’s regulatory policies, fiscal incentives and public financing.  The challenges that the solar industry faces are entering into a market that has essentially been dominated by oil industry. Subsidies and incentives should be provided by the government in the form of feed in tariffs so as to reassure a guaranteed price for electricity sold to the national grid by merging solar power technologies in power generation.

There is a dire need for political support for renewable energy to take its competition, economically, in the free market. Laws governing power generation regulation should provide more flexibility for renewables and should be incentive-oriented to attract the stake holders.  

A positive investment environment, strong property rights and low tax regimes, with established participation in the power sector from leading international firms, will certainly boost solar energy applications. The country needs to develop clear strategic plans for future in the development of solar energy. If a quick and appropriate regulatory framework is not accelerated, neighboring countries, such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), would take the benefits of becoming regional revolutionary leaders in the use of solar energy.

Parting Shot

With its strong solar resources and existing universities, Oman has an opportunity to pioneer professional demonstration and monitoring capability as an international technology provider and take an active role to establish advanced professional skills base in science and engineering and expand its arenas in modern solar-efficient architecture and energy management.

But the question still remains: Can the solar power bring about a revolutionary change to power most of Oman?

References

http://esatjournals.net/ijret/2013v02/i07/IJRET20130207029.pdf – Volume: 02 Issue: 07 | Jul-2013, Available @ http://www.ijret.org

https://www.y-oman.com/2016/04/watts-up/

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About Asima Kaleem

Asima Kaleem is a Senior Lecturer in Caledonian College of Engineering, Oman. She is a Post Graduate in Civil Engineering with specialization in Structural Engineering. Her work experience includes research in utilizing waste materials in concrete for sustainable construction. She is in her pursuit of creating awareness of environmental issues in built environment and to provide solutions for a greener construction. She holds strong interest in sustainability and innovative technologies. She has a mission to create and develop sustainable development campaigns to disseminate the use of renewable resources on a mass-scale.
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