Our world is getting warmer, and we have to face up to finding newer, alternative forms of fuel. As Oman embraces solar, wind and other sustainable energy strategies, Team Y asks experts why we must all contribute to leaving less of a carbon footprint in our daily lives.
Global warming is real – and it’s leaving the world in a cleft stick and at the point of no return.
Whether you choose to believe that or not, statistics from data prove that the world is stewing in its own heat owing to the way we treat the planet in the name of yielding energy for the sustenance of humanity.
Temperatures across several parts of the world have skyrocketed. Countries that were once temperate now have longer summers while others with monsoons now have torrential rains that lead to mass destruction, and the polar caps are diminishing.
In a trice, we’d say that it’s time to make a change, but it’s not that simple. Global warming, as the name suggests, is a phenomenon affecting the Earth as a whole.
This means Oman isn’t exempt from the pool, albeit, it’s now among a group of countries that is taking steps to fast-track its efforts to curb the damage that has been done over the past several decades.
Oman’s answer to this began merely a decade ago.
Solar energy, wind energy, and waste-to-energy projects are among the ‘million-dollar ideas’ that promise a future in which we’re ‘less dependent’ on most used carbon-based resources.
Today, more than 66 per cent of the world’s energy requirements are single-handedly fed by non-renewable resources, while the number hits the mid-nineties in Oman.
Rectification could lead the way to a safe future for generations to come – and as per Prof. Hussain al Lawati, a retired lecturer of environmental sciences who has put all his cards on solar power with his own business, the answer to all our questions is: ‘sustainability’.
He says: “It’s making the best of what technology we have and what resources we’ve been blessed with to create energy for living a normal life while also securing a safe future for the generations to come.”
While several plans have been put on paper, one project that sets the tone straight and proves viability by producing current is the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company’s ‘Masdar’ project in Dhofar.
It’s a work in progress, with 12 more wind turbines due to be commissioned, tested and connected to produce 50MW of power by the end of this year (2019).
Not only will this eliminate 110,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide that would have reached the atmosphere this year, it will also reduce the release of other harmful gases like carbon monoxide, nitrogen and sulfur oxides, and even water vapour (from the heat caused from industrialisation in areas).
Moreover, it is designed to take care of the energy needs of 16,000 homes, which amounts to nearly 7 per cent of the region’s demand.
It also became the first utility-scale windfarm in the GCC when it began spinning its turbines for the first time – meaning it will generate funds for the operating company, and all without adding to the carbon footprint.
Speaking on behalf of the project to local media is ADFD director general Mohammed Saif al Suwaidi, who says: “ADFD recognised early on the importance of funding renewable energy projects in driving the objectives of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs].
“To advance sustainable energy solutions worldwide, ADFD has, since its inception, partnered with regional and international stakeholders, contributing to the production of about 2,584MW of renewable energy in different countries.”
Although substantial and vital to the future of the nation, Masdar’s numbers are merely a speck of sand on the beach from a global perspective.
As per the estimates of the International Energy Agency (IEA), humans consumed nearly 157,481TWh of energy in the year 2013 alone, and can consume up to 20TWh today.
To paint a picture, 1TWh amounts to the energy produced by five billion barrels of oil or one billion tonnes of coal per year – and it’s also what the entire globe consumed in entirety in the year 1890.
Oman alone consumes 2.89TWh of electricity every year.
But Hussain believes that Oman is on the right track. He says: “Sustainability is the reduction or avoidance of the depletion of non-renewable natural resources such as coal, oil and natural gas to maintain an ecological balance.
“Both the people and the government have recognised that, and have begun investing in solar energy and even waste-to-energy projects.”
To prove the point, we have learned from the Oman Power and Water Procurement Co (OPWP) that Oman intends to tap as much as 30 per cent of the nation’s electricity needs from solar energy, wind farms and waste energy projects by the year 2030.
The breakdown shows how solar energy will take upon itself a great slice of power generation, with nearly 21 per cent allotted to it, while wind and waste-sourced energies would chip in 6.5 per cent and 2.5 per cent, respectively.
In an earlier exclusive interview with Y, the former Vice President of Projects for GlassPoint, a company that specialises in effecting solar projects in the oil and gas industry – Marwan Chaar – said: “Solar power – it’s so simple yet efficient.
“Oman is one of the countries in the GCC that has an abundance of potential to make use of solar energy – which is an environmentally-friendly source of power – in many applications.”
This is probably why Oman is heavily investing in solar power – a renewable source of energy that can produce up to 1.5GW of electricity per year. The Muscat Governorate alone, it is said, can generate 450MW of power; equivalent to a mid-size gas-based powerplant.
Among them is the Sahim-2 development – a large-scale solar energy project that aims to install solar panels atop 3,000 residential buildings across Muscat.
Unlike the company’s first attempt (with Sahim-1) at luring volunteers to install panels at their own cost, Sahim-2 aims to install solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, the costs of which will not be paid for by the customers but rather companies in the private sector.
Output from the installations can be consumed by these companies, and surplus offered for sale back to the grid as an added source of income.
Alongside that, Ibri will receive its own solar project that will provide up to 500MW of power to its residents, while Salalah Port is due to get a 30MW installation.
This will work in tandem with other solar projects that supply commercial demands, such as that of the Amal oilfield with the Miraah solar plant in the South of Oman.
Marwan, who detailed the project, added: “We started with the Miraah solar plant, and it was the result of a successful pilot that took us to a commercial scale. But now, what’s next is deploying this in the future in other oil fields in Oman, as well as in other applications in the same sector.”
Unlike regular solar plants that generate and supply electricity to a grid, GlassPoint’s plant uses thermal energy produced in the form of steam for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) process to extract heavy and viscous oil at the Amal oilfield.
This, reportedly, enhances the well’s productivity by up to 300 per cent.
Meanwhile, OPWP is also taking the lead with the launch of several renewable energy projects – including a new utility-scale solar project with a capacity between 500MW and 1,000MW, a mega wind energy project with an anticipated capacity of 300MW, and a waste-to-energy power plant with an anticipated electricity generation capacity between 125MW and 160MW .
The sites of these projects are yet to be determined but it is likely that Dhofar and Duqm will be the locations of choice.
Another company leading the way to sustainability is the Oman Environmental Services Holding Company – be’ah –which is well on the way to setting up a waste-to-energy-to-water plant in Oman to treat around 2,200 tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) from the Muscat and South Al Batinah regions per day.
The plant will thermally treat the waste to generate steam that will turn a steam turbine to generate electricity.
It is also conducting a feasibility study on a biogas project that will generate power using the methane produced by raw materials from agricultural waste, municipal waste, plant material, sewage, green waste or food waste.
As far as feasibility goes, however, investors around the world have realised the true potential of investing in renewable methods of generating energy, shelling in nearly US$270 billion (RO104bn) in 2014 alone.
More importantly, nearly US$3.4 trillion has been divested away from oil, gas and coal since the advent of newer technologies in these fields.
Prof. Hussain, whose business of less than eight months is slowly taking shape with private parties expressing interest in his products, which includes solar panels, batteries, and the like, says: “Non-renewable sources of energy are those that will run out at some point soon and will not be replenished at any point in our lifetime – or perhaps even in the coming million years.
“You don’t need to be a scientist to know that using up non-renewable resources not only causes an ecological imbalance, it also causes a build-up of harmful gases that can heat up the atmosphere.
“A fellow colleague of mine once said: ‘The environment is an inter-connected organ that can be affected by even the slightest changes’ – and he was right.
“If we carry onwards this way, Oman will witness a temperature rise between 1- to 1.5-degrees-Celsius in the coming decade – and it will completely change the life cycle of the flora and fauna around us.
“Imagine how that would affect us. Hotter climates mean you’ll require more energy to run all your cooling systems, and that in turn sets off a chain reaction. There’s no end to this until you really decide you put an end to it.
“The technology is there with us, and a lot of people are still contemplating whether it’s feasible or not – and that’s what I would call profligate.
“The problem is that we’re so invested in oil and gas that making a switch could be quite a tough decision to take – the livelihoods of many people are in it. But it’s necessary and will happen in the coming decades.
“Perhaps the world needs to divert its attention to training professionals to come up with solutions to sustainable forms of energy – that’s where the money will lie.
“That said, there’s no real scenario in which the world isn’t going to be affected. The least we can do is take up matters that are in our own hands and make a difference. It’s a vow that will help keep this wondrous planet habitable for humans and animals for a few centuries… or maybe more if we strive really hard.”