Making the case for 1000 MW hybrid concentrated solar power project

Making the case for 1,000 MW hybrid concentrated solar power project in Oman. The head of one of Oman’s largest electricity distribution companies has mooted the idea of a large-scale concentrating solar thermal power hybrid project.

The head of one of Oman’s largest electricity distribution companies has mooted the idea of a large-scale concentrating solar thermal power hybrid project based on a mix of renewable, conventional and non-conventional fuel sources, to help meet rapidly escalating domestic energy demand.

Ahmed bin Saif al Mazrouy, General Manager of Majan Electricity Company (MJEC), which supplies electricity to the governorates of North Batinah, Dhahirah and Buraimi, described the proposed venture as “his dream project of the future”.

“What I’m proposing is 1,000 megawatts (MW) of hybrid power comprising a concentrated solar thermal power plant in combination with other fuels, such as condensate and waste gas from the oil industry, domestic waste as biomass, and refined sweet coal,” the official told delegates at the 2nd Oman Power & Water Summit, which concluded here on Wednesday.

Chairing the closing session on renewable energy, Al Mazrouy, who is well-known for championing ‘green energy’ initiatives within Majan Electricity’s jurisdiction, said the hybrid nature of his proposed power scheme would help ensure electricity generation round the clock and all through the year.

“Oman has plenty of solar energy, with 80 per cent of the landmass exposed to the sun’s rays that can be harnessed. With a location like Haima in central Oman, you can tap the sun’s energy as the base fuel for electricity generation during daylight hours. For nighttime generation, or when conditions are not ideal for solar thermal power, the plant can use low quality hydrocarbons from the oil industry that are currently flared as part of normal oilfield operations. Additionally, there is also domestic waste, which currently goes into landfills, to consider. Sweet coal, which is suitably refined, is also a fuel option.”

Modelled on successful concentrated solar hybrid plants currently in operation or under development elsewhere around the globe, Al Mazrouy said a 1,000 MW capacity venture in Oman would rank among the largest of its kind in the world.

Large-scale concentrating solar thermal power plants currently generate an aggregate of around 1,300 MW of electricity, with several new plants of a similar aggregate capacity under development. Also on the anvil are new projects of a total capacity of around 15,000 MW, he said. Capital costs previously estimated at $6,000 per kilowatt (kW) of capacity are now down to a third of this figure, with prices continuing to fall dramatically, he said. Based on these ballpark estimates, a 1,000 MW hybrid solar thermal power plant would cost around $2 billion — while a hefty investment upfront would pay off over the lifetime of the project because of its dependency on cheap and abundant, if not free, fuel sources. The sustainability of this conceptual model, as well as its potential to create significant numbers of jobs, also make it an attractive proposition overall, he noted.

Al Mazrouy also emphasised Haima’s suitability as a venue for a large-scale hybrid solar power plant. Located midway between Muscat and Salalah, Haima lies halfway between the oilfields of north and south Oman, allowing for condensate and waste gas to be piped from all parts of the country. Furthermore, a proposed rail network between Muscat and Duqm would enable the supply of domestic waste and biomass by rail, he added.

For non-solar based generation, Al Mazrouy said he envisions a series of boilers each designed to cater to a specific fuel source, be it hydrocarbons, biomass, or sweet coal. These boilers would only kick in at night or when environmental conditions are not conducive for solar-based generation. Fly ash generated as a result of coal-based thermal generation would be trapped and converted into fertilizer, he added.

The official described the hybrid solar thermal project as his “personal vision” that he hopes to see materialise some day in line with Oman’s quest for renewable energy development.

“We all know our oil and gas resources are going to be depleted one day. Can we then sit and do nothing about it? No! Indeed, a 1,000 MW plant may be too ambitious for starters. But we can try to attract investors looking at, say, 200 MW for example. That would be a good start. Over time, we can hope to see new capacity being added. We will then have a row of power stations with solar panel fields extending over huge distances. Haima would then become a landmark that will attract tourists as well,” Al Mazrouy added.

Conrad Prabhu,