Solar energy blooms in Oman

Solar energy is slowly becoming more common in Oman, as more companies, organizations, schools and private users opt for renewable energy that can save them money in the long run.

Solar energy users are motivated by several factors: reducing their energy consumptions and costs, and respecting the environment.

"Wherever we can, we’re trying to reduce energy consumption. Whether it’s street lighting, facilities, electrical data relays, we introduce a number of solar panels. They continue to be a bigger and bigger part of our business,- said Raoul Restucci, managing director of PDO.

PDO has installed many solar power systems for a variety of uses, including street lights, charging batteries, and powering control panels and instrumentation. Another new solar addition PDO has planned is solar fog lights to be used for about 30km of road between their Nimr and Rima sites. The lights will help drivers see at night or in fog, rain or sand-storms.

"On the alternative energy supply side, we’re focusing on solar energy. Can solar energy make a difference?- Restucci said. While using solar panels and lights is nothing new for PDO, it is now developing a new use for solar energy. A pilot project aimed at testing solar technology to generate steam, which is used in the process to extract oil, has been in the works for a couple of years.

At PDO’s Amal site, a giant contraption of mirrors has been built to capture thermal energy from the sun and produce steam that will be fed into the existing steam distribution network. Normal steam is generated from burning natural gas, so this would reduce pollution and costs.

"The concept was developed over the past one or two years. We approved it at the end of last year and it will be on screen, ready to deliver steam at the end of the year,- said Restucci. While the efficiency of solar panels or mirrors can be reduced by dust, sand and humidity, PDO is trying something new to prevent such problems. "We’re taking a different approach. We’re surrounding it in a glass house to protect it,- Restucci explained.

Pilot project
He said the pilot project could make a big change at PDO, since it would provide an alternative, renewable steam supply. He added that perhaps there could be local manufacturing of the parts required for the glass-covered solar steam generators, too.
While it may seem strange that a company whose business centers on oil and gas is turning to renewable energy, Restucci said it’s now an important part of PDO’s operation. "There’s enormous focus to reduce energy consumption. The focus is on efficient and sustainable production,- he said.

Other companies, including construction and contracting businesses, telecommunications, and hotels, are starting to use solar energy for their power needs. One local school has also started to test out solar energy.

In May 2010, The American International School of Muscat (TAISM) installed two solar water heaters on their roof, which now provide hot water to several of the bathrooms. The school wanted to see what cost-savings the solar heaters could bring and how they could reduce the school’s environmental impact.

"The school has a goal of trying to be an early adopter and leader in Oman in using green technology. This is one way to do that,- said Steven Lake, the operations manager at TAISM.

They can’t measure exactly what amount of electricity is saved by the solar water heaters, which are from a local company, Hotex, but their research shows that within three years they would pay for themselves. After that the energy would be free.

Significant saving
"All the data supports that there is significant saving, because the sun is free,- Lake said.
The solar water heaters are a simple contraption in which tubes absorb thermal solar energy and transmit it to the water. To ensure the most efficient use of the heaters, Lake goes up to the roof every few days and wipes the dust off the tubes.
As many people in Oman know, water that sits on rooftops in the summer sun is often boiling hot, so there’s no doubt that the sunshine here is a great source of energy.
TAISM is also looking at power-saving by using the air conditioners less, and by purchasing a special blanket for their swimming pool to keep the heat loss down. Most of the energy lost at TAISM is from the pool.

"The thing about green technology is that you’re investing initially.-
Lake said some people may be wary about using solar energy because of the high cost initially. But once the technology has been purchased, there are no monthly bills, and as the technology improves and becomes more widely available, the payback periods are getting shorter and shorter. It’ll take just over two years for TAISM to pay off the pool blanket in energy savings, Lake said.

TAISM’s foray into solar energy and energy-reducing tactics also educates the students about renewable energy and reducing the impact people have on the environments. They also learn about the importance of green technology and can tell others about it, Lake said. "I’m pleased with it and the example it provides. We’re open to any sort of technology that helps us lead Oman into more green technology,- Lake said.
Solar energy could be integrated in the developments at Duqm, too. The free zone in Duqm is looking at solar energy as an important option.

Peter Broers, CEO at the Port of Duqm, said renewable energy from wind would be more viable in Duqm because it is a very windy area, but that in the future there could be a solar farm, or solar panels installed on the roofs of buildings in Duqm on a small scale.
"I think if we look at a project that will be a world-class facility, renewable energy should be part of the daily approach. If you want to be modern and take care of environmental issues, then renewable energy is one of the steps you have to take,- Broers said.