Can the Sultanate Reinvent Itself as an Innovative Solar Super-Power?

Auto giant, General Motors (GM), suggests that self-driven automobiles has the greatest business potential since the internet. That may well be, however the evaluation of previously introduced modes of transport, electric and solar powered, is far from complete, or ‘done and dusted, as they say Noxious greenhouse gas emissions over the last hundred years, have undoubtedly created environmental issues and some countries and cities.

Delhi the capital of India, which this week recorded pollution levels a massive 30 times the acceptable level according to the World Health Organization (WHO) is among those facing significant difficulties with rising, and debilitating air pollution levels. Fossil fuels are in decline with continuously depleting petroleum and gas reserves which, in a definition of irony, currently require higher global production to make up for the global price shortfall. This is an issue, of course, not lost on Oman.
Rising global temperatures can no longer be ignored and NASA recently announced that 16 of the 17 warmest years in the 136 year of temperature records have all occurred since 2001, with 2016 ranking as the warmest on record. This threat to our environmental sustainability, therefore presents a powerful argument for the auto industry to adopt cleaner, more sustainable vehicular options. As someone said, “If you have a huge solar energy spill, it’s just called a nice day, and there’s no mess to clean up!”
Of course, as Oman has a fossil fuel economic base, the promotion of alternatives may seem irreverent, however there is valid opinion to suggest that harnessing the renewable solar energy, also here in abundance, and retaining oil and gas as collateral for future generations, has significant long-term possibilities. In this vein, solar-powered automobiles may be conceived as viable alternatives which hold ample possibilities for the technology, manufacturing, and even education sectors, while it would certainly also prove fertile ground for entrepreneurs and innovators. Environmental sustainability via the launch of locally inspired solar-powered vehicles could prove a massive boost to the Sultanate, which is seeking diversity of opportunity, and investment today could well be the catalyst for economic sustainability tomorrow.
The technologies surrounding solar power are still at an emerging stage and require meaningful investment research and innovation, and the opportunity exists for the involvement of schools, colleges, universities, and research institutions to become involved at this early stage, to tap into the minds of an increasingly confident, intelligent and articulate, youth. Research as to the use of photovoltaic (PV) cells and solar propulsion systems should be given impetus in to develop and promote affordable, efficient and safe solar alternatives, and where better to do so?
Current challenges to PV cell mass production, and global acceptance, are mostly in the areas of the availability of materials, production costs, and life-cycle assessment. These are major issues, and preclude the simplistic opinion that, “we should use the sun’s power because it’s sunny every day.” That view is hardly incorrect, but there is more to any energy discussion than an assessment on face value, as the nuclear energy industry is finding out belatedly.
The implication of minimal maintenance is something of a two-edged sword where employment opportunities in the service and maintenance sectors may not be extravagant, however, this implies affordability and reliability for the consumers and profitability for the entrepreneurs. Besides, employment creation would take place concomitantly and the solar powered automobile sector could witness a burgeoning growth rate over time as further innovations and entrepreneurial contributions take effect.
This article projects the entrepreneurial opportunities, in the region, for solar-powered vehicles. While the electric vehicles appear to be at the forefront of the current automobile revolution the ‘learning curve’ should underline the entrepreneurial role in progressing the solar option as a more cost-effective and environment-friendly automobile ecosystem. Actually, American consumer advocate Ralph Nader explained that the only reason solar power hasn’t been researched further, is” because the oil companies don’t own the Sun.”
Oman is currently promoting entrepreneurial drive among its young academics, with StartupOman.om, the SME Development Fund, and the recent Riyada initiative at the forefront. Solar vehicle development is certainly an area where academic programs in auto engineering and the associated technical and technological skills domains offer an opportunity to drive home the significance of solar-powered vehicles to these students. They could be the catalyst in spearheading inclusive innovation which would benefit the Omani drive towards economic diversity immensely. The enthusiasm with which young Omanis have embraced the ‘new-age’ technologies, their acknowledged love of cars, and their boundless enthusiasm could allow them to carve their niche in the annals of history if the government here could embrace, substantially, the concept of solar powered motor vehicle development.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), says Professor Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, is underway. An environmental revolution of sorts may also continue to develop, so it is incumbent upon us to move quickly, to ensure and retain our right to harvest solar power as one of the lynchpins of our ongoing sustainability. Information technology solutions may also complement the solar powered automobile sector in multifarious ways. For instance, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Reality (AR) solutions may offer diverse possibilities in the ongoing development of solar powered autos.
The Internet of Things (IoT) might find favor with “solar-powered” automobile sector by drawing statistical inferences from the Big Data generated in various processes of automobile segments. The readiness of the Sultanate to embrace this higher level of communication was recently signposted by Mr Fadi Nasser, ICT Business Manager of Oman communications giant, Omantel. Therefore, entrepreneurs might find such cross-fertilization of applications appealing.
Air pollution would be substantially reduced to a substantial extent and as affordable transportation solutions for commuters, solar powered” alternatives may preempt the dent on government coffers. In Oman, for instance, in line with its Vision 2040, under the Chairmanship of His Excellency Sayyid Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, Minister of Heritage and Culture, the tourism sector could receive a major boost from the launch of a vigorous solar powered automobile industry.
It’s not difficult to imagine an Omani designed, manufactured, and marketed solar vehicle utilized as the genesis of a vibrant auto/eco tourist initiative with its myriad of associative entrepreneurial and employment opportunities. Omani inventor Duhi bin Jamal bin Hilal al Barwani, an engineer, has invented a hydro-powered welding machine which has been globally recognized for its innovation, and in terms of the possibilities for Oman, this is really the tip of the iceberg.
Further, with backward and forward integration, the automobile sector might lead to value creation at different points in the supply chain. For instance, the logistics sector might witness value addition with the launch of solar-powered automobiles in the sense that the freight charges would be kept in control. Entrepreneurial fervor may also be sparked as for instance, engine capacities might witness adjustments in line with the vehicle size and tonnage.
It can be argued that, as the solar-powered automobile sector witnesses further growth over the coming years, its dependence on oil and gas based hybrid options would reduce and bio-fuels might be juxtaposed with the solar power to run the automobiles. Bio-fuels are affordable alternatives, yet seemingly unfashionable alternatives to gasoline-based derivatives but their potential is yet to be realized. Perhaps bio-fuels offer an alternative as viable complements to solar power for automobile propulsion?
Finally, as the Omani government, among others, is driving ‘smart’ government initiatives with a sustainable edifice, solar powered autos may be conceived as potent ‘smart’, and innovative solutions in the provision of better public services to their constituents. An innovative, progressive nation such as Oman may, by developing the requisite institutional framework for solar powered automobile initiatives, create for itself another remarkable harvest of natural resources, but this time, a sustainable energy source. Could we be looking at a solar currency concept where we lead the world? The answer is of course yes, if we are bold enough.

Stuti Saxena & Raymond J Petersen

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