Smart grids key to Oman’s power sustainability goals

MUSCAT, SEPT 9 – Smart grid technologies will play a pivotal role in delivering sustainable power to businesses and homes across the Sultanate especially when Oman begins integrating renewables-based electricity generation into the interconnected power supply system, according to a key expert on the subject. Dr Syed Mofizul Islam (pictured), Director of the Centre for Smart Grid and Sustainable Power Systems at Curtin University, Australia, said he foresees a significant uptake of smart grid technologies in the Sultanate as the nation moves to add renewables and alternative resources to its energy mix.
“The world is now experiencing a two speed power system. In the developed world, the energy consumed from the grid is decreasing while renewable integration is increasing; but in the developing world, energy consumption from the grid is still increasing with virtually very little uptake of renewable power sources or distributed generation. Oman is in the latter category and can significantly benefit from introducing both rooftop and commercial scale PV technology to achieve carbon efficiency and reduce dependence on peaking units and expensive transmission and distribution infrastructure,” the internationally renowned specialist explained.
The importance of ‘Smart Grid and Sustainable Power’ technologies will be highlighted at a daylong forum hosted by Nama Group — the holding company of government-owned power generation, transmission, distribution and supply utilities — at the Grand Hyatt Muscat today. Titled, ‘Empowering the Future of Electricity in Oman’, the event is being held as part of Nama Group’s annual Musharaka series of forums.
Dr Islam, who will present on the theme of ‘Smart Grid and Sustainable Solutions’, defines Smart Grids as a collection of control, communication and ICT layers superimposed on existing electricity infrastructure that enables efficient grid management, self healing, inter-operability and integration of renewable energy technologies.
“The smart grid concept has now been expanded to accommodate the nano-grid, micro-grid, virtual power plants and clustered micro-grids. In a smart grid, consumers may become prosumers interacting with utilities through enabling technologies such as Smart Meters, HAN, LAN and WAN,” he explained.
Speaking to Observer, the expert described smart grids as key to modernising the grid and introducing innovative technologies for affordable and reliable power supply. “Through the introduction and proper management of sustainable power sources, alternatives to expensive infrastructure, peaking units and answers to disruptive technologies will accrue.”
Importantly, smart grids will enable Oman’s landmark transition to renewables, especially as the nation prepares to roll out roof-top based solar PV capacity — a landmark move that will also help ease the sector’s dependence on government subsidy for supply of electricity.
“Oman still subsidises electricity supply quite heavily. In developed countries, introduction of rooftop PV was motivated by feed-in tariffs and price subsidies. Oman can benefit from introducing regulation which may encourage customers to install rooftop PV in maintaining price incentives or they risk removal of subsidies. This has got potential to displace the need for peaking generation which is only utilised less than 5 per cent of the time in the year.”
He further added: “Smart metering infrastructure in Oman may be fully utilised for distribution transformer load and life management as well as for infrastructure upgrade. In rural areas of the country, introduction of stand alone hybrid renewable energy systems and energy storage could save fuel consumption in diesel engine driven generators.”
In the wider Gulf and Middle East, smart grid technologies are anticipated to enjoy significant demand as countries across the region embrace renewables as part of their domestic energy mix, according to the professor. Notable is the example of resource-poor Morocco, which has embarked on ambitious plans to generate 52 per cent of its energy needs from renewables by 2030, he said.
Likewise, Saudi Arabia has taken initiatives in developing a smart grid roadmap aimed at optimising asset life, integration of renewable energy to the grid, improvement of grid reliability, and so on, he said.
Oman too has taken fledgling steps in this direction, having introduced smart meters for data acquisition purposes, while the UAE has set a target to achieve 7 per cent of its energy requirements from renewables. Qatar has begun replacing all analogue meters from its system in January 2015.
Citing data published by US- based Northeast Group, Dr Islam pointed out that Middle East and North African (MENA) countries will spend $9.8 billion on smart grid infrastructure by 2024, including smart meters, distribution automation and smart city technology. The region is also projected to install over 26 GW of solar capacity by 2024, led by Saudi Arabia, which will allow them to reduce their reliance on oil and gas power generation.
“Smart grid technologies and renewable energy integration with grids are now well advanced. In many countries, utilities have already achieved up to 60 per cent penetration of renewable energy sources.
The variability of solar and wind power clearly presents a challenge but the advancement in storage technology and diversity of portfolios are able to address this vulnerability. Smart grid implementation together with renewable power generations could result in higher reliability of power supply and reduced electricity prices as well as carbon emission reduction targets,” he added in conclusion.

Conrad Prabhu