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Balancing energy security and climate change imperatives key for Oman


Oman’s nascent transition towards renewable and alternative energy sources needs to go beyond the current focus on power generation if the country has to deal with the growing carbon footprint associated with escalating national energy demand, according to an Omani researcher.

Dr Aisha al Sarihi, a visiting scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington (AGSIW), a well-known think-tank, said in a newly published research paper, that the Sultanate must also weigh a wider mix of alternative, yet sustainable, energy sources if it has to address the “dual challenge of energy security and climate change”.

Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), blamed for global warming and climate change, have been on the uptick in the Sultanate, fuelled by a strong uptrend in domestic energy demand, which is predominantly based on oil and gas, the researcher noted.

Total greenhouse gas emissions have grown 452 per cent between 1970 and 2012 and are projected to grow by an average five per cent per year. “The energy sector accounted for 90 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in 2014, followed by emissions sourced from bunker fuels, industrial activities, agriculture, and waste,” Dr Al Sarihi stated in her paper, titled ‘Facing the Dual Challenge of Energy Security and Climate Change: The Oman Example’.

In their quest to enhance their energy security while also reducing their carbon footprint, Oman and the GCC states need to go beyond their current focus on the power sector in embracing renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives, according to the expert. Consideration should also be given to the replication of these initiatives in water desalination, industrial and transportation sectors, she said.

The Sultanate “faces unprecedented challenges” that motivate the search for alternative energy resources. These include limited oil and gas reserves, increasing domestic energy demands, and high per capita carbon emissions, Dr Al Sarihi said.

“Oman’s semiarid environment, reliance on air conditioning, rising standard of living, growth in energy-intensive industrialisation, population growth, introduction of new households, and infrastructure investments are factors behind the dramatic increase in domestic demand for energy. For instance, total domestic use of natural gas tripled from 381,519 million standard cubic feet in 2008 to 1,447,422.2 million standard cubic feet in 2017,” the expert wrote.

Equally indispensable, she said, is the need for coherent strategy for the achievement of these objectives. “In order to make the transition toward secure, efficient, and low-carbon energy systems (which encompass all the components related to production, conversion, delivery, and end use of energy by sectors such as industry, transportation, construction, and agriculture) a fresh outlook on how the dual energy challenge can be tackled is needed, along with a holistic understanding of energy systems themselves.

This can be achieved through four guiding steps: first, define the need for alternative energy sources; second, identify alternative (sustainable) energy options; third, define energy consumption per sector; and, fourth, define sectoral and intersectoral transition strategies,” she stressed.

While acknowledging the Sultanate’s plans for the procurement of renewable energy based generation capacity, Dr Al Sarihi warned that Oman cannot completely rely on available solar and wind resources to meet its energy needs. Alternative energy resources must be harnessed and exploited as well, she said.

“Nuclear, waste-to-energy, wave energy, off-shore wind energy, and the role of carbon capture and storage are other potential alternative energy sources, but their feasibility has yet to be investigated in Oman,” the researcher noted.

The paper also mooted the need for an energy transition committee to oversee the transformation of each energy sector based on a well-defined sectoral energy transition strategy adopted for the country.

“The roles of the committee include to: establish a sectoral transition vision, define the alternative energy sources and technologies, identify the barriers to making the transition, and, most important, identify the policy incentives to overcome identified barriers. Given that energy system transformation is not an easy task and is a lengthy process, especially in economic systems with vested interest in fossil fuels like Oman, it is important to allow room for experimentation and learning-by-doing,” she added.

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