Climate change is the highest-profile issue on the global sustainable development agenda. And Oman Vision 2040 is the Sultanate’s gateway to overcome challenges, keep pace with regional and global changes, generate and seize opportunities to foster economic competitiveness and social well-being, stimulate growth, and to build confidence in all economic, social and developmental relations, nationwide.
Access to affordable energy resources is linked to development of any society. It is anticipated that there will be an exponential increase in energy use in the coming years to meet the objectives of Oman Vision 2040. At present, a majority of energy production in Oman is from non-renewable sources, which has a significant impact on the environment.
Non-renewable sources of energy are the focus of global attention from the perspective of mitigating climate change. The Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the focal point for strengthening global ambitions and action on climate by building on the foundations of the 2015 Paris Agreement. World leaders set a goal to keep global warming under 1.5 degree C, as per the Agreement. The Sultanate of Oman, as part of its sustainable development policy, has signed the Agreement and is framing its policies to meet its commitments related to the Agreement. A part of its initiatives is to explore diversified sources of energy to achieve energy security. Oman has committed to reaching Net Zero Emissions in 2050. The CIBSE (UK) guide on Sustainability states that “supply from renewable sources” is one of the principles that has to be applied on each project to address the issue of energy and CO2 emissions. The Government of Oman has taken many initiatives to introduce renewable energy in all possible sectors. Solar, wind, tidal and geothermal are some of the sources of renewable energy. Among all the renewable sources of energy, solar has been identified as having a strong potential for harnessing in Oman, as it does not pollute the atmosphere, does not provide any toxic by-products and is secure from the possibility of any nation putting an embargo on its supply. Oman has strong solar resources, with insolation being among the highest in the world.
In this scenario, where does Green Hydrogen figure? To clarify, Green Hydrogen is defined as that hydrogen which is produced by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using renewable electricity. Green hydrogen, obtained from renewable energy sources, is one of the urgently required building blocks for the energy turnaround.
It is anticipated that Green Hydrogen can help decarbonise many sectors in Oman. Razzaqi Ahshan from Oman, in his paper, titled “Potential and Economic Analysis of Solar-to-Hydrogen Production in the Sultanate of Oman”, has presented a techno-economic analysis of producing Green Hydrogen using solar photovoltaic power in the Sultanate of Oman. The findings of the study indicate that producing Green Hydrogen using solar power is a promising prospect.
The Minister of Energy and Minerals of Oman states that “Green hydrogen presents itself as a key vector that enables Oman to pursue its decarbonisation, economic and energy security objectives,”. With the abundant renewable energy resources that Oman is blessed with, the country is positioned as one of the most attractive nations to produce Green Hydrogen competitively and at a large scale. Oman aims to become one of the largest producers and exporters of Green Hydrogen in the world by 2030. Its Green Hydrogen Strategy envisions an estimated USD 140 billion in investment in a new low-carbon industry.
To drive Green Hydrogen projects, Oman plans to award the first land blocks in 2023, in a bid to meet its 2030 production target of at least 1 million tonnes of Green Hydrogen per annum.
It is to be noted that renewable energy technologies have already reached a level of maturity already that allows competitive renewable electricity generation all around the world, a prerequisite for competitive Green Hydrogen production. The country’s Energy Development Oman announced a new brand identity, called HYDROM, which is charged with executing Oman’s hydrogen strategy to support the Government’s drive to reduce carbon footprint and achieve decarbonisation targets.
The decarbonisation of energy-intensive industries, such as extractive industries, plays an integral role towards reaching the target of Zero Carbon by 2050. The aluminium industry is one of the most energy-intensive and CO2-emissive industries. In 2021, the industry was solely responsible for 275 Mt of CO2, three per cent of the global direct CO2 emissions. Oman has the largest aluminium process industries in Sohar, the industrial city of Oman. Antonis Peppas et al from the School of Mining and Metallurgical Engineering, National Technical University of Athens, carried out a detailed study, which showed that Green Hydrogen is the most environmentally beneficial option for the aluminium industry. This is just an example to illustrate how Green Hydrogen can help energy-intensive industries to meet their carbon reduction programme.
It is an established fact that in Oman, mostly gas is used to generate electricity. There is a great opportunity for Hydrogen to replace gas in the energy mix. Oman aims to increase Green Hydrogen production from 32,500 to 3.75 million tonnes per year by 2040 and from 3.5 to 8.5 million tonnes per year by 2050. The country estimates that it will need a cumulative investment of USD 140 billion over this period to reach its production target by 2050. On January 10, 2023, oil major, Shell joined a consortium as an operating partner to develop a 25-gigawatt project. The consortium is working towards delivering more than 1.8 million tons per annum of Green Hydrogen to accelerate the energy transition in Oman and around the globe. Hence, Green Hydrogen can be considered to replace conventional fuel for generation of electricity in Oman.
Another sector that is the subject of consideration is the tranportation sector. Y. Charabi et al in their paper, titled “GHG emissions from the transport sector in Oman: Trends and potential decarbonisation pathways”, concluded that transportation emissions have become the third largest contributor to overall greenhouse gas emissions in Oman and suggested that curbing emissions from the Omani transportation system should take place in the socio-economic context of the country through various green technologies. The International Energy Agency (IEA), in its latest report, “Net Zero by 2050 – A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector, states that there is a good opportunity in the transport sector to use Green hydrogen. Indeed, Hydrom, on 14 March 2023, signed six term-sheet agreements with a number of developers to invest in Green Hydrogen projects in the country, valued at more than Omani Riyal (RO) 20 billion over the next seven years. Also, Germany and the broader European Union (EU) plan to import hydrogen and its derivatives from the Arab Gulf states. Oman’s ambitious hydrogen plans can provide Germany and the EU with affordable clean energy. Petrofac, a leading provider of services to the global energy industry, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Oman Hydrogen Centre (OHC) to collaborate in building capabilities for Oman’s renewable energy sector, particularly in Green Hydrogen. Located at the German University of Technology (GUtech), OHC is the first research facility of its kind in the Sultanate, supporting the country in accelerating its transition to renewable energy. The centre provides an international hub for research, technology, education, industry applications and the economy, aligned with Oman Vision 2040. The Petrofac and OHC partnership will bring considerable benefits to the efficient implementation of green hydrogen projects and help accelerate the Sultanate’s energy transition.
All the above cited projects indicate that there is great potential for Green Hydrogen to meet the decarbonisation target in Oman. However, there are a few challenges. The hype and fanfare around Green Hydrogen is a good, but there is a need to infuse a certain degree of pragmatism to the belief on what Green Hydrogen will achieve and to what level Green Hydrogen will displace fossil fuels. The major challenges to the scaling of circular hydrogen economy relate to waste and cost management, the transport of hydrogen, infrastructure requirements for storage and environmental safety concerns. The IEA has listed a few solutions in its report in relation to these concerns. It has said that during the journey, there will be many challenges. For each challenge, though, there is a viable solution, and it can be achieved.
Considering the potential of Green Hydrogen, the IEA recently has initiated cooperative projects with Oman to expand and improve Green Hydrogen generation in the country. The first such project is to develop Green Hydrogen markets for energy and local industry uses. This will involve identifying the industrial and productive sectors that currently rely on natural gas, and exploring the possibility of switching them over to Green Hydrogen. As a result, Oman will eventually be less dependent on natural gas and will be able to build additional industrial projects that will increase the economic worth of natural gas and work to draw in investors and technology developers. The second initiative aims at developing local Green Hydrogen production capacity while utilising Oman’s infrastructure in the areas of oil, gas, ports and the spot electricity market, among other areas.
Conclusion and recommendations
A successful national hydrogen economy will lead to a strong Oman. Realising the potential of Green Hydrogen, the Government of Oman has taken many initiatives through various institutions and would like to show the world that it can use Oman as an example to follow in energy transition and economic diversification. Many will continue to see Green Hydrogen as the ‘golden key’ to unlocking a net-zero future. It is a beginning. Any changes may have to face challenges. The national mission of Net Zero Carbon by 2050 drives Green Hydrogen as the future energy of Oman. This paper’s main aim was to highlight that Green Hydrogen is going to play a significant role in meeting the Government of Oman’s national mission of reducing the emission of carbon.
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The writer has a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, India, and is a visiting faculty at Sultan Qaboos University, Oman. He may be contacted at email@example.com.