Oman sustainability: constructing a greener perspective?
The week commencing 13 March 2022 was designated ‘Oman Sustainability Week’ (OSW) in the Sultanate.
OSW is a national platform highlighting Oman’s commitment to sustainability leadership through innovative strategies aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and to elevate Oman as a new model for sustainable development.
OSW brought together Oman’s policy makers, sustainability experts and industry leaders to consider further ways to help Oman transition to a low carbon economy. With the majority of electricity in Oman generated by burning crude oil (65%) and natural gas (35%) and, given that Oman’s economy is heavily reliant on oil and gas revenues, the majority of the industry leaders involved with OSW hail from the oil, gas and utilities sectors. Indeed, OSW’s website states that:
The major role of the energy sector to contribute to the future sustainability and diversity of the economy will be a key highlight of Oman Sustainability Week.
According to its Second Nationally Determined Contribution report (NDC Report), compiled by the Directorate-General of Meteorology and produced by the Civil Aviation Authority, which was submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in July 2021, Oman's upstream oil and gas sector is currently evaluating a target of zero emissions by 2050. This target is intended to be achieved through the deployment of renewable energy projects and the introduction of energy efficient technologies, actions and techniques in Oman’s existing oil and gas-fired power plants.
The public sector agenda
Oman’s National Energy Strategy has already set a target to derive 20% of its electricity from renewables by 2027 and the country is well on the way to developing the 2.66 GW of renewables required to achieve this. Oman plans to do this by relying mainly on photovoltaic (PV) solar (accounting for about 79% of capacity), with the remaining coming from wind farms.
A number of renewable energy projects are now on line in Oman. These include:
Other developments include:
It is estimated that renewable projects procured by the sole electricity buyer in the country, Oman Power & Water Procurement Company S.A.O.C., will alone account for 16% of the country’s total electricity output by 2025. A further 2 to 5% is estimated to come from other development channels, resulting in renewable energy projects in Oman accounting for 30% of generation capacity by 2030.
Such projects are intended to enable the Sultanate to slow Green House Gas (GHC) emission growth and actually reduce it by 7% by 2030.
Collaboration in the construction sector required
But what of the construction sector in Oman? Are Oman based contractors adopting a greener perspective also?
When considering the effect of the pandemic restrictions and the knock-on effect to the supply chain, and with liquidity issues arising from (until very recent events in Eastern Europe) the low oil revenues, it is far from ‘business as usual’ for the Oman construction sector.
As is the position globally, contractors are being challenged like never before by a range of issues which, taken together, have the potential to radically change the way they work and, ultimately, survive. A combination of cost pressures, skills scarcity and, unfortunately, contractor administrations across the globe are having a significant detrimental effect on the industry as a whole.
In Oman, the primary and significant issue for contractors is liquidity and cash flow which, in turn, equates to survivability. Even before the pandemic, and despite the number of domestic projects, the Sultanate’s construction industry was suffering the knock-on effect of low oil revenues.
Delay and non-payments have had a serious detrimental effect on contractors in Oman, on both private and public sector projects. With significant monetary claims still outstanding, a number of well-known contractors, including some of those that built the modern Oman that is known today, have not survived. Of those contractors which have, many are now transforming their businesses into facilities management service providers resulting in a regular cash flow (albeit lower) but with less funding and security arrangements required.
For those contractors remaining in the 'pure construction' sphere, it should come as no surprise that incorporating green, efficient and renewable techniques and technologies into their building methodologies are way down on their list of priorities and concerns.
Despite the push for, and promise of, lower GHG emissions from the energy sector, at present, such plans are not being extended to the domestic construction market.
There is little evidence of residential or commercial developments adopting efficient or renewable techniques or technologies in their builds. Houses are not being built with insulation that would keep them cooler in the hot summer months. Shopping malls are not being fitted with solar power despite the fact that the sun shines nearly every day of the year.
Unlike other countries in the Gulf Co-operation Council, Oman has yet to introduce any green building regulations or codes for domestic, commercial or retail developments. Although, as like the UK, those jurisdictions in the region which have introduced such regulations have only done so in relation to the developments themselves, and not for the actual construction processes employed in building them.
In its Global Status Report issued in 2020, the World Economic Forum estimated that, in 2019, the world’s construction sector accounted for 35% of final energy use and 38% of energy and process related CO2 emissions worldwide. The Middle East region alone has been estimated to emit 3.2 billion tonnes of CO2, producing 8.7% of global GHG emissions despite making up only 6% of the global population. The adoption of more sustainable methods of the construction process is obviously required. As this will come at an additional cost, it can only be led by government intervention and initiatives.
Perspectives are, however, changing and government backed initiatives are being introduced in Oman.
Through the government’s National Renewable Energy Initiative (Sahim), a tender process for the installation of solar panels in residential homes in the Muscat Governorate has recently been issued by the Authority for Public Services Regulation (APSR). According to local press reports, ASPR, which is overseeing the roll-out of grid-connected solar PV-based rooftop capacity in the Sultanate, said an award stemming from the tender process will cover the requirements of around 500 owners of residential buildings and homes. It will mark the first in a series of tenders, initially targeting homes in the capital city, Muscat, but eventually expanding to cover between 10 to 30% of all residential buildings across the country.
Further, and as part of its continuing support for programs and projects based on alternative energy in the Sultanate, APSR has also launched an initiative for ‘Green Mosques’.
This project intends to support 100 mosques in 2022 to switch to solar in order to provide their energy needs, with the first planned ‘Green Mosque’ adaption being undertaken in the Walayat of Seeb.
The majority of green initiatives being pursued in Oman are still focussed on the energy producers and not the property sector: developers, contractors and end users (property owners/residents). As a result, developers proceed on the most cost-efficient basis as possible. This means disregarding any perspective on, and adoption of, green technology and techniques by contractors in the design, build and construct process. Consumption of both fossil fuel (and renewable) based energy will, therefore, likely continue to rise in line with the increase in Oman’s housing and commercial property stock.
Therefore, in addition to an increase in these types of initiatives, a continuing joint approach between government, developers, contractors and end-users/residents could result in Oman’s carbon neutral goals being achieved and even exceeded. The adoption of green methods in building design, construction and use is pivotal. Encouraging the award of sustainable and energy efficient construction projects, awarding project tenders based on the contractors’ and sub-contractors’ green credentials, providing green insurance with lower premiums based on the construction methods used in the development (which, in turn, will encourage property owners to switch to energy efficient consumption practices and green waste disposal methods) will all contribute to Oman’s net zero aspirations.
Oman Vision 2040, the government’s guide and key reference for the country’s planning activities over the next two decades, seeks to elevate the Sultanate to the position of advanced nations. Encouraging developers, the construction and insurance sectors to work together will undoubtedly assist in achieving this.
Ironically, as the development of oil production directly resulted in the demise of the whaling industry, the culprit could also present part of the solution. The recent rise in oil prices will undoubtedly increase liquidity in Oman which the construction sector should directly benefit from.
Greater cash-flow could allow and lead to a greener perspective being taken by the Oman construction sector concerning the introduction of modern techniques and the use of such technologies for efficient and sustainable building methods and outcomes. Oman’s insurance sector would also have a significant role to play in encouraging such green practices. The long awaited introduction of green building regulations by the Supreme Council of Planning, and with a move to public tenders being awarded on the use of green construction methods, as well as the resulting development itself, could now be of timely assistance in this regard.