A frustrating traffic jam, the burning near 50-degree sun, ballooning carbon emissions and depleting hydrocarbon reserves, there is more in common here than what meets the eye.
I remember a few years ago in the midst of my nightmarish university days, I stumbled upon a project on ‘energy saving building envelope’, my first encounter with sustainability. It was put my way by a dear friend who told me it was her final year project and needed my analysis on it.
The title won little admiration from me but I knew she’d never get on a discussion table with me with anything less than an equivalent of a pair of face cards, such was my aura once upon a time. I agreed to help with little discussion saving my philosophical image as I understood little of sustainability back then.
“So basically it saves energy required for cooling in a building using construction materials that insulate sun’s heat. This allows less heat to pass indoors and therefore keeps it cooler than other buildings,” probably the only explanation I remember out of a million she gave. Great idea until we reached economics.
“It would take at least 25-30 years to break even with initial investment,” she said when I asked about costs. The idea was great, significant emission reduction, lighter materials, less electricity bills and the list goes on but when I asked her will she ever invest in such a building. “May be not,” she said dejected.
The concept of sustainability has long been overlooked due to its unattractive economics. Rightly so, anything that doesn’t make money doesn’t work in the real world. But the reason why most people shy away from sustainability is due to the advocates for the cause who subjectively slap solar, zero emissions and other impossible to implement jargon along with the word.
Do you remember the Concorde? The British excellence that they still talk about? It is not there anymore, is it? I meant skies, not museum. Why did the engineering feat that halved time taken from London to New York vanish from the skies in such less time? No it wasn’t safety or comfort or even bad food. Problem was again, the rough patch of economics among other environmental hazards related to its infamous sonic booms.
It was increasingly left behind Boeing and Airbus fleet made of commercially engineered models. The truth was, Concorde just wasn’t making enough money. In other words, the engineering feat wasn’t sustainable.
Sustainability simply is a careful blend of making life easy for people, producing energy efficiently so that we don’t compromise needs of our future generation and taking care of the environment. The Concorde could hardly tick one box out of three and therefore was bound to fail.
I thought I knew all of sustainability and energy efficiency until I met Markus Strohmeier, the CEO of Siemens Oman. Being a world leader in engineering, Siemens have some of the most complicated systems in place to facilitate renewable energy production but this was not what Markus spoke to me about.
“We have some great applications for renewables but that isn’t what I wish to talk about in detail. Energy production isn’t going to be as much of a problem for us in the future, it is the storage and the number of things that we can do with it that stored energy that is going to define sustainability,” he said explaining applications of stored energy.
So technology, renewables, apps, Internet of Things, smart cities and energy storage are all, we understand, fragments of a sustainable energy future but where does all this fit in Oman and why do we care?
Apart from depleting hydrocarbon resources, there is the suffocating surge of carbon emissions. According to a research by PwC, carbon emissions in the GCC are the highest in the world. We know that not changing our dependence on fossil fuels and failing to enhance our energy efficiency is not sustainable in years to come. Dr Ali Al Shidhani, Head of research at The Research Council of Oman put it in the best way. “Smart, sustainable cities will be driven by the needs of the people in Oman,” he said describing the real purpose of sustainability.
Can’t agree more with this concept. We don’t expect people in Oman to embrace Tesla cars because they are environment friendly but instead they are expected to gradually shift to electric cars when it is convenient.
A lot has already been done in Oman on sustainability. Madinat Al Irfan, Oman’s new city which is the home to the new Oman Exhibition and Conference Centre, an architecture so overwhelmingly huge and beautiful. Listening to Ammar Al Kharusi from Omran, master developer of the project, on the sustainable design and architecture sounded like a fairytale.
Only difference, it has been done. Recently, Authority for Electricity Regulation launched Sahim, Oman’s first renewable energy campaign that aims to regulate Solar rooftop PVs for home electricity generation.
Then there is the gradual bridging instead of all out ambitious sustainability. Imtiaz Baqui, Director of Abstract Oman and an old friend of my father spelled out a more definitive transient solution for reduction in CO2 emission and energy consumption. I understood little of it during a dinner table conversation with him but curiosity of an engineer forced me to give him a call the following day.
“It a particular solution which enhances quality of life by reducing hazardous emissions by 50 per cent to 75 per cent,” Baqui exclaimed. “Not only that, by implementing it, entities running operations on diesel fuel stand to reduce 10 per cent to 15 per cent in fuel consumption. They can also reduce maintenance costs. The product is called EuroAd. It is applicable on diesel generators, trucks, cranes, loaders, dumpers, oil rigs, etc. It is important to note 1 liter EuroAd treats 32,000 liters diesel fuel.” Perfect really, if implemented.
While most on sustainability sounds too technical, Marco Occhipinti, Country Manager for Pinti Paints makes it easier. With the Italian mindset of innovation and style, Marco launched their brand of paints that reflects up to 30 per cent of sun’s heat and can keep buildings much cooler requiring much lesser energy. “Oman needs to reduce the massive electricity bills and save the energy for other purposes,” Marco noted, very correctly.
Imagine the time we take to reach workplace and find a parking on a busy Monday morning. A ten-minute route is often doubled to 20 in a best case scenario, if there is not an unforeseen incident on the road, such as an accident.
What if we had a way to escape this? What if our smartphone buzzed to tell us that traffic had hit a standstill at the Sultan Qaboos Highway and we should shift to 18th November Street instead? What if we reached our office and the phone buzzed again to guide us to the nearest parking spot?
Additionally, what if we had to pay no electricity bills as our personal rooftop solar panel was giving more electricity than we needed, thanks to the sustainable materials and design? What if there was the air you breath is no more a health hazard?
It’s hard to picture our daily lives with such luxuries that will be a norm in the near future. We only have to take the initiative to make Oman a sustainable country, help the people, save our resources and keep our environment clean.
This is what I failed to make my friend understand. Only if I could be with her at college all over again. Sigh...