Muscat: An experimental station of the Sustainable Energy Research Centre at Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) seeks to conduct experiments related to energy security and efficiency while also minimising costs and reducing environmentally harmful emissions. The experimental station is considered one of the most important of the centre’s projects.
This comes amid global endeavours towards achieving sustainable development and ecological balance that necessitate a focus on utilising renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind energy, to produce and store electrical power. This drive is one of the main factors associated with the establishment of the Hybrid Power Plant by the Sustainable Energy Research Centre at Sultan Qaboos University (SQU).
The Hybrid Power Plant is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment and devices, including a Smart Micro-Grid System, Electrochemical Hydrogen Fuel Cells that operate through a methanol fuel reformer, and a Deionized Water System, in addition to providing cutting-edge laboratories for electrochemical experimentations and a methanol storage room.
The plant also includes a diesel generator, a wind turbine, and both ground-mounted and rooftop photovoltaic (PV) systems while continuing efforts are being made to ensure the plant has the necessary equipment to achieve its primary objectives. Through these efforts, the Sustainable Energy Research Centre remains at the forefront of research into the generation of electricity through renewable energy sources in place of diesel fuel, especially in rural areas.
The construction of the hybrid plant has already progressed through several stages. The first began in 2017 with a research project entitled “Studying the Performance and Monitoring of Solar Photovoltaic Energy” conducted by a research team led by SQU’s Dr. Rashid Al Abri and Dr. Amer Saif Al Hinai. The project was funded by Nafath Renewable Energy LLC. During this stage, the plant included a 4 kW ground-mounted PV system combined with a 3 kW wind turbine, and storage batteries with power capacity of 900 Wh. The hybrid system was designed to operate in stand-alone mode or grid-connected to the SQU distribution network.
In 2019, the second phase of the plant’s development was associated with a research project funded by Salalah Methanol Company LLC (currently OQ) and led again by Dr. Amer Al Hinai. The project focused on evaluating the potential for methanol to generate electricity in rural and remote areas in the Sultanate. The plant, at this stage, included a laboratory, researcher offices, methanol storage, and a water treatment and purification plant to produce distilled water that is used in the production of fuel-mix for the hydrogen fuel-cell.
Current work at the plant encompasses a project that includes 5 kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell equipped with methanol reformer, a 6 kW diesel generator, a 5 kW rooftop PV system, and 15 kWh lithium-ion storage batteries. In addition, the smart energy management system connects the integrated resources to the university’s distribution grid or can be operated as an isolated microgrid system that feeds the local loads in the plant. The project generally focuses on using methanol to generate electricity in an economical and eco-friendly way due to the low levels of harmful emissions.
Following the conclusion of the first two phases of the plant’s construction, efforts have been geared first towards the evaluation of utilising methanol to generate electricity for rural and remote areas. The research team is working to integrate various energy sources to effectively produce electricity through the utilisation of renewable energy resources. In addition, a battery energy storage system will be used to mitigate energy fluctuations and stabilise the system.
The hybrid system depends on a solar PV system, hydrogen fuel cell, and a fossil fuel diesel generator. Batteries are used to store energy during excess production and can be reused during production shortfalls. It is intended that the Hybrid Power Plant will soon be operational and synchronized to the SQU distribution network. Efforts will continue to be extended towards the production of green methanol utilising renewable energy.