(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) Tucked away on the fringes of Darsait, the Services & Trade Company (S&T) camp looks like any other.
A drab dirt-brown compound speckled by portacabins and bifurcated by laundry lines, it sports the same well-worn look seen in the city's sundry worker camps.
With the day-workers ferried away and their graveyard shift brethren in deserved repose, the only sounds to be heard are the slow creaking from the mound of old fans, in various stages of disrepair.
The sudden splash of steady running water from behind the showers is the first sign of life in the camp.
Shafeeq comes around the corner; a weather-beaten but refreshed face atop dusty blue overalls. There's a moment's trepidation when he is asked about the water situation. It passes quickly. ''Water is no problem now,'' he said.
''We're getting cool water in the summer and hot water in the winter. Everyone's happy about that.''
While a statement made in earnest, it may seem like a small measure of comfort to outsiders.
But in such spartan settings, comfort is a wholly relative concept.
Between the functional confines and cloistered living, there's little room for creature comforts. For the sun-worn, luxury might well be a warm shower to wash away the grit of a hard day's work. And even that isn't always a sure thing.
''Everyone's happy to get both hot and cold water,'' Shafeeq repeats. For emphasis. Umair, a fellow worker nods in agreement.
It's a sentiment shared by their fellow employees in four other S&T camps in Oman - in Sur, Sohar, Ghala and Wadi Kabir - all of which have switched 'exclusively' to solar power to provide hot bathing water 24/7' in the last six months.
The Darsait camp was the first to receive solar water heaters nearly two years ago. Lined up against a wall, the husks of the camp's cast-out electric heaters offer silent affirmation.
''The solar heaters in the Darsait camp have completed two winters and summers and there have been absolutely no issues at all,'' said Hari Nair, administration manager, S&T Oman. ''We have on an average more than 300-350 tradesmen staying in each camp.''
According to Rajeev Mavely Simon, managing partner of Premier supplies and services, ''The reason why no one has thought to install solar water heaters in the camps is because this is an overlooked area. It doesn't receive much personal attention.
''But such a project has tremendous advantages for companies, besides the CSR benefits. Generally in the camps, the workers do not switch off the electric heaters, which leads to high electricity bills.''
Amidst the cluttered roof of an otherwise unremarkable structure sits the driving energy behind the operation.
With a flourish, Simon introduces a glistening set of eight identical 300lt water tanks, each attached to a glass encased-solar panel and quietly going about their business.
''We're getting water at almost 70-80,'' Simon said, with a chuckle, ''Of course, the cold water has to be mixed in before bathing. The tank has a thermos flask effect. If something is stored cold, it will remain so for 24 hours. And if it's kept hot, it'll stay that way for 24 hours.''
And there are no rusting problems for these Turkish-built Sergun heaters - even under the corrosive saltwater-saturated moisture wind that drifts in from the sea. ''When there is sufficient plumbing work, all that is needed is sufficient space on the terrace to install the solar panels and heaters.''
And sunlight of course. Which Oman enjoys in abundance. ''The almost 12 hours of sunlight Oman gets is more than enough. But it has not been properly used and that is the focal point behind our efforts.
''I have travelled to different parts of the world. They don't have as much sunlight but still use solar power. The sunlight can be said to be three times that which is received by European countries. We need to promote this renewable energy resource.''
That looks to get easier as awareness grows about the more tangible benefits of installing solar heaters.
''The initial investment - a 300lt tank costs around RO500 with an annual maintenance contract thrown in - may be a little high, but it's a one-time investment and means savings down the line. Once installed, the panel comes with a 15-year warranty,'' Simon said.
Nair agreed, ''It is definitely cost-effective. Our only expenses were in procuring the equipment and its installation. Otherwise, we aren't spending even one baiza as far as electricity consumption is concerned.''
But perhaps the solar heater's biggest draw is its easy transportability. The transient nature of these camps, especially those operating in the interior, requires equipment that can 'up-and-go'.
''We install our camps depending on the project requirements. These are all temporary structures. Once the project is over, we'll move the camp to the site where the new project is coming up,'' Nair said.
Simon said, ''It isn't easy to remove and reinstall the electric heater and its connections at different sites. The solar water heater can be fitted anywhere. We are getting enquires from a few camps and construction sites and have approached others. We hope more companies will step up and go