Mother Nature – combating climate change | PKF

It begs the question why Malta with good exposure to rays of the sun has still not succeeded to increase production of electricity to EU levels from use of photovoltaic panels to the 10% threshold

Climate change by definition is a process which may be caused by a number of factors including natural, be it geologic, oceanographic and atmospheric events and human-induced factors, the most relevant of which is the emission of greenhouse gases through human processes such as burning of fossil fuels.

Can we tell if the constant barrage in the media to combat climate change is not another hoax like the millennium bug? What is an undeniable fact points to the increase in carbon dioxide concentrations and other greenhouse gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide caused by our activities – mainly due to the explosion in car ownership, not to mention attracting more heavy industry.

Reliable sources tell us there is undeniable evidence pointing to the fact that carbon dioxide has been on the increase in the past two decades. Readers may expect this is another article extolling the benefits of clean air resulting from massive new investment in plants generating Green energy – the truth is not many shed tears for our lack of success in reducing the national carbon footprint which undoubtedly is contributing to climate change.

Between 1990 and 2007 we have seen our greenhouse gas emissions increase by almost 50%. It’s time to start reducing such emissions in order to mitigate the effect of climate change. It is vital that each individual in our society gets involved in this process and that everyone does something to reduce the impact of climate change.

Only then can we protect our environment, society and economy, and only when each individual gets involved can we safeguard a better and safe future for future generations. There have been various conferences and press releases by the EU extolling the benefits of Renewable Energy Systems and various attempts were made by Brussels to propose ambitious goals for Member States to step up their investment in Green energy.

The target is that by 2020, the EU would seek to obtain 20% of its total energy consumption requirements with renewable energy sources. Malta has so far been a laggard in this regard albeit steps have so far been taken.

As a definition renewable energy includes wind, solar, hydro-electric and tidal power as well as geothermal energy and biomass and from studies published by the EU one notes that Germany leads the pack as a country which has invested the highest amount in this sector claiming to be the world’s first major renewable energy economy (in 2010, investments total 26 billion euros).

According to official figures, some 370,000 people in Germany were employed in the renewable energy sector in 2010, and it is no surprise to discover that most companies benefiting from this sector are small and medium sized companies.

Certainly, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the Mediterranean have increased along with the atmospheric concentrations and this is giving us colder winters and higher humidity in summers. All lines of evidence taken together make it unambiguous that the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations is human induced and is predominantly a result of fossil fuel burning.

It is a fact that greenhouse gases when controlled can serve a useful purpose that is to absorb infrared radiation from the sun and re-emit it in all directions. Without this natural greenhouse effect, primarily resulting in creation of water vapour and resultant carbon dioxide which functions like a shield to protect the Earth surface, the mean surface temperature would be intolerable.

Thanks to this shield we enjoy a habitable average temperature. We also have the issue of sea level rise. It is estimated that over this century we will encounter sea-level rise of between 0.18 and 0.69m. In the case of Malta, this is of major concern due to the fact that a substantial quantity of land in severe climate change causes it to be permanently submerged under water. The east coast will be particularly hit, especially low lying areas such as Sliema, Gżira and Msida, among others.

As it happens, another important aspect is that unfortunately major infrastructure and road networks, as well as some of the most vital economic and industrial areas are situated close to the shore. It goes without saying that sea-level rise will particularly impact our economy.

It begs the question why Malta with good exposure to rays of the sun has still not succeeded to increase production of electricity to EU levels from use of photovoltaic panels to the 10% threshold. One may observe that awareness in Malta of the benefits of using such technology has changed since the arrival of Shanghai Electric which in the near future is reputed to invest a substantial amount in PV panels – all linked to the national grid.

Why is PV technology so popular? The answer is because a solar cell is the elementary building block of the photovoltaic technology. Recently research in new technology has been making giant steps, by testing new prototypes made of semiconductor materials, such as silicon which due to their properties makes them highly conductive and in turn uses ingenious ways to capture the energy of the sun and convert it to electricity through an inverter.

Simply fitting more panels on rooftops seems easy but the demographic and geographic characteristics of the island create issues of spatial planning, given that in reality it is a very small and densely populated state. But rejoice as it is not all doom and gloom.

Having started from zero in 1995 there has been a huge leap in the number of rooftop installations to date. Official statistics indicate that PV has grown at an average yearly rate of 35% from 1995 to 2005 (1,8 kW to 40 kW) and of 63% between 2005 and 2010. Ask any architect and he will point out that spatial planning takes into consideration the issue of devoting more open areas to renewable energy systems (RES) often clash with other planning needs and for this reason large-scale RES installations are not practical in Malta.

In conclusion, can the environment minister succeed to catch up with other EU states and achieve the desired target of 20% of total energy sourced from non-fossil fuels by 2020 – the easy answer is the possible we do now, miracles can wait.

References:

MRA (2009): Malta Resource Authority, Analysis of Potential for Co-Generation on the Maltese Islands.

Available at:

<www.mra.org.mt/Downloads/Publications/Analysis%20of%20Cogeneration%20Potential.pdf> (last accessed on 11 May 2011).

NREAP (2010): National Renewable Energy Action Plan (Malta). Available at:

<http://ec.europa.eu/energy/renewables/transparency_platform/action_plan_en.htm> (last accessed on 11 May 2011).

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