Jump in Malta’s renewable energy share

Sandro Lauri | The next step is to continue to sustain the economic growth through further investment in the sector whilst maintaining the right balance between the underlying energy policy objectives

From time to time Eurostat publishes statistics showing how each European country is progressing towards their respective renewable energy target for 2020. Each time Malta is identified amongst those countries with the smallest share, at the very bottom of the list.

Malta’s interim target for 2017-2018 was 6.5% and therefore Malta exceeded its target by a good margin. This means that the latest statistics published from Eurostat referring to the generation of renewable energy during 2018 should be read within the context of the individual targets assigned to each country.

The next milestone is the 10% target to be achieved by the end of 2020. This target takes into consideration Malta’s starting point pre 2010, when energy production from renewable energy sources was negligible. Malta has increased its renewable share five-fold since 2010 from around 100GWh to over 500GWh, and latest projections show that Malta will be close to meeting its 2020 target.

When comparing Malta’s progress to that achieved by other member states, one has to keep in mind their available options. With the exception of Luxembourg, all other EU countries have a much wider choice of renewable energy sources like hydro, geothermal, biomass (sustainable forests) and onshore/offshore wind, and most have access to large swathes of land which can be developed in huge wind or solar farms. In Malta’s case, we have to rely almost exclusively on small scale solar energy and biofuel imports.

Clean electricity

In recent years, the government has fully supported energy production from solar, and thanks to grants and feed-in tariffs, circa 149MWp of PV installations are already generating clean electricity. In fact, most of the time, government support exceeded the demand. This albeit the fact that feed-in tariffs paid in Malta are much higher than those allocated to PV or wind installations being developed abroad. This can be partially attributed to the limited availability of land which is also reflected in its cost, but is also due to overarching environmental concerns such as landscape sensitivity, Natura 2000 sites and impact on avifauna and their natural habitat.

Wider collective effort

Similarly, grants for solar water heaters remain largely untapped even though supported by a generous grant of €700 per installation. A wider collective effort is required to ensure that green measures are not exclusively driven by financial considerations but also through an underlying sense of urgency to decarbonize our economy and mitigate adverse impacts of climate change.

Whilst aiming at realistic targets in line with the National Energy and Climate Plan, higher targets are expected to exert further pressure on land use and grid stability. Based on mainstream PV technology, for every 1% increase in renewable energy share, a space equivalent to circa 100 football pitches is required. Increasing our renewable energy share from 10% to 20% would require a land area almost as twice the size of Comino or the Majjistral Nature Park to be filled with PV panels. Once again, committing vast greenfield sites, such as Comino, to development, even if for PV or wind turbines, is unimaginable and clearly unacceptable on environmental grounds. It is within this context that the government is closely monitoring developments in technologies such as floating solar and floating offshore wind. However, these are currently still expensive or at pre-commercialization stage, and it is important that investment takes place at the right moment to ensure value for money for the Maltese citizen.

 

Malta’s decarbonization objectives

Renewable energy, especially solar PV, is an important element to achieve Malta’s decarbonization objectives. However, investment in solar PV cannot be undertaken in isolation and must also be accompanied by investment in other infrastructure to ensure that the electricity system can assimilate further intermittent installations, as well as be able to provide consumers with electricity even at times when renewables do not generate. In this context the government has already overhauled the power generation sector and is monitoring the development of battery storage to alleviate short term intermittency and enable further expansion of this sector.

Continue to sustain the economic growth

Ultimately, the government is committed to ensure long term sustainability and affordability of the energy sector whilst guaranteeing security of supply.  This, however, does not mean that Malta will have to replicate the path taken by other countries. Several countries across Europe are still heavily dependent on coal, nuclear or even oil. Malta has phased out coal in the nineties, and by 2017 had also phased out heavy fuel oil. The next step is to continue to sustain the economic growth through further investment in the sector whilst maintaining the right balance between the underlying energy policy objectives.

Ing. Sandro Lauri is chief strategy officer Energy & Water Agency

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