Inside the PN’s 30-year plan for electricity generation

Nationalist MP Ryan Callus details the PN's 30-year-old plan for electricity generation, says Malta will require a second interconnector within the next five to 10 years

An illustration of floating wind turbines, which use chains to anchor to the sea floor up to a half a mile deep
An illustration of floating wind turbines, which use chains to anchor to the sea floor up to a half a mile deep

Malta will require a second interconnector within the next five to 10 years as the shift to electric cars will increase electricity demand, Ryan Callus says.

The construction of a second electricity cable to connect Malta to the European grid forms part of the Nationalist Party’s energy plan unveiled last week.

The project will be the first major undertaking if the PN is elected to government, Callus tells MaltaToday as he outlines the timelines for the proposals.

Ryan Callus (right) is fronting the PN's clean energy plan
Ryan Callus (right) is fronting the PN's clean energy plan

An engineer by profession, Callus is fronting the PN’s energy plan that was communicated last week without much detail as to the timelines and expenses involved. Among the proposals is a floating wind farm set some 20km offshore.

He now says that a floating wind farm could be commissioned around 2036 at the same time that the 18-year power purchase and gas-supply contract with Electrogas expires.

But Callus is unfazed by the criticism that the PN plan lacks costings. The financial aspects of major projects like these can make or break them but he insists the PN has done its homework and will flesh out a more detailed programme in the months ahead.

“This is a 30-year vision and the major generators – the interconnector and wind farm - will come on board as demand for electricity grows over the coming years, especially with the drive towards greater electrification in transport and other sectors,” Callus says.

Bigger interconnector to south Italy

The construction of a second interconnector will be the first step to start meeting this higher demand but it will have to connect to a different region in Italy, he adds.

The existing interconnector between Malta and Sicily delivers 200MW of energy and cost €182 million when it was commissioned in 2015. It allows Malta to buy and sell electricity from and to the European grid.

The interconnector project was initiated by Lawrence Gonzi's (left) administration and completed in 2015 by the Joseph Muscat (right) administration. Both former prime ministers are seen here with then Italian premier Matteo Renzi, who visited Malta for the inauguration.
The interconnector project was initiated by Lawrence Gonzi's (left) administration and completed in 2015 by the Joseph Muscat (right) administration. Both former prime ministers are seen here with then Italian premier Matteo Renzi, who visited Malta for the inauguration.

Callus says the interconnector comes with the risk of losing all power if it is damaged or Sicily suffers an electricity outage, which is why the PN is proposing a second interconnector to the south of the Italian mainland.

Callus does not reveal cost projections but says the longer distance will inevitably lead to a higher expense.

“To make it more financially feasible we have to go for a larger cable that is capable of carrying between 350MW and 400MW to benefit from economies of scale. But the additional expense to link to a different location in Italy will be justified because it will spread the risk,” he says.

Hydrogen at Delimara

Callus insists that the gas turbines at the Delimara power stations will remain crucial for flexibility and security of supply in Malta but they will have to be converted to work on hydrogen.

He says Malta has to reach the target of carbon neutrality by 2050, which means electricity generation has to move away from fossil fuels.

Delimara hosts two power generation plants – D3, the former BWSC plant, and D4, the Electrogas plant – that burn natural gas, a cleaner alternative to oil but still a fossil fuel. A third much older plant works on diesel and is used as a standby facility.

Hydrogen is a cleaner alternative to burn since its by-product is water.

The power stations at Delimara will eventually have to run on hydrogen as Malta tries to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
The power stations at Delimara will eventually have to run on hydrogen as Malta tries to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Callus says that the development of a pan-European hydrogen pipeline network forms part of the European Commission’s Green Deal, which is why the Delimara plants will have to be converted to work on hydrogen in 10 years’ time.

“This makes it incumbent to have a hydrogen-ready gas pipeline linking Malta to mainland Europe,” he says.

Malta’s application for EU funds to build a gas pipeline with Sicily that is also hydrogen-ready was rejected in Brussels but Callus is not convinced government was forceful enough in making its case. “It seems government had other priorities when making this application,” he says.

Floating wind farm far out at sea

But the PN’s energy plan also prospects the construction of a floating wind farm situated at a distance of between 15km and 20km offshore.

This is radically different from a past proposal to have a fixed offshore wind farm at Sikka l-Bajda, a handful of kilometres from the Mellieħa coast.

But floating wind turbines come at a higher cost than conventional electricity generation.

A 30MW floating facility off the Scottish coast commissioned in 2017 came with a price tag of €176 million. A basic analysis carried out by MaltaToday shows that at this price, the Scottish facility cost three times as much per MW as the Electrogas power station and LNG facility.

Deep sea wind farms are now possible because of technology that allows them to float.
Deep sea wind farms are now possible because of technology that allows them to float.

Callus acknowledges the substantial price differential but points out that the costs associated with floating wind farms are projected to drop significantly over the next decade as more European countries invest in the technology.

“By 2030, in Scotland the cost of electricity produced by wind farms is expected to be just 1c higher than electricity produced by conventional means. Admittedly, Scotland has optimal wind conditions but research shows that the cost of electricity from fixed offshore wind farms has halved since 2010 and the same is expected to happen for floating wind farms,” Callus explains.

It takes an average of 10 years from planning stage to commissioning for an offshore wind farm to become operational.

Callus says that the PN plan envisages that process to start in five years’ time. “We could have a floating wind farm by 2036 at the same time that the Electrogas fixed contract expires,” he says.

By that deadline, he is convinced that floating offshore wind farms will be producing electricity at prices close to conventional systems being used today.

“Wind energy is the only option that will give us the necessary boost to reach our renewable targets and decarbonise our energy generation,” Callus says.

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