Study identifies two suitable offshore sites for floating solar and wind energy plants

Developing 35.5% of an offshore zone to the east of Malta could meet the islands’ entire electrical demand in 2040 • Zones are outside territorial waters in Malta's exclusive economic zone

A Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) has identified two areas in Malta’s Exclusive Economic Zone best suited to host offshore solar and wind energy plants.

The areas are situated 22 km to the east and south of Malta.

The study conducted by environmental consultants AIS Limited concludes that of the four alternatives considered, ‘Alterative B’ is the best option.

Area 3 and Area 4 outside Malta's territorial waters were identified as best suited to host offshore solar and wind energy farms.
Area 3 and Area 4 outside Malta's territorial waters were identified as best suited to host offshore solar and wind energy farms.

It comprises two areas; a 1, zone to the east of the island denoted as Area 3 and a smaller area to the south of Malta denoted as Area 4.

The study suggests that developing “just” 35.5% of Area 3 (equivalent to could meet the islands’ entire electrical demand in 2040.

But this would still mean developing renewable energy projects over an area which is larger than Malta itself.

The calculation was based on estimates provided by the Energy & Water Agency (EWA) on the potential power generation capacity of offshore wind RES projects. According to these estimates around 400MW of electricity can be produced in an offshore RES area of

Theoretically, all four alternatives considered in the study “hold enough room to offset all non-renewable power generation sources in Malta”. The report also refers to the possible surplus of renewable energy, which can be generated and exported to other countries or stored to produce hydrogen which can be used as fuel for power stations.

But the report acknowledges that these estimates “oversimplify the potential for renewable energy generation in each cluster” due to several “unknowns” which include the variability in power-generating capacity per unit area, whether solar or wind energy is employed and the physical dimensions and layouts of the installations. Moreover, “it is improbable” that the entire site footprint is utilised and developed exclusively for offshore RES projects.

One also must consider other limiting factors like intermittency of renewable energy. According to the study the development of battery energy storage systems will be crucial to minimise the intermittencies of renewable energy and the strain this would otherwise put on the national energy grid.   

One of the disadvantages posed by choosing Area 3 is its vicinity to existing bunkering areas and shipping routes but since only a part of the site will be developed, renewable energy plants can be planned in a way which minimises the impact on sea traffic.

On the plus side, Area 3 also includes some of the shallowest areas, thus offering specific technical and financial advantages which may be exploited by project proponents.

One potential obstacle is the presence of two recognised submarine volcanoes in Area 3, which are presumably inactive. But due to the substantial footprint of Area 3, it is anticipated that designers of RES projects  would successfully manage to steer clear of these two underwater structures.

The study evaluated a total of five alternative scenarios, ranging  from the Do-Nothing Scenario (Alternative 0) to the full development of all six sites considered (Alternative D).

With the exception of the Do-Nothing Scenario all alternatives considered have sufficient potential to meet and exceed Malta’s electrical consumption demands by 2040, thus increasing significantly the share of renewable energy sources in the local energy market.

But the establishment of offshore developments could have adverse effects on geology, biodiversity, landscapes, maritime transportation, and cultural heritage. The main negative impacts are caused by the deployment of anchoring systems and large-scale floating structures, cable laying, and excavation works. Moreover, the necessary infrastructure may lead to visual impacts, noise and light emissions.

The development of all six areas was excluded despite having the greatest potential, as it yielded the highest number of major adverse impacts, primarily associated with biodiversity and  impact on maritime transportation.

Alternative B was preferred over the other alternatives as it was deemed to have a less adverse impact on avifauna since it is located further away from the main bird migration routes. It also poses less biodiversity concerns particularly on cetaceans, turtles and seabed habitats.