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Malta in a race to catch up on renewable energy

Can we be sure that the constant barrage in the media to combat climate change is not another hoax like the millennium bug?

Tree huggers tell us climate change is a process which may be caused by a number of factors including natural, but it can include geologic, oceanographic and atmospheric events.

It does not exclude human-induced factors. One can generalise that a common cause for high emission of greenhouse gases results through human processes such as burning of fossil fuels.

There exists an undeniable fact pointing to the increase in carbon dioxide concentrations and other greenhouse gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide caused by daily activities – mainly due to the explosion in car ownership, more travel by sea and air, not to forget emissions from heavy industry.

Reliable sources tell us there is undeniable evidence pointing to the fact that carbon dioxide is on the increase during the past two decades.

Readers may expect this is another article extolling the benefits of clean air resulting from the ideal solution costing millions of efficient plants generating Green energy.

The truth is not many governments shed tears for the lack of success in reducing national carbon footprint which undoubtedly is contributing to climate change. Between 1990 and 2007, we have seen greenhouse gas emissions increase by almost 50%.

It’s time to start reducing such emissions in order to mitigate the effect of climate change but it is unreasonable to expect that governments get focused in this quest and dig deep into their pockets to reduce the impact of climate change.

There have been various conferences and press releases by the EU extolling the benefits of renewable energy systems and directives were proposed by committees in Brussels to propose ambitious goals for Member States to step up their investment in Green energy.

The original holy grail was that by 2020, the EU would seek to obtain 20% of its total energy consumption requirements with renewable energy sources.

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 distortion which is giving us colder winters and higher humidity in summers.

Evidence shows that the increase in 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.

This natural greenhouse effect, resulting in creation of water vapour and carbon dioxide functions like a shield to protect the Earth surface from harmful sun rays. Pierce the shield and the surface temperature would be intolerable.

There’s also the problem of a gradual rise in sea levels.  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 some concern due to the east coast which will be particularly hit, especially low areas such as Sliema, Gżira and Msida, among others.  It goes without saying that a sudden sea-level rise will particularly impact our economy. The plus side of climate change is our geographical location.

Malta enjoys good exposure to rays of the sun yet it has not succeeded to increase production of electricity from use of photovoltaic panels to the 10% EU threshold. One may observe that awareness in Malta of the benefits of using such technology has improved since the arrival of the Shanghai Electric with its substantial investment in Enemalta.  It converted the BWSC plant to run on LNG. The foreign investment in Electrogas generating plant now running on LNG is also a blessing.

Sadly, Malta has so far been a laggard in solar energy generation, albeit positive steps have been taken to subsidize PV installations for home use.

Why is PV technology so effective? The answer is because a solar cell is the elementary building block of the photovoltaic technology. Recently, research in PV 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 scientists are discovering ingenious ways how to capture the energy of the sun and convert it in electricity through an inverter.

Simply fitting more panels on rooftops looks easy but the demographic and geographic characteristics of the island create issues of spatial planning, given that space is limited and it is densely populated. But, 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 is hindered by the limitation to open areas where to fit extensive renewable energy systems (RES).

These 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 for lost time, in the race for renewable energy – and succeed to win the coveted trophy.

To achieve this, we must produce 20% of total energy sourced from non-fossil fuels by next year – one can compare this to the quest of Joshua in ancient biblical times.

It was impossible for Joshua to penetrate the fortified walls of Jericho without the help of troops shouting and loud blowing of their horns.

George Mangion

Author: George Mangion
Get in touch: info@pkfmalta.com | +356 21 493 041

 

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