Renewable energy – a gamble

The government is planning to set up offshore wind farms in a bid to reduce Malta’s dependency on oil for electricity generation. One may lament that progress in this direction has been slow but by 2020 the government is committed to obtain at least 10 per cent of Malta’s energy from renewable sources. Given that our islands¸ to use an old cliché¸ are blessed with 365 days of glorious sunshine¸ there is certainly scope for PV panels on rooftops and other forms of energy like bio mass and wind. Yet¸ last year there was a drop in the installation of such environment-friendly systems. While in 2008 P.V panels with a generating capacity of 6¸000Kw were installed on the island¸ the figure dropped to 5¸500Kw last year. According to a study published in Brussels¸ the islands boasts of a total solar thermal capacity of 28¸602Kw¸ amounting to 75Kw per capita when Cyprus is ahead of us. They are producing 514¸640Kw¸ or 650Kw per capita. By comparison Germany¸ certainly not renowned for its sunny climate¸ produced 100Kw per capita. So why are we so thrifty when it comes to energy investment when burning fossil fuel is relative expensive and inefficient? It is true that with a national debt exceeding euro 4 billion there is less scope for extra cash. The huge task facing the government is to lessen the impact on competition levels of industry yet at the same time tackle the deficit and other capital projects that have drained the state coffers. Reverting back to the cost of power generation¸ we note that since many years¸ Enemalta has been actively looking into the possibility of joining the gas pipeline being laid between Tunisia /Libya and Sicily .This resource could power the Delimara plant thereby reducing the high carbon footprint.  Unfortunately for some unexplained reason this did not materialize yet with a euro 20 million E.U grant we are still on stream to join our Sicilian neighbours to link to the European grid. In this context¸ the government has included this link in its Vision 2015 plans to meet this target set by Brussels. As always politicians promise and stress that they are confident that the targets will be reached and possibly exceeded. Reality proves sometimes otherwise.  I drive frequently near Mater Dei hospital (duped a real state –of the art) with thousands of square meters of roofing and other open spaces yet this behemoth does not sport a single solar panel. Mater Dei experienced 14 years of design changes and construction effort to reach completion and cost three times its original budget. Could part of the millions poured in its construction (now showing an acute bed deficiency) have been allocated to renewal energy. It goes without saying that the electricity consumption in such a building is enormous. But this applies to all the government buildings which switch on their air conditioners by the hundreds during the hot summer half days and miss the opportunity for free electricity from panels on their roofs. At the same time the country is feeling the pinch of high electricity tariffs and while oil prices dropped moderately towards the mid seventies price range per barrel our power generation needs to be reassessed. The good news is the re-introduction of the solar energy subsidy scheme that had been frozen in view of allegations of abuse in some households in the St Lawrence village. This time¸ the subsidy¸ which covers half the cost of a photovoltaic system costing up to €6¸000¸ is not on a first-come-first-served basis. What’s more¸ the government also announced last week a 362 per cent increase in the rate at which Enemata buys energy from these green sources. Households will get 25c f