The NSO recently published statistics on the energy use in Malta in 2019. Even though the electricity supplied from renewable sources increased by 10%, up to 8.2%, our carbon emissions still increased by 6%. Let’s be clear, Malta’s progress towards a zero-carbon economy is incredibly slow. It is not just an issue of increasing renewable energy sources massively, we must also focus on reducing our energy use.
This October a solar farm started operating in Bengħajsa and another solar farm starting operating last July in Mġarr. These are a step in the right direction and will surely help to reach the EU 2020 renewable target for Malta. However, there isn’t much of a plan beyond 2020. The energy and climate action plan is severely lacking in ambition. The target for 2030 set to be just 11.6% renewable energy. The reason this modest target was chosen is based on the fact that to reach that target no additional electricity infrastructure is needed, it also allows the government to do nothing to reduce emissions from transport (other then the easy policy measure of subsidising some electric vehicles). This ‘do barely anything’ approach is typical of government policy. By 2030 government’s risible target will be reached anyway by people installing solar panels on their personal property. The truth is that we need, with our European partners to drastically reduce our emissions to keep warming to 1.5°C. That is what a declaration of a climate emergency in November 2019 should have meant: a massive push towards a sustained, tangible transition to a zero-carbon economy.
Tackling the emissions from transport should be our priority since that is the major source. Unfortunately, the government is not following the guidelines of its own transport master plan. Instead it is only spending on road infrastructure which caters for the use of private vehicles only. A priority should be made to create safe pedestrian and cycling passageways connecting places together and introduction of a Bus Rapid Transit system.
As regards energy generation, the Mġarr solar plant is projected to produce 8600 MWh annually. It covers 50,000 m2 of land. Extrapolating, then to generate all the electricity Malta consumes from solar only we would need 11.6km2 coverage of solar panels. Which is about 3.7% of the land area of Malta. By comparison the urban coverage of Malta is about 76 km2. This will mean that generating electricity only through solar means could be achieved by covering a majority of rooftops with panels. As the share of renewable electricity increases, energy storage solutions will be needed to provide electricity while renewable sources are not generating electricity. A promising solution for this could be storing energy as liquid air. The technology works by using excess energy to liquify air and then turning it back into a gas to drive a turbine when the energy is needed.
Wind energy was dismissed in the climate action plan. Floating offshore in particular was not considered as it is in its infancy and average wind speeds in the central Mediterranean are quite low. However there are already plans for an offshore wind farm to the southwest of Sicily. While wind speeds are quite low in the summer months they are significantly higher in the winter months when solar output is lower. It is all about using a myriad of clean energy solutions which complement each other. Wind energy complements solar power by providing electricity during the night and on overcast days, reducing the energy storage capacity needed. It should definitely be something to look into. There are other sources which need to be tapped, including energy from waves.
Malta is one of the European nations that will suffer the most because of climate change. We are already feeling the effects now. We should be leading by example. Investing in renewable energy would not only allow us to do our part in mitigating the climate crisis, it would also provide us with energy security, not to mention create jobs in the renewable energy sector, from technical jobs to administrative ones. In 2018 Malta spent 133 million Euros on natural gas for our power station. Its price and availability are subject to change depending on global geopolitics, both now and in the future. The more we reduce our dependence on energy imports the better for us, for our economy, our environment and our health. Tackling the climate crisis should be our priority. We would also be creating many jobs to build a cleaner, greener, and brighter future.