Malta’s location, a little-used energy advantage
Climate neutrality is the EU’s ambition by 2050, as mentioned in the European Green Deal released in January 2020. Within the EU, 75 % of greenhouse gas emissions come from the energy sector. The burning of oil in the power stations to produce energy emits carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which increases the greenhouse effect. While the production of energy most often comes from natural gas, oil, or diesel, the use of Renewable Energy Sources (RES) can help reduce a country’s carbon footprint.
Already in 2009, the European Commission released a Renewable energy directive that established a requirement for the EU to produce by 2020 at least 20 % of its energy with renewable energy. This directive binds Malta to produce 10 % of its final energy production from RES by 2020. Although this target seems really high for Malta, its location is actually an asset to rely more on renewable energies.
Malta has a high rate of energy dependence since the country does not have domestic fossil fuel resources, such as coal, oil, or natural resources. In April 2015, the Malta-Italy interconnector was inaugured so that Malta could face its internal electricity demand. Consequently, Malta’s energy supply is based on imports on electricity and fossil fuel, so that the country can meet the energy needs of its residents and businesses.
In order to make Malta carbon neutral, the country must focus on the development of alternative energy sources. This will among other things allow Malta to reduce its energy dependence on imports, and also help the country meet environmental and energetic targets set bu the EU.
Malta is an archipelago situated in the Mediterranean Sea, in which the islands generally use diesel generators to produce electrical power. Malta is no exception, but its climatic characteristics represent assets for the production of renewable energy. The climate in Malta is Mediterranean, with hot and dry summers, and mild winters. Malta is also known for the wind that often sweeps its coasts and land. According to the EU, Malta has indeed a high potential regarding renewable energy, given its location and climate.
First of all, Malta has a high potential regarding solar energy. Indeed, sunshine is not what is missing in Malta. Malta has a high amount of sunshine hours during the year, with around 3000 hours per year. This is one of the highest sunshine rates in Europe, compared to Berlin for example in Germany which has approximately 1660 hours of sunshine during the year. Thus, solar energy is the renewable energy the most used in Malta, but this resource has remained under-exploited over the last decade. In 2015, 1,7% of Malta’s energy production came from photovoltaic panels, and its target for the end of the year 2020 is 4,7%.
If the exploitation of this resource can seem easy thanks to the annual duration of sunshine, the installation of solar panels is still being debated because of its impact on the landscapes, its price, and the place it takes. This is why a solar farm policy was launched in 2017, setting guidelines for the location, design, and mitigation measures of the installation. As Malta is a small island of 316 square kilometers, the solar farm policy encourages the installation of solar farms on deserted sites, like brownfield sites or former rubbish dumps. The policy also calls for using car parks, as well as industrial areas, to install large-scale PV rooftops. In addition to this possibility of installing larger areas of solar panels, the government also granted discounts on electricity tariffs for families that invested in solar panels.
Thus, solar energy is an abundant resource, with the sun shining almost every day, so this resource is called upon to help the country moving towards the targets set at the EU scale.
Secondly, according to the EU, Malta also has a strong potential for wind energy production. In 2010, after the EU target of 10% of renewable energy was announced, the Maltese government’s plan focused on offshore and onshore wind farms. These installations were expected to produce nearly half of the renewable energy production target by 2020. But over the years, the government’s vision has shifted to a focus on solar energy. A project of building a major offshore wind farm at Sikka l-Bajda has been turned down after the failure to obtain a building permit. From that moment on, the Maltese government did not realize any project regarding any potential offshore wind farm. If the production of energy through wind power remains low in Malta, its capacity stays the same. If the government decided not to invest in that resource, this can always be a fallback solution in case of non-achievement of the targets announced by the EU.
Furthermore, Malta has another natural resource that is not exploited at all and that can turn into a renewable energy source. Malta has 140 km of coastline, the sea surrounding the 316 square kilometers of land. The sea wave energy happens to be a source of renewable energy, using the energy released by the wave to produce energy. The strategic location to install a wave energy converter would be on the western coast of Malta, because the waves come mainly from the north-west. The wave power is weaker in the Mediterranean Sea than in the Northern countries because of the enclosure of the area by mountains, weakening the force of the wind. But this may in fact turn out to be an advantage. The offshore wave energy converters will indeed be under a lower risk of failure due to the power of the waves. This energy source is not being used in Malta but can represent a way to help the country become more energy-dependent and to meet the environmental and energetic targets set by the EU.
Thus, Malta has several sources of renewable energy at its disposal, several of which remain little or not at all exploited. We will see by the beginning of next year if Malta succeeded to reach the targets imputed by the EU by focusing almost only on solar energy. If not, it has other resources left over to move towards and meet the environmental and energetic targets set for the following years.
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This article was written by Clémence Pille, a young member and volunteer with Friends of the Earth Malta.