President Mohamed Nasheed will climb onto the roof of the presidential residence ‘Muleaage’ next week and personally install US$30,000 worth of solar panels.
The panels, which are reportedly being donated by California-based solar panel company Sungevity, are expected to save the government US$100,000 in electricity costs over their 25-year lifespan.
The President’s enthusiasm for conducting the project personally is potentially a nudge at US President Barack Obama, whose aides recently rejected an offer of Carter-era solar panels delivered to the White House gate by environmental activist and 350 founder Bill McKibben.
“[The aides] explained that there were various reasons that the White House roof was not available for a gesture with very little energy-saving potential and that the Obama administration was doing more to promote renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions than any previous government. The word ‘stunt’ may have come up,” wrote the New York Times, in its Green Blog.
Nasheed’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said that while the installation of solar panels on Muleaage was “obviously not going to turn the Maldives carbon neutral”, it was a symbolic act that would nonetheless show that the Maldives “is the most vulnerable nation in South Asia to spikes in oil prices, and has an economic imperative to embrace renewable energy.”
Nasheed would be wearing a harness and a hard hat, he added.
The uptake of solar panel technology has been limited in the Maldives apart from small scale installations on some islands and several grant-aid projects, said a spokesperson from Renewable Energy Maldives, who requested anonymity.
“I know of very few households that have taken up this sort of thing up in Male,” she said. “We haven’t worked much with resorts either – they tend to think short term, and there’s less interest from them compared to utility companies and island administrations.”
The latter demand stemmed from the potential return on investment for solar power units on remote islands with high electricity prices.
“On some of the islands the cost for a household unit can be paid back within 4-6 years,” the REM spokesperson said.
While the President’s plan to personally mount solar panels on his roof was “excellent” and would increase interest in the technology, there was still no mechanism in the Maldives to sell the electricity generated back into the grid.
If the State Electric Company (STELCO) would agree to buy electricity back from the grid, “that would be the best way to promote solar.”
“A building is a long term investment and if the owner installs solar panels and Stelco agrees to buy the excess power, it will really be an incentive to save energy,” she said.
“Having said that, there’s a lot more improvements to do with efficiency and conservation that we can do in Male’.”
Smaller applications of solar technology were proving more popular, she explained, such as solar hybrid air-conditioning units operating through heat exchange.
“They might cost a bit more [upfront] than an ordinary air conditioner, but they are 30-60 percent more efficient and the can pay for themselves in 18-24 months,” she said. “This is the sort of thing that has great potential in Male’.”
President Nasheed has previously promoted the country’s aggressive stance on environmental issues by conducting stunts such as an underwater cabinet meeting.
Members of the cabinet last year donned scuba gear and used hand signals to conduct the meeting, in front of international media.