Though simple to articulate, the [Maldives’] zero-carbon goal looks difficult to achieve, and it is easy to be led astray, writes Geoffrey Lean for the UK’s Telegraph newspaper.
Wind power companies descended on the country soon after the goal was announced and Manmohan Singh, prime minister of India – which has a large wind industry – briefly persuaded Nasheed. But the wind scarcely blows in the islands for months on end, and the country’s new plan – drawn up with the help of a British engineer, Mike Mason – gives it short shrift.
The biomass plant is best suited for Malé, which is probably the world’s most densely populated city, with 100,000 people packed into just two square kilometres (if everyone came down from its forest of high-rise buildings at the same time, they say, there would be no room for them in the streets). And solar power, which is almost as cheap, looks the best bet for the 200 inhabited islands and 100 resorts scattered through the archipelago.
Meanwhile, the government is eliminating import duty on electric cars and motorbikes, leaving petrol and diesel ones subject to a 200 per cent mark-up. This month it will scrap the tax on renewable energy equipment and super-efficient appliances like fridges. And it has introduced a feed-in tariff to pay those who generate their own clean power.
All the same, it looks as if it will fail to meet its goal, for – while providing half the country’s power from renewables is relatively straightforward, and getting to around 80 per cent is possible – it is proving formidably hard and expensive to go all the way.
For the Maldives has no reliable, constant form of clean power – like hydroelectric or tidal energy – and though the sun rises every day, it sets at night and occasionally hides behind clouds.
Thus, solar energy has to be stored in batteries and it is prohibitively expensive to provide enough to cope with a string of sunless days, though costs are expected to fall. Replacing diesel for fishing boats and ferries will be tricky. And to cap it all, the government has just contracted with a Chinese company to provide a gas power station, partly to provide back-up for an ill-conceived windfarm, decided upon before the plan was drawn up.
So the bold zero-carbon goal is being quietly downgraded to 80-90 per cent carbon free, still an extraordinary achievement in just a decade, with the hope of completing the job later. As the plan puts it: “We can do it – almost!”