President Mohamed Nasheed this morning clambered onto his roof and assisted with the installation of 48 solar panel modules on the presidential residence of Muleaage.
“Solar power helps combat climate change, reduces our dependency on imported oil and most importantly cuts our electricity costs,” Nasheed told assembled journalists, in his bright orange hard hat.
Yesterday, US President Barack Obama announced he would be following suit by lining the roof of the White House with photo voltaic cells and installing a solar-powered water heater.
The Muleaage solar system provides 11.5 kilowatts of peak output, enough to power almost 200 standard 60 watt light bulbs, and will save the country US$300,000 over the life of the system. The panels were donated pro bono by LG Electronics, while Sungevity trained local staff to install and maintain the panels.
Moreover, the system is plugged into the city’s grid and any power not being used will be fed back into the system.
The design itself was competed by Sungevity from its offices in Oakland California, without taking even a tape measure to the president’s roof. Using a software algorithm developed by a high school student at Sydney Grammar School in Australia, aerial photographs of Male’ and trigonometry to determine the azimuth of the President’s roof, Sungevity was able to calculate Muleaage’s solar efficiency with a one percent margin of error.
“We are proud he chose Sungevity to coordinate the design of a system from halfway around the world,” said the company’s founder, former Greenpeace campaigner Danny Kennedy. “Saving energy and going solar are the keys to unlocking economic growth and energy security.”
The Maldives is presently entirely reliant on imported fossil fuels, and the high cost of electricity – particularly in islands, where it can double – remains a political hot potato, as well as placing the country at the mercy of fluctuating oil prices.
The country’s state-owned power provider, STELCO, faced a loss of Rf547 million (US$43 million) in 2008 and was operating at a daily loss of Rf320,000 (US$25,000), building up staggering levels of debt.
Significant anger was directed at Nasheed’s government when it raised prices to reflect the real cost of providing the utility, culminating in an opposition-led ‘Red Notice’ protest in May which left scores injured.
Following a tense three-hour stand-off, police used water canons and then tear gas to disperse the crowd and took a number of DRP activists into custody. At street-level politics in Male’, the rising cost of electricity comes second only to fears of rising crime and is a key domestic point of contention with Nasheed’s government. It is not uncommon to hear of families paying up to a third of their incomes to STELCO.
This means that unlike many other countries, the Maldives has a strong political as well as economic imperative to drop the cost with proven renewable energy, suggesting Nasheed’s rooftop antics this morning were less of a publicity stunt and more a way of raising the profile of solar technology as a proven alternative.
“The average price in the US is now US$0.24 a kilowatt, which makes solar power already a third cheaper than grid electricity in the Maldives,” noted Danny Kennedy, in an earlier interview with Minivan News.
“The Maldives can move to clean fuel, hedging against fuel price rises while taking on the vested interests of incumbent technology.”