Arriving at Gasfinolhu Island, the eye is greeted by solar panels, thatch roofs, white sand and turquoise water. Solar panels shade the long walkway onto the island and cover the roofs of all the utility buildings.
The sparsely vegetated sandbank, approximately 40 minutes from Malé, is the first 100 percent solar-powered luxury resort in the world.
Standing inside the resort’s silent powerhouse, Gasfinolhu owner ‘Champa’ Hussain Afeef said, “The happiest moments are when I can see that the lights are still functioning after all the diesel generators have been switched off.”
Gasfinolhu’s 6,500 square meters of solar panel are capable of producing 1100 Kilowatts at power peak. The island at full occupancy only requires 600 Kilowatts at peak load.
Afeef, one of the pioneers of tourism in the Maldives, said he had first thought of the project in 2009 when Maldives announced it would become the world’s first carbon neutral country in 2020.
“We wanted to do something different. I believe renewable energy is not just the future for tourism, but for all other industries as well,” he said.
Praising the project, Environmental Consultant Ahmed Shaig, says Gasfinolhu sets very high standards for the tourism sector.
The resort’s power system is entirely automated, with computers programmed to switch between direct solar power, battery power, or diesel generators, as required.
Excess power generated during the day is stored in an extensive battery system, capable of powering the resort throughout the night. Three diesel generators are also on standby in case there are successive days of rain and the batteries run out.
In addition to the solar power system, Gasfinolhu also relies on a centralised chiller system that uses chilled water to cool air for air-conditioning. Its harbor is set close to the reef’s edge to facilitate the shifting of sand in the lagoon with the monsoon, thereby minimising beach erosion.
A zero waste management system will also be installed on the island in the future, Shaig said.
According to Ibrahim Nashid, the chairman of Renewable Energy Maldives Pvt Ltd, Gasfinolhu demonstrates that “it is possible to provide power from indigenous energy sources without compromising luxury comfort.”
The project also debunks several myths on the use of solar energy in the Maldives, Nashid said, stating that critics believe solar power is not suitable in the Maldives due to lack of space and its salty environment.
“They also say that it would deter from aesthetics on a luxury resort, but Gasfinolhu destroys all of these myths. Its architecture is beautiful, some have said it’s the solar paneled spaces on the island that are the most beautiful,” he said.
The Maldives’ 109 resorts use 49 percent of the US$470 million diesel imported into the country annually. The figure amounts to over a third of the country’s GDP. The capital Malé uses 90 percent of the inhabited islands’ energy consumption.
If the resorts and Malé transition to renewable energy, it frees up state funds for health and education, and increases the country’s energy security, Nashid said.
“Others will follow”
According to Afeef, Gasfinolhu will recover the US$8 million spent on the solar system within six to seven years.
Without solar power, Gasfinolhu would spend over US$1.5 million for fuel to power its 22 rooms on the beach front and 30 water bungalows. A typical resort with 200 or 300 beds would spend over US$4million fuel a year, he said.
“I hope this initiative will turn out to be a success. And I hope to see more and more resort developers employing such technologies in the future,” he said.
However, he noted already existing resorts would not find it cost-effective to transition to solar power all at once.
The transition would have to come gradually, by redesigning and converting facilities that consume electricity most such as laundry, desalination plant and kitchen to solar power first, he said.
“Everything is a risk. Someone has to do it first. Then, others will follow.”
The resort, developed by Global Pvt Ltd will be operated by Club Med and will open for business in January 2015.
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