“Solar power is not the only source, and it is not enough. We have to pursue other sources as well,” said BluePeace founder Ali Rilwan about the Maldives’ recently proposed mission to cut emissions by 60 percent, using solar energy primarily.
The government’s plan was approved by the Cabinet last month, and a recent proposal from the Renewable Energy Investment Office (REIO) was submitted for crowdsourcing on the internet last week.
Rilwan called the mission admirable but incomplete. “Proposals have been made, but we haven’t seen anything in the Maldives in years,” he said. According to Rilwan, the Maldives is overlooking one of the most significant energy-consuming functions in the country: water transport.
Over 25 percent of the Maldives’ GDP is spent on diesel used for boats.
“Wetlands and vegetation absorb carbon dioxide, and the oceans are being affected by boats’ daily diesel use. But nobody has studied the specifics of carbon sinking, to calculate that 60 percent emissions reduction we need to evaluate how much needs to be done,” he elaborated. “We don’t know, we might be carbon neutral already.”
When diesel was first introduced to boats in the Maldives in the 1970s, law required that sails be kept on boats, said Rilwan. Not only was this method energy efficient, it also had cultural value.
“The sail wasn’t just carbon-neutral, it was a cultural tradition. We also used to have sailing competitions as part of our tradition. But now the sails are no longer required, although you’d think they would be a good idea for a tourist destination like the Maldives.”
Rilwan said the Ministry for Human Resources and Sports last year supported a “not so carbon friendly” motorcycle competition last year, allegedly on Hulhumale.
In January 2010, the Maldives joined 137 countries in signing the Copenhagen Accord declaring their intention to go carbon neutral by 2020. The document is not legally binding but it recognises climate change as a leading issue worldwide.
A government official said the Maldives has since focused on decarbonising the electricity sector, which accounts for over 31 percent of industrial project expenses.
Decarbonising the Maldives over the next 10 years is expected to cost the Maldives US$3-5 million.
Earlier this week, the Maldives signed the Renewable Energy through Feed-In Tariff.
The tariff is expected to reduce electricity costs by promoting a shift from oil fuel to renewable energy sources.
Rilwan praised the government’s “political will and efforts to negotiate” renewable energy in the Maldives. But he said investment in renewable energy was expensive, and that the Maldives lacks expertise.
REIO’s crowdsourcing initiative aims to improve that shortfall.
“While we are working now on the initial production planning and development we will also be looking to use local and international expertise to develop storage capacity,” said Minister for Economic Development Mahmoud Razee.
The initial plan, which is up for debate on an on-line forum, does not account for night time energy and energy storage due to its high cost. A government official said today that limiting use of solar energy to the daytime would still reduce costs significantly. Meanwhile, storage costs are expected to drop to an affordable rate in the next five to ten years.
The official added that plans addressing land transport vehicles’ energy emissions will be announced in the coming months. He noted that not only are electricity-based motorcycles and cars affordable, but Male’s small size negates the concern of going too far from a recharge station.
Although water transport energy reductions have not yet been addressed at the government level, Renewable Energy Maldives (REM) Director Hudah Ahmed said today that the company will soon be testing one of the first hybrid dhonis.
“Solar power is a viable option for the Maldives,” said Ahmed. “But we always say that energy efficiency comes before renewable energy. Consider how to do the best with what you have and what you need before you try to reinvent the system with a whole new resource.”
The REM hybrid dhoni uses a converter, and could reduce diesel consumption by 30 percent. Ahmed said the big idea is to replace current ferries and fishing boats with hybrid dhonis.
Ahmed suggested the Maldives investigate ocean thermal energy conversation (OTEC), a method of generating energy from the temperature differences between deep and shallow waters. “It isn’t commercial yet, but REM says it shouldn’t be ruled out. I think there are some areas in this country where OTEC could be useful,” said Ahmed.