Who turned out the light: Maldives’ solar ambitions plunged into darkness

On the afternoon of February 7, 2012, the Maldives was set to sign into existence a plan that would have revolutionised the country’s energy sector, immediately attracting US$200 million of risk-mitigated renewable energy investment.  It was proposed that investment would eventually reach US$2-3 billion – a gigantic step towards the country’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2020.

The Scaling-Up Renewable Energy Program (SREP) proposal was produced by the Renewable Energy Investment Office (REIO) under President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration, and driven by Nasheed’s Energy Advisor Mike Mason – an unpaid position.

Mason, a UK national, former mining engineer and expert on renewable energy, carbon finance and offsetting, collected and analysed data on energy use and the existing diesel infrastructure across the Maldives.

He discovered that the Maldives was facing an energy crisis that was as much economic as it was existential.

The greater Male’ region generates 30 MW, with a further 8-10 MW for industrial purposes, while government utilities across the island chain generate a further 18 MW. The tourist resorts privately produce and consume 70 MW.

All this power – and the fuel that propels the country’s fishing and transport fleet – is generated through imported oil. Importing that fuel cost approximately US$240 million in 2011, a figure projected to increase to US$350 million in 2012. That represents 20 percent of the country’s entire GDP, at a time the Maldives is facing a foreign currency shortage, plummeting investor confidence, spiraling expenditure, a drop off in foreign aid and a crippling budget deficit of 27 percent.

The SREP plan reveals the scale of the problem: “If the oil price rises to $150/bbl by 2020, and consumption grows by four percent per annum, oil imports are expected to reach around US$700 million – or almost US$2,000 per head of population.

“This is clearly unsustainable. Decarbonisation is at least as much a matter of national economic security and social welfare as it is a matter of environmental concern,” the report notes.

Energy revolution

Former Energy Advisor Mike Mason

Mason calculated that solar photovoltaic (PV) could be supplied directly to consumers at US$0.23 per kWh during the day, but only at US$0.44 per kWh from batteries at night. However an optimum mix of solar, battery and wind could supply 80 percent of power requirements at US$0.36 per kWh. Biomass could be supplied to Male at US$0.16 per kWh, or US$0.20 a kWh including capital.

Mason compared this to the volatile cost of import-dependent diesel generation, which ranged from US$0.28 per kWh hour in Male’, and up to US$0.70 per kWh on some of the most inefficient islands.

Existing solar initiatives in the Maldives, such as the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)’s 675 kWh of solar panelling on schools and other public facilities across Male’, were “stupidly priced, uneconomic, symbolic, and don’t address the problem of energy storage,” Mason noted. He also proposed that large scale wind generation suffered from extreme seasonal variability and risked impacting the stability of the grid.

Mason concluded that the most realistic and commercially-viable renewable option was to run 90 percent of the country on solar supplemented by small-scale wind power, while a 24 megawatt biomass plant could provide the baseload of the greater Male’ region at more than 40 percent less than existing rates.

The pricing was attractive, but the challenge was attracting the significant upfront capital investment required: “with renewables, on day one you buy 20 years of electricity,” Mason explained.

Attracting this capital investment was therefore crucial, however “because of its political history and economic inheritance, the Government of Maldives is poorly placed to raise capital at normal ‘sovereign’ rates of interest,” the SREP report noted.

This was to be a key innovation in Mason’s proposal: rather than pour donor funding into myriad haphazard capital-intensive renewable energy projects, Mason’s plan was to instead use the available World Bank and Asia Development Bank funding to dramatically reduce the commercial and sovereign risks for foreign investors, lowering the cost of capital to attractive levels comparable to other countries.

“In practice, the guarantees may not be needed for all projects or by all developers, and once the Maldives becomes an established destination for renewable development finance the need for guarantees is expected to diminish,” the SREP proposal notes.

“Right now the cost of capital, if you are in Germany, is very low. In a country like the Maldives, it is stupidly high,” Mason explained to Minivan News.

“If [the Maldives] wants to get somewhere it has to take out the risk – at least risks not in control of the investor. If you can do that, then the cost of capital drops to 6-7 percent – about the same as a powerplant [in the West]. The whole thing becomes economic – the sensible thing to do – rather than a matter of subsidies,” he explained.

The World Bank team working on the project had given verbal approval for the plan, describing it as one of the most “exciting and transformative” projects of its kind in any country, according to Mason.

“It was a shoo-in. But the coup happened the day we were due to submit it – later that very day, in fact,” he said.

Amid the disintegrating political situation, the decision was made to suspend the submission.

“The whole point of the plan was to take out the instability. The thing about a coup is that it takes that model and turns it upside down,” Mason told Minivan News.

As the political instability increased, so did the cost of capital. Investors who had been “queuing up” made their excuses.

In an email exchange, incoming President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan requested that Mason continue with the submission and remain in his current position as Energy Advisor.

Mason chose to resign.

“I don’t think Dr Waheed is a bad man – actually I like him a lot personally,” he wrote, in an email to an official in the Trade Ministry obtained by Minivan News. “However, he has done nothing to assure me that this is really a democratic process. Rather, my intelligence tells me this is a Gayoom inspired coup with Dr. Waheed as an unfortunate puppet.”

Mason added that if the new government sought political accommodation with the MDP, made “a concerted attempt to remove the corrupt judiciary”, and ceased police brutality “so that people can walk the streets freely as in any other civilised country”, “then I will be back on side in the blink of an eye.”

“I have given the best part of my life to this over the last 18 months, but I fear I have a set of democratic and moral principles that override other considerations,” Mason stated.

President Waheed responded on March 23:

“It would be nice if you listened to something other than Nasheed’s propaganda. He is free to go anywhere he wants and say what ever he wants,” Waheed wrote.

“Have you ever thought that Nasheed could have made a stupid mistake under the influence of what ever he was on and blown everything away? I thought you had more intelligence than to think that I am someone’s puppet and Maldives is another dictatorship,” the President said.

Further emails obtained by Minivan News show that Waheed’s new government was interested in continuing with the submission of the SREP plan.

“I am certain that this is the wrong time to press ahead with the SREP IP. It relies at its heart on getting the cost of capital down by reducing risk,” wrote Mason, to a government official.

“That is not believable in an atmosphere in which [airport developer] GMR is being attacked as an investor in infrastructure; the legal system is, frankly, corrupt so contracts cannot be relied upon; the politics are (in the most charitable possible interpretation) a major risk factor; and the President has no parliamentary party of consequence. I also doubt that the SREP sub-committee will approve funding the plan as they too will see through the plan to the problems (or at least they should if they are any good),” he wrote.

“If things clear up, and faith in democracy and the rule of law is restored than a second go at this would be worth while – but meantime I am sceptical. A much more limited and less ambitious plan – say for the smaller islands only, might fly.”

The very premise of the plan – mitigating investor risk – had been scuttled by the political upheaval and both domestic and international challenges to the legitimacy of Waheed’s government, said Mason.

“Even if I did work with Waheed, I couldn’t deliver the plan now [because of falling] investor confidence,” he told Minivan News. “[The perpetrators] have destroyed US$2-3 billion worth of investment and condemned the country to an unstable economic future based upon diesel.”

Climate of crisis

Earlier this month President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said the new government would “not completely” reverse the previous government’s zero carbon strategy: “What we are aiming to do is to elaborate more on individual sustainable issues and subject them to national debate. Previously, these discussions on sustainability were not subjected to a national debate, such as through parliament,” Riza said.

President Waheed last week attended the Rio +20 summit and announced the Maldives’ intentions to become the world’s largest marine reserve in five years.

During his speech in Rio, Waheed also pledged that the Maldives would “cover 60 percent of our electricity needs with solar power, and the rest with a combination of biofuels, other clean technologies and some conventional energy.”

“Progress towards achieving these goals is slow because of the huge financial and technological investments involved. If we are, as a global community, committed to the concept of transitioning to a green economy, then developing countries will need significant financial and technical support,” the President stated, going on to appeal for financial assistance.

“A small island state like the Maldives cannot, on its own, secure the future we want. We rely on our international partners to ensure that their development paths are sustainable and don’t negatively impact on vulnerable countries like the Maldives,” Waheed said.

Former President Nasheed’s Climate Change Advisor – UK-based author, journalist and environmental activist Mark Lynas, who drew a monthly stipend of Rf10,000 (US$648) for expenses – told Minivan News that the loss of democratic legitimacy in the Maldives had destroyed its ability to make a moral stand on climate change-related issues, and be taken seriously.

“I think that the Maldives is basically a has-been in international climate circles now,” Lynas said.

“The country is no longer a key player, and is no longer on the invite list to the meetings that matter. Partly this is a reflection of the political instability – other countries no longer have a negotiating partner that they know and understand,” he said.

“Partly, I think it is because of the lack of democratic legitimacy of the current regime – in the climate negotiations the entire ask of the small island and vulnerable countries is based on their moral authority to speak on behalf of those who are most suffering from the impacts of climate change.

“Yet Waheed and his representatives have no moral authority because they were not elected, have strong connections with corrupt and violent elements of the former dictatorship, and took power in the dubious circumstances of a police coup,” Lynas argued.

The government’s high expenditure on international public firms such as Ruder Finn – also responsible for the Philip Morris campaign disputing the health hazards of smoking – had further undermined its credibility with journalists across the world, Lynas said.

“Journalists and others are aware that the Waheed regime has hired PR agencies to act on its behalf – which makes them doubly suspicious. It is widely understood that the Maldives post-coup government has no real interest in the climate issue, but is instead trying to use it as a greenwashing tool in order to buff its credentials abroad and in order to obscure its undemocratic nature at home. I don’t think this will work, as it is hardly very subtle and journalists are not stupid,” said Lynas.

“The Maldives has lost many years of work already – it has little credibility left with donors or international investors. Investors and donors alike are looking for stability and strong governance – and they will not get either of those whilst the political system is essentially deadlocked between competing parties, with regular protests and ensuing police violence.

“In climate terms the Maldives is well on its way to becoming a failed state – I see no prospect of it achieving Nasheed’s 2020 carbon neutral goal, even if that goal is still official policy,” Lynas said. “I think time has basically run out now – unless there are early elections quickly and a legitimate government re-established there is no real prospect of resurrecting the Maldives’ leadership on climate change. By 2013, it will certainly be too late – other countries will have overtaken it and the Maldives will essentially be left behind.”


Muhyiddin School powers up first of 652 kW solar panels across six islands

Muhyiddin School in Villingili has switched on 61 kW of rooftop solar panels, enough to power 30 houses and the first panels of a 652 kW watt solar project to be rolled out across six islands.

The panels were switched on Monday morning by Germany’s Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation & Nuclear Safety, Katherina Reiche, with data on the power generated fed into a web browser application projected onto a screen at the school.

The project was the result of a power-purchasing agreement signed by State Electric Company (STELCO) with Renewable Energy Maldives (REM), while German solar firm Wirsol provided technology and financing.

The project was signed in June 2011. The panels to be rolled out include 294 kW in Villingilli, 64 kW in Guraidhoo, 78 kW in Himmafushi, 120 kW in Maafushi, 48 kW in Kaashidhoo and 48 kW in Thulusdhoo.

Panels will be installed at six sites in Villingili. Including the school’s 61 kW, there will be 74 kW at Eduruvehi, 28 kW on Cinamale’, 40 kW on the Judicial Building, 58 kW on the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) flats and 33 kW on the powerhouse.

REM had initially proposed a system to provide 70 percent percent of daytime load across six islands on the back of the government’s proposed feed-in tariff, but STELCO reduced the installation to 30 percent with the intention of later expanding it.

Head of REM, Dr Ibrahim Nashid, said the success of project was an important step that would instill confidence among others in the power sector to invest in renewable energy.

“When we tested the [Muhyiddin] system we found the panels were generating 10 percent more than we had initially calculated,” he said. “It is a good indication of the potential for solar in the Maldives.”

The photovoltaic panels on the roof of Muhyiddin school will power the school across were the first grid-connected solar system in the Maldives, he said. “We are groundbreaking. I say that not as a boast, but because it is difficult to bring across what we do.”

The panels were “plug and play”, simple to maintain, and modified to withstand a salty environment with a lifespan of 25 years, “probably longer than the roof”, Dr Nashid said.

Power from the solar panels will be sold – and fixed – at 25 cents a kW/hour, compared to the current cost of around 35 cents a kW/hour.

Founder of Wirsol, Stefan Riel, said the six-island 652 kW installation would avoid the equivalent of 800 tons of carbon entering the atmosphere every year.

“In the next 12 months, we want to put 20 mW into the grid across several islands, which would mean 25,000 tons of carbon reductions,” he said.

“We are using German technology and experience to create jobs in the Maldives, and give young people here the opportunity to be involved in their energy production. For that to happen we need the continued support of the Maldives government, and the German Development Bank.”

While the final details of the feed-in tariff are still being discussed, the Wirsol system will operate “under a special arrangement between us an STELCO,” Riel said.

Cabinet has embraced the economics of solar and announced plans to generate up to 80 percent of the country’s electricity using the proven technology, while President Mohamed Nasheed has installed solar panels on the roof of both his residence and office.

Research conducted last year suggested that electricity costs could be reduced to 17 cents or even lower on some islands through the use of solar. Many existing diesel generators on islands are extremely expensive to run as they have a capacity far above the demand of their islands, with electricity costing up to 77 cents a kW/hour in some areas. Solar was, claimed the President’s Energy Advisor Mike Mason, “an opportunity to print money – and there aren’t many of those available to the government.”

But the key challenges remain economic and regulatory, according to REM’s Director Hudha Ahmed.

“We have been making 20-25 year contracts on good will. We need to make sure investments are secure and that regulations are in place,” she said. “Contracts also have to be signed by the councils as well as the utility providers, as the councils have the responsibility for providing electricity.”

However capital investment and the lack of financing options was the greatest obstacle, she said.

“It has been a huge challenge – no bank would finance this project,” she said. “We approached every bank in the Maldives but none would invest.”

Very few people in the Maldives would have US$5000 to invest in a typical rooftop solar system, she explained, even if such a system were to cut the average electricity bill in half and pay for itself in 5-6 years.

While elaborate financing mechanisms exist to fund the capital city’s enormous motorcycle fleet, with costs not dissimilar to a solar PV system, no such small loans system exists for solar.

“The solar technology itself is really the simplest part,” Hudha said.


Nasheed installs solar panels on President’s Office

The government has begun installing solar panels on the rooftops of public buildings in Male’, under the Japanese government-sponsored ‘Project for Clean Energy Promotion in Male’.

This morning President Mohamed Nasheed clambered onto the roof of the President’s office to bolt down and wire up a panel, 20 kilowatts worth of which have already been installed all over the building.

The project’s 395 kilowatts of panels will ultimately cut down the fossil fuel usage of installed buildings and ultimately energy bills by 30 percent, under the State Electric Company (STELCO)’s new feed-in tariff.

Speaking during the ceremony to launch the project, Nasheed said a transition away from fossil fuels would increase the energy efficiency of the Maldives by 20-30 percent by the end of 2013.

Nasheed has previously installed 48 solar panels on the roof of his residence, Muleeage, provided gratis by LG Electronics Califorian company Sungevity. Those panels generate 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.

Minivan News understands that the government is currently revising the draft feed-in tariff – which is currently operative – to make it attractive to companies willing to invest the upfront costs of powering remote islands with solar electricity.

The government has endorsed solar as the best renewable option for reaching its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2020, a goal that has broadened from one of environmental concern to an economic imperative.

Last year the Maldives spent 16 percent of its GDP on fossil fuels, making the country extremely vulnerable to even the tiniest oil price fluctuations and adding an economic imperative to renewable energy adoption.

Data collected by the President’s Energy Advisor, former mining engineer Mike Mason, shows that it presently costs between 28-29 cents to produce a kilowatt hour in the Maldives at best, and 77 cents per kilowatt hour at worst.

“Anything beyond 28-29 cents for a big island and 32-33 cents for a small island is just money being burned,” Mason said during the recent Slow Life Symposium held at the upmarket Soneva Fushi resort.

The cost of providing solar electricity straight from the panel was far below the cost of using diesel on any island, including Male’, Mason explained.

Mason collected data on energy usage from the island of Maalhos in Baa Atoll, and found that by pointing the solar panel in the same direction all day, “you can meet midday demand easily. But between 6-11 am in the morning, and after 2pm in the afternoon, you still need to meet the cooling load of fridges and air-conditioners.”

Mason had two suggestions – the first was to use (more expensive) tracking solar panels that would follow the sun and extend the daytime period in which demand could be met using solar. This would also generate the maximum yield from each panel, mitigating another problem – space.

“The challenge will be getting tracking to work in a hot, humid, salty environment,” he acknowledged, particularly if the panels were mounted in shallow lagoons.

The cost of providing electricity from solar in conjunction with current commercially available battery technology was not much different from existing diesel arrangements on many islands, Mason observed. “You lose 20 percent of the electricity putting it in and taking it back out, and it is expensive to fix. It’s not good enough.”

However on Maalhos, Mason noted, 28 percent of the electricity demand was for cooling.

“I had a think about storage. We could use really cold water refrigerated during the day, and use that to drive air-conditioning and fridges at night. This applies as much to resorts as it does home islands.”

This innovation would drop the cost to the level of the country’s most efficient diesel generators, Mason explained. For those powerplants currently running at 77 cents a kilowatt, “this is an opportunity to print money – and there aren’t many of those available to the government.”


Data matches rhetoric as Maldives turns to solar revolution

President Mohamed Nasheed’s energy advisor Mike Mason has unveiled the technical and economic justification for transforming the Maldives into a solar-powered nation.

“I have the oily rag job,” said the former mining engineer, speaking at Soneva Fushi’s Slow Life Eco Symposium about the government’s ambition to generate 60 percent of the country’s electricity needs through solar. “It’s a bit like trying to build a complex aircraft while the captain’s trying to fly it.”

Last year the Maldives spent 16 percent of its GDP on fossil fuels, making the country staggeringly vulnerable to even the tiniest oil price fluctuations and adding an economic imperative to renewable energy adoption.

Mason evaluated available renewable alternatives to diesel and concluded that solar was the most abundant, cost-effective and realistic resource to exploit.

“We can forget ocean currents for now,” he said, explaining that as the currents were wind driven and therefore seasonal, marine current generators would only generate significant electricity for half the year.

Ocean thermal was “very exciting”, Mason observed, although he noted that Soneva Fushi bore the scars of a failed ocean thermal project: “I suggest we wait for someone else to pioneer this,” he said.

Biomass generation “fits us rather well”, as even if the most expensive form of biomass was imported from Canada it would represent 50-66 percent the current cost of diesel.

“It is cheap but can only be used at scale, such as Male’ and possibly Addu,” he said.

Wind and solar

That left wind and solar, the potential for which was “fascinating”.

The challenge with wind, however, was that it was inconsistent, and there were large periods of the year with little resource available.

“What do you do in the eight months without enough wind?” Mason asked, displaying wind data collected in the country’s north.

“What you do is put up solar. In that case, why bother to put up wind at all? With solar the sun rises every day – it is wonderfully predictable.”

The trick was going to be to transform solar from a green, niche, “subsidy hungry creature, to something so obvious that the current government of the time sees it as a sensible and intelligent thing to do. The reality is that it is easy to get to 30-40% emission reduction, but getting beyond first stage to the 80-90 percent that has been proposed by cabinet will be more difficult.”

Mason collected data concerning the cost of generating electricity using diesel at 100 of the country’s inhabited islands, “as I felt there was not enough data available”, and found staggering levels of inefficiency.

The numbers, he said, “are really scary. At best it costs 28-29 cents to produce a kilowatt hour, but at the top right of the graph it is costing 77 cents per kilowatt hour. Anything beyond 28-29 cents for a big island and 32-33 cents for a small island is just money being burned.”

The Maldives could quickly and easily save US$0.5-1 million dollars a month “simply by fixing power stations by doing boring, sensible stuff.”

“Diesel engines are designed to work at their rated power – they like going flat out. The moment you back off by half, you end up with a less efficient engine. Many islands have power stations with engines out of proportion to the size of the island’s energy needs – in some cases they are running at 15-25 percent capacity. That is a real cost we have.”

Mason then displayed a graph detailing the cost of providing solar, and observed that the cost plummeted quickly when it came to providing 30-40 percent of the country’s energy needs but sharply increased thereafter to a point where it was less competitive.

The challenge, he explained, was storage – how to retain electricity to operate devices such as lights, fridges and air-conditioners at night.

“Energy storage is the big hole in our story here. The key for me is to reach that 80 percent goal without the [cost] graph rising beyond where it is today,” Mason explained.

Using data detailing the energy use patterns of the island of Maalhos in Baa Atoll, Mason observed a high variability in power demand. Introducing solar without storage – “from panel to fridge” – would complicate that by requiring more flexibility from the existing power plant.

Energy Advisor Mike Mason

“Stick a solar panel on [Maalhos] and you can generate 29kw at midday with zero demand [on the powerplant]. But the maximum you need from the powerplant [without solar] is 42kw. This is a fundamental problem – the more solar you get, the more we have to get the power stations right.”

The cost of providing solar electricity straight from the panel was far below the cost of using diesel on any island, including Male’. On Maalhos, by pointing the solar panel in the same direction all day, “you can meet midday demand easily. But between 6-11 am in the morning, and after 2pm in the afternoon, you still need to meet the cooling load of fridges and air-conditioners.”

Mason had two suggestions – the first was to use (more expensive) tracking solar panels that would follow the sun and extend the daytime period in which demand could be met using solar. This would also generate the maximum yield from each panel, mitigating another problem – space.

“The challenge will be getting tracking to work in a hot, humid, salty environment,” he acknowledged, particularly if the panels were mounted in shallow lagoons.

The cost of providing electricity from solar in conjunction with current commercially available battery technology was not much different from existing diesel arrangements on many islands, Mason observed. “You lose 20 percent of the electricity putting it in and taking it back out, and it is expensive to fix. It’s not good enough.”

However on Maalhos, Mason noted, 28 percent of the electricity demand was for cooling.

“I had a think about storage. We could use really cold water refrigerated during the day, and use that to drive air-conditioning and fridges at night. This applies as much to resorts as it does home islands.”

This innovation would drop the cost to the level of the country’s most efficient diesel generators, Mason explained. For those powerplants currently running at 77 cents a kilowatt, “this is an opportunity to print money – and there aren’t many of those available to the government.”


The major problem was obtaining the capital, Mason said, estimating that such an overhaul for the nation would cost US$2-3 billion, “although half of that would come from the tourist industry.”

“With renewable energy, on day 1 you buy 25 years of electricity. It might be cheap, but you still need enough cash on day 1.”

Attracting the investment in a country such as France or Germany would be “a no brainer”, Mason said, however because of the Maldives turbulent political history and fiscal deficit, it had a very weak credit rating.

“There is a shortage of knowledge and skills as well,” he said. “We need an energy technology support unit, and an energy finance corporation that can for this project provide guarantees and get countries to underwrite us. We do not want to be reliant by subsidies.”

In response to a question regarding the planned Gaafaru wind farm, Mason acknowledged the build, own and operate agreement STELCO had signed with Chinese wind turbine manufacturer XEMC to develop a 50mw wind farm at Gaafaru was a potential commercial pressure for adopting solar.

Under this agreement, a backup liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant would also be built, capable of providing up to 30 megawatts on windless days, or when there is not enough wind to meet demand.

Minivan News raised concerns in an article published in April 2010 that according to figures published in a 2003 report by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), North Malé Atoll had an annual average wind speed of 4.9 m/s (17.7 km/h), while a 2005 report by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) described the minimum average wind speed needed to run a utility-scale wind power plants as 6 m/s (21.6 km/h).

Mason described the contract as crafted with “more enthusiasm than technical involvement”, and noted that an LNG plant put out 92 percent of the emissions of a diesel plant “of the kind that STELCO already run very well.”

“A single cycle gas turbine of the kind described is very efficient but does not have the flexibility [required]. There is a technical challenge. We need to think about how we integrate things before we sublet the parts, so my instinct is that the contract will not be enacted in form presented.”

Speaking of the solar plan, now backed at least by data if not the finance, a senior government official remarked that the plan to turn to solar was “no longer froth. There’s a shot of espresso in the cappuccino now.”

The Maldives has meanwhile become the first country to crowdsource its renewable energy plan on the internet.

Forum topics in the comprehensive crowdsourcing project include solar and wind technology, energy storage, system control and demand management, novel technologies (including marine current and ocean thermal), biomass power generation, and finance.

Under each topic the Maldives appeals for expert assistance on several technical questions, around issues such as the use of solar panels in corrosive environments, the economics of tracking or fixed solar panel systems, and the viability of low velocity wind turbines.

Visit the forum (English)


Cabinet pledges cuts to duties on green tech

Cabinet has pledged to remove all import duties on vehicles powered with electrical or renewable energy sources to try and boost its own green commitments and reduce a national reliance on fossil fuels.

As part of this commitment, the government is also expected to cut import charges on solar panels and batteries that can be used as alternate energy sources for marine vehicles in the country.

According to the cabinet’s recommendations, vehicles and power sources exempt from import charges will require documents from the country’s Environmental Protection Agency to accredit any claimed eco-friendly benefits.

The move is tied to the country’s aims of trying to become carbon neutral by 2020, a goal President Moahamed Nasheed has previously claimed would be a disaster for the nation if not achieved – although the government is yet to outline the exact measures it will take to achieve these aims.

Cabinet’s decision to waive the import charges was made at a meeting held yesterday regarding funding developments to try and encourage greater use of renewable energy sources in everyday life and business. These measures include strategies such as subsidising 50 laari for every unit of electricity produced by renewable energy means.

Aside from this environmental focus, the cabinet was also reported to have taken the decision to cut duties on imports of raw materials and agricultural equipment that could be used to bolster fishing and poultry production to reduce the nation’s overall reliance on imports.

Recommendations were also put forward to develop 15,000 square feet of land in Hulhumale’ into a detoxification and drug rehabilitation centre supported from international donor aid.


US President to install solar on roof days after Nasheed

The White House is going solar after all – a home improvement that carries modest energy benefits but much larger symbolic importance, writes the Washington Post.

Of course, Obama is a ways behind the Maldives president, Mohamed Nasheed, who on Thursday will put the final touches on a solar photovoltaic system on his official residence. The low-lying group of atolls in the Indian Ocean is vulnerable to sea-level rise, and Nasheed has emerged as one of the developing world’s most vocal proponents of curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Nasheed has pledged to make the Maldives carbon-neutral by 2020.

It isn’t the first time the White House has used solar energy. President Jimmy Carter put 32 solar panels on the roof in the late 1970s, but President Ronald Reagan removed them in 1986. Two grass-roots campaigns have recently been lobbying President Obama to restore them as a sign of his commitment to renewable energy.

The roof of the White House residence will get solar panels and a solar water heater, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s chair, Nancy Sutley, announced Tuesday.

“This project reflects President Obama’s strong commitment to U.S. leadership in solar energy and the jobs it will create here at home,” Chu said. “Deploying solar energy technologies across the country will help America lead the global economy for years to come.”

A campaign launched by Oakland, Calif.-based Sungevity called Solar on the White House and another by 350.org founder Bill McKibben tried to get Obama to reinstall solar panels.

“The White House did the right thing, and for the right reasons: They listened to the Americans who asked for solar on their roof, and they listened to the scientists and engineers who told them this is the path to the future,” McKibben said in a statement.

“If it has anything like the effect of the White House garden, it could be a trigger for a wave of solar installations across the country and around the world,” he said.

Read more


Nasheed to personally install solar panels on roof of residence

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.

Bright idea

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.


US$90 million solar power project for Thaa and Laamu atolls

A US$90 million (Rf1.2 billion) project agreement to provide solar powered electricity to the Upper South Province of Maldives (Thaa and Laamu atolls) has been signed by Upper South Utilities Limited with BBM Infra Limited of India.

The 24 mega watt solar power facility will be built by BBM in association with two Chinese companies to provide electricity to all islands of Upper South Province .

The project should commence within 2-3 months, says the managing director of Upper South Utilities Limited Ahmed Saeed Mohamed, and would reduce the cost of electricity by 20 percent.

BBM Infra Ltd is part of the BBM Bommidala Group, based on the tobacco trade. BBM Infra, the newest company in this group, is expanding into solar power, construction machinery, and highway projects.


Maldives to cut net carbon emissions ‘100%’ by 2020, pledges president

The Maldives has informed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that it will reduce its net carbon emissions by 100% before 2020.

This is not a total reduction of emissions but rather a statement of carbon neutrality. The president’s pledge to the UNFCCC following the Copenhagen Accord is currently the most ambitious emissions reduction target to be submitted by any country.

Deputy Environment Minister Dr Mohamed Shareef acknowledged that the promise to reduce net emissions by 100% was misleading.

“That would seem that a country would not produce any CO2 at all. This is possible in the long term, but at a great cost,” he said.

“Airplanes will land, sea vessels will use diesel; what the government actually means is that they will offset their carbon emissions.”

Dr Shareef explained that carbon neutrality meant a country offsetting at least half its emissions by using renewable energy sources.

The president said the country was working with renewable energy providers to install wind turbines and solar panels, and would request technological and financial support to implement its ambitions to become carbon neutral.

“New technologies allow us to both develop and maintain a healthy environment. It is time mankind moves into the Green Age,” the president urged.

“Climate change threatens us all. If we don’t act now, we will lose the rainforests, lose the coral reefs and, potentially, lose human civilization itself.”