The Gili Lankanfushi plugged in the Maldives’ largest floating solar power platform today, enabling a reduction of its annual carbon footprint by 35 tonnes of CO2 emissions.
The 15m by 15m platform is “an engineering marvel, an innovative floating structure that is designed to survive waves and water turbulence,” the resort said in a press release today.
“It consists of glass fibre tubes, aluminium frames and 112 solar panels. Weighing over five tonnes, it took nearly one third of Gili Lankanfushi’s hosts to push it into the water.”
The five-star luxury resort also announced its partnership with Swimsol, “an Austrian company that specialises in ground-breaking floating solar power solutions.”
The Swimsol team plugged in the platform to the resort’s power grid today. On sunny days, it can produce up to 200 kWh, “which is enough to power the equivalent of all our pathway and jetty lights, as well as the Front Office lighting for 12 hours!”
The reduction of the carbon footprint is meanwhile equivalent to 30 return flights from Europe to Maldives per person.
The platform cost US$90,000.
Deborah Burn, marine biologist and environmental officer at the resort, told Minivan News that Swimsol financed the platform installation as a research project, but the resort plans to buy back the electricity supplied from the solar panels.
The resort is very proud of the platform, Burn said: “It’s a great step towards becoming an eco-friendly resort, and it’s good for our marketing as well.”
Solar panel electricity systems, also known as solar photovoltaics (PV), capture the sun’s energy using photovoltaic cells, which does not need direct sunlight to work and is able to generate some electricity on a cloudy day.
In January, Gili Lankanfushi earned the prestigious TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice Award 2015 for Best Hotel in the World.
The Maldives’ first fully solar powered resort, the Club Med Finolhu Villas, opened for business in January with 6,500 square meters of solar panels capable of producing 1100 Kilowatts at power peak.
The International Renewable Energy Investor’s conference, focusing on the development of solar energy in the Maldives, took place yesterday (March 26) at Bandos resort.
The one-day conference – organised by the Ministry of Environment and Energy with the World Bank – aimed to transform the Maldives’ energy sector by reducing the dependency on costly fossil fuels for power generation.
The ministry reported that a total of 78 participants from government organisations, the World Bank, foreign consultants and investors discussed photovoltaic (PV) systems which could be established in Malé and Hulhumalé, as well as a framework for subsidies.
Published March 21 2014, this report details some of the difficulties faced by the Maldives, as well as future plans to increase the proportion of sustainable energy consumed in the country.
Submitted by the government and the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development, the proposal asks for a US$10,683 million grant in funding from the ‘Scaling Up Renewable Energy Programme’.
“The Government has no current stabilization program with the International Monetary Fund. The prior program lapsed in 2009 and most of the measures were reversed. The World Bank started a Development Policy Credit in 2010 for economic stabilization and recovery that was also cancelled due to lack of progress,” states the ASPIRE proposal.
“A major concern of foreign investors in Maldives has been their inability to reliably and consistently convert local currency to hard currency for reasonable transaction costs at the official exchange rate for repatriation of shareholder returns and foreign currency debt service.”
“The country has no conventional resources of energy. Providing electricity to the dispersed islands is overwhelmingly dependent on imported diesel fuel oil, and therefore vulnerable to fuel price volatility.”
Diesel fuel accounts for the bulk of the energy supply in the country, about 82.5% in 2009, according to ASPIRE. Therefore, the report suggests a move toward renewable energy as a means of improving “economic difficulties”.
“The development of solar PV projects is expected to improve the country’s fiscal situation by reducing both the volume of fossil fuel imports, as well as the fiscal uncertainty arising from fuel price volatility. This would also replace the expensive diesel based generation and result in significant reduction of the government subsidy,” the report confirms.
Similar reforms to the energy sector chimes were set to be rolled out two years ago, before the unstable political situation led to its premature demise.
On the afternoon of February 7, 2012, the Maldives was set to sign in a revolutionary plan to attract an estimated US$200 million of risk-mitigated renewable energy investment.
The Scaling-Up Renewable Energy Programme (SREP) proposal was produced by the Renewable Energy Investment Office under President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration.
The World Bank team working on the project had given verbal approval for the plan, reportedly describing it as one of the most “exciting and transformative” projects of its kind in any country.
Previous awards for Clean Energy in the Maldives
Abu Dhabi media reported that in January 2014 The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) pledged Dh22million (US$6 million) in concessionary loans for clean energy projects in the Maldives.
The announcement came as Abu Dhabi hosted the Fourth Assembly of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) – attended by a delegation from the Maldives.
“Maldives does not have the luxury of time to sit and wait for the rest of the world to act and that Maldives has started the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy,” Maldivian Minister for Environment and Energy Thoriq Ibrahim told the assembly.
The project will benefit 120,000 people, with a reduced need for landfills, the generation of 2MW of clean energy, and the production of 62 million litres of desalinated water per year.
Shortly after this award, the Maldives carried out a pioneering desalination project on the island of Gulhi, in Kaafu atoll, which became the first place in the world to produce desalinated drinking water using waste heat from electricity generation.
While these projects indicate advances toward renewable energy, the government has also pledged to seek crude oil as an alternative means of diversifying the economy and supplementing fuel supply.
According to local news outlet CNM, during a speech made by President Abdulla Yameen on March 16 he pledged to begin the search for crude oil. He went on to say that if the government is indeed successful in finding oil in the Maldives, the outlook for the entire country would change for the better.
However, Local NGO Bluepeace raised concerns regarding this pledge. Ali Rilwan Executive Director noted that with the large income from tourism and the spread of guest houses in local isands, the oil drilling “won’t have benefits for the people as a whole.”
“We can’t afford to go into that dirty energy,” he concluded. “When you take up the issues of drilling, we are concerned about the oil container tanks with unrefined fuel passing through.”
Minivan News was unable to contact State Ministers from the Ministry of Environment and Energy for further comment at the time of publishing.
Maldivian civil society is holding Earth Hour events today (March 23) to highlight the urgent need to take action against climate change and care for the environment, while the Ministry of Environment and Energy “facilitates”.
Earth Hour is the “single largest mass participation event in the world” aiming to mobilise people to take action on climate change by switching off their lights for one hour as a “massive show of concern for the environment”, according to the event’s website.
Earth Hour Maldives aims to “obtain the full cooperation of the community, non-government organizations, companies, tourist resorts, government ministries and agencies and the school community, to effectively make Earth Hour Maldives a success and to demonstrate to the world where the Maldives stands in the battle between Earth and Global Warming,” the site states.
The Scout Association of the Maldives has taken the lead organising Earth Hour events, particularly in the capital Male’, since the Maldives began participating five years ago.
“The WWF and Earth Hour Global event hosts prefer associations organise events, focus on youth involvement, and receive support from the government,” Earth Hour Maldives Marketing Manager Mujahid Abdulla told Minivan News.
“The Environment Ministry is making policies, such as the vehicle ban from 7:30 to 10:30 tonight.
“The presidential palace will be the first place to have its lights switched off, as well as the ‘front line’ of Male’. We expect 40 to 50 percent of buildings to shut down their lights,” according to Abdullah.
The Environment Ministry’s Earth Hour media focal point, Mohamed Mushaaid, explained to Minivan News that all government buildings have been requested to shut their lights off for the designated ‘earth hour’ between 8:30 and 9:30 pm, however compliance is voluntary.
“Earth Hour is organized by the Scout Association of the Maldives, while the Environment Ministry is facilitating the event by providing resources, coordinating help from other government ministries, and providing technical help.
“We are strongly suggesting island councils participate, but it’s not mandated,” stated Mushaaid.
He further explained that scouts have been going ‘door to door’ raising awareness and cooperation for ‘lights off’, while advertisements and announcements have been made on ‘variety shows’ providing information about the event and advertising people to avoid energy usage during the designated earth hour.
Updates of energy savings in ‘real time’ will be given on local television.
A vehicle ban will be implemented in Male’ from 7:30pm to 10:30pm, which the Environment Ministry arranged in conjunction with the scout association, Transportation Ministry and Male’ City Council, according to Mushaaid.
“It’s for the benefit of the public, activities will be taking place on the streets for people to join and have fun,” he stated.
“Plus, it will be difficult to capture the picture of Male’ from Funadhoo [island] during Earth Hour with vehicle lights,” Mushaaid added.
Funadhoo is a small island adjacent to the capital of Male’ where the Maldives’ State Trading Organisation (STO) operates its fuel and lubricants department, housing 15544 tons of diesel and 600 tons of kerosene.
Abdullah stated that activities have been organised nationwide, with larger events to be held on Kulhudhoofushi island in Haa Dhaal Atoll, Lhaviyani Atoll, Fuvahmulah Island, Addu City, other small islands as well as by resorts. Events in Male’ include an awareness walk, traditional music and activities.
A wide range of institutions are collaborating to implement Earth Hour activities. The Maldives Girl Guide Association, the Maldives Youth Climate Network (MYCN), and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are providing organisational and voluntary help. Supporting partner institutions include the Ministry of Environment and Energy, the State Electric Company Limited (STELCO), the Police Services, Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), as well as local media outlets.
According to STELCO data, Earth Hour events in 2012 saved 1590.5 kilowatt hours of energy, 418.55 liters of fuel, and carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by 1.1 tonnes within an hour, as stated in the official Earth Hour Maldives report.
Earth Hour is organized globally in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), with millions of people worldwide, from 152 countries and territories, including 7001 cities and towns, participating in 2012.
Government-led environmental conservation
President Waheed Hassan Manik’s government pledged to ensure his government remained outspoken internationally in regards to the plight small nations faced from the potentially destructive impacts of climate change.
The government says it remains committed to pursuing the previous administration’s carbon neutral ambitions despite recent political tensions reportedly affecting investment potential for such schemes.
Meanwhile, waste management remains a national human and environmental health dilemma. Establishing waste management systems on the islands has been an ongoing struggle.
Most islands have waste areas that vary in quality and have no means of processing or removing trash from the garbage areas.
“Thilafushi is not what we want. The current conditions there pose serious health and safety threats to Bangladeshi workers living there and those toxins spread to Male’ and Villingili as well,” Ahmed Nizam, Solid Waste Management Coordinator for the Environment Ministry previously told Minivan News.
Speaking to the Conde Nast Traveler publication in 2012 to promote “The Island President” film documentary, former President Mohamed Nasheed expressed hope that the country would continue to work towards becoming carbon neutral, but he also challenged the legitimacy of Waheed’s government.
“We were making real progress. I hope the government will continue our policies. But you can’t have good policies without democracy. And you won’t address the climate change crisis without good policies,” Nasheed told journalist Dorinda Elliott.
“All democratic movements must talk about both climate change and human rights.”
Private companies and international actors are leading renewable energy implementation in the Maldives while the government “prepares” for various solar power projects.
Renewable Energy Maldives (REM) is working with approximately 25 islands, various resorts nationwide, and international actors to develop renewable energy systems and improve energy efficiency.
This private company connected solar photovoltaic (PV) panels generating 752 kilowatts (kW) to the power grid in 2012, Renewable Energy Maldives Managing Director Ibrahim Nasheed told Minivan News.
“Essentially, we are doing the [renewable energy development] work despite the government.
“President Waheed [Hassan Manik]’s government has not honored the Memorandums of Understanding signed under the previous government.
“Additionally, Fenaka – the re-centralised utilities company formed under Waheed’s government – has spent all of 2012 restructuring,” Nasheed stated.
“Since September 2011, REM and the Japanese Government are the only ones implementing renewable energy projects.
“The government has not implemented a single project this year,” Nasheed added.
Nasheed highlighted that despite the renewable energy, climate change mitigation and adaptation funds coming into the Maldives, securing financing has been very difficult.
“The major problem is the lack of funding. It is difficult to form good relationships with solar PV manufacturers so they will lower the costs because they need a bank guarantee,” he said.
To encourage Maldivian renewable energy businesses, Nasheed suggested banks provide financial backing, while money should be set aside from the climate change and renewable energy donor funds for these ‘guarantees’.
The World Bank’s Climate Investment Funds to support clean energy initiatives would have provided SREP financing. Now Waheed’s government is revising the proposal, renamed the Sustainable Renewable Energy Project (SREP) and will try to resubmit, according to Nasheed.
Abdul Matheen, the State Minister for Energy, told the publication oilprice.com in October 2012 that under the [new] SREP, the Maldivian government plans to begin a $138 million renewable energy project that will provide 26 mega watts of clean electricity within five years.
“[The government] is making preparations to commence the project during next month.
“Under the project, 10 islands would run solely on renewable energy. In addition, 30 percent of electricity in 30 islands will be converted to renewable energy,” Matheen told oilprice.com.
Meanwhile Nasheed emphasised there are currently “no regulations or standards” in the renewable energy sector.
“[Governmental] progress [developing renewable energy] has been slow, it’s not as fast as we thought or would like. REM is the ‘guinea pig’ since we are leading the renewable energy provider in the Maldives. It’s a lot of work, but we have the advantage of being very involved in the process,” Nasheed stated.
Collaborative solar programs
A handful of solar PV programs have taken root on islands throughout the Maldives over the past year.
Recently, Renewable Energy Maldives and the University of Milano-Bicocca launched a renewable energy pilot project on Magoodhoo Island in Faafu Atoll to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by connecting 30 kW of solar PV panels to the island electric grid.
“Through this project, we will in particular have the possibility of reducing fuel consumption, thereby reducing the impact on our economy. Harnessing solar energy means less pollution and less dependence on external energy,” said Naseer Abdulla, Island Councilor of Maghodoo.
The “benefits from the use of renewable energies” project is focused on developing solar panels, low consumption light bulbs, and conducting courses on environmental sustainability. This project aims to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, abate environmental degradation and ensure greater energy self-sufficiency, especially on the more remote islands.
“This project represents a challenge for us to show how the problems of global climate change can be addressed by combining all available forces, the local community and beyond,” stated Paolo Galli, Coordinator of the project and Director of Marine Research and High Education Center (MARHE), and researcher from the Department of Biotechnology and Biosciences of the University of Milano-Bicocca.
“Only with the combined effort of everyone, in fact, can you get a real improvement of the environment and, consequently, the quality of life,” Galli added.
Solar PV systems are profitable and sustainable for local communities as well as Male’, according to REM and the University of Milano-Bicocca.
Diesel delivery and generator maintenance is expensive and problematic, REM’s Managing Director Nasheed explained.
However, every 3 kWh of electricity produced by solar panels saves a liter of diesel. Furthermore, 1,000 illumination points equipped with low power consumption LED light bulbs will lead to an additional savings of about 20 kWh, the University of Milano-Bicocca highlighted.
“People in Male’ use 2 to 3 kW per household daily. When they use solar power generated energy from their own systems, the excess power produced gets sold back to the power grid.
“They become very energy aware since there is a interest to reduce consumption,” stated Nasheed.
REM also explained there are numerous benefits from renewable energy, particularly solar panels, but the government has not focused on marketing these incentives.
“Villingili Island normally has to ‘shed load’ to do diesel generator repair work, but with the solar installations they didn’t have to do that.
“There was no income loss and no power loss during this maintenance period in 2012, which promotes a reliable image for the State Electric Company (STELCO),” Nasheed stated.
REM installed solar panels on six islands in Kaafu Atoll, at their own expense. Under power purchase agreements the 652 KW of power generated from the PV systems was then sold to STELCO for US.25 cents, which is a “considerably lower rate than diesel,” Nasheed explained.
The Japanese government has been involved in a number of renewable energy projects in Male’ and the Atolls as well.
Additionally, a project conducted by the Japanese government and Global Sustainable Electricity Partnership (GSEP) aimed to install a 40kW solar PV grid-connected system on Dhiffushi Island in Kaafu Atoll.
Government solar projects
Since early 2012, the Maldivian government has overseen the initial stages of a few new renewable energy projects.
The Ministry of Environment in conjunction with the Ministry of Finance has issued a prequalification application for the “Solar Maldives Programme.” This project aims to “design, build, finance, own, operate and transfer grid-tied solar photovoltaic systems for integration with diesel generators on 15 islands” in the south, north, and upper north provinces.
“As part of the National Development strategy, the Government of the Republic of Maldives has been planning to transform the electricity sector though private sector investments in renewable energy development on a large scale under its Sustainable Private Investments in Renewable Energy (SPIRE) Project,” reads the application.
The government has also received bids to install a 300 kW grid connected solar PV system on Thinadhoo Island, the regional capital of Gaaf Dhaal (Huvadhoo) Atoll. This is part of the “Clean Energy for Climate Mitigation (CECM) Project” financed by the Climate Change Trust Fund (CCTF) – a collaboration between the Maldivian government, World Bank, European Union (EU) and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).
“The system is expected to meet 30 percent of the peak day time demand of electricity and will offset approximately 300 tons of carbon dioxide annually,” states the Ministry of Environment.
The Ministry of Environment was unavailable for comment at the time of press.
The cabinet has set prices for government-owned utilities companies to purchase renewable energy as part of an investment scheme to bring the Maldives closer to its carbon neutral goal.
“We think renewable energy has a lot of potential, it is why we are in the business. We think this is where things should be going,” said Renewable Energy (REM) Director Hudha Ahmed. Noting that diesel rates are currently higher than projected solar energy rates, she said solar energy is a more reliable source long-term.
According to the Cabinet’s decision, State Electric Company Limited (STELCO) can buy a unit for Rf3.42. South Central Utilities Limited will be charged the highest rate per unit (Rf5.39), and Upper North Utilities Limited can buy a unit for Rf4.44. Units are available to Northern Utilities Limited for Rf4.40, Central Utilities Limited for Rf3.97, and Southern Utilities Limited for Rf3.94.
The Maldives currently aims to cut carbon emissions by 60 percent using solar power. Currently, no company is carrying out a commercial renewable energy project in the Maldives.
STELCO, which just received the rates and is awaiting conditions from the Ministry of Housing and Environment, said there are plans to provide renewable energy locally.
“We have some projects which are being planned, mostly in solar and wind. One solar project is expected to be commissioned in a few weeks,” said STELCO Chief Technology Officer Mohamed Zaid.
Since signing the Copenhagen Accord in January 2010 the Maldives has focused on decarbonising the electricity sector, which accounts for over 31 percent of industrial project expenses.
Decarbonising the country is expected to cost the Maldives US$3-5 billion over the next 10 years.
The rates approved by the Cabinet were researched and recommended by Maldives Energy Authority. Deputy Director Ajwad Musthafa said the rates were calculated according to fuel prices in each region and differences in fuel efficiency.
“The amounts we set were about 10 percent cheaper than they currently are in diesel,” Musthafa said.
Over 25 percent of the Maldives’ GDP is spent on diesel used for boats alone.
Consumers won’t be affected by the plan, which currently targets investors only and is likely to be lucrative, he added.
“As it stands now, a person can put a solar panel in his home and send the power to a grid. Having invested in energy production, that person can expect a six to seven year payback period before making a profit, which are expected to grow significantly with time. Currently, there is no mechanism in place between the investor and the utility company, but I believe it is being developed,” said Musthafa.
He observed that the system would be especially attractive to people in the Upper South and South Central regions, “where energy prices and feed-in tariffs are higher.”
In September, the Maldives signed the Renewable Energy through Feed-In Tariff in an effort to reduce electricity costs by promoting a shift from oil fuel to renewable energy sources.
“The existing system is fairly inefficient in these areas,” he said. “About fourteen years back the government was charging an Rf3.5 flat rate for energy. We got complaints from investors, so now we are trying to make it more exciting for investment.”
Earlier this month the Maldivian government solicited bids from solar power companies to power 29 islands, which are facing power generation difficulties. Many small islands have small power stations, which are expensive and yield disproportionate returns.
As fuel prices increase, Musthafa explained, so will the feed-in tariff, and the overall price of diesel is unlike to drop in coming years. By comparison, locally-produced solar would be a valuable option.
Musthafa said a buyer’s mechanism was being developed and would be implemented in due time. “Right now, we want to create a market that offers transparent, confident investments,” he said, adding that foreigners are expected to play an important role.
“Foreign investors will only have to sign a power purchase agreement. Nothing has to be taken from the government’s side,” he said. Local companies are also expected to benefit from external support provided by foreign investors.
Past the investment phase, the solar plan includes capacity development, training and awareness programs on renewable energy, and methods to make the investment more affordable, including concessional loans.
“Our hope is that by early next year we will have the proper institutional set up to make this happen,” Musthafa said.
Previously, this article stated, “As it stands now, a person can put a solar panel in his home and send the power to a grid…Currently, there is no mechanism in place between the investor and the utility company, but I believe it is being developed.”
It should have read, “As it stands now, a person can install a solar panel in his home and sell the power to a grid…We have already established a set of technical guidelines and application procedures for Solar PV installations. Additional regulations are being developed.”
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.
“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.
Luxury Maldivian resort Soneva Fushi is currently hosting a three day ‘Slow Life’ symposium bringing together big names in business, climate science, film and renewable energy to come up with ways to address climate change.
Attendees at the Symposium include famous UK entrepreneur Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Empire; actress Daryl Hannah, star of films including ‘Blade Runner’, ‘Kill Bill’ and ‘Splash’; Ed Norton, star of films including ‘Fight Club’ and ‘American History X’; Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project; Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed; and an array of climate experts and scientists including Mark Lynas and Mike Mason.
Branson described how six years ago former US Vice President and environmental advocate Al Gore arrived at his house “and made me realise I had to make changes to the way I was doing business in the own world.”
Among other initiatives, Branson described his creation of a “Carbon War Room” funding scientific work into both climate education and the development of a renewable alternative to jet fuel.
“Ethanol was not a good idea because it freezes at 15,000 feet,” Branson noted. “So we’re investigating alternatives such as algae, isobutanol and fuel created from eucalyptus trees,” he said, adding that Virgin would be making a significant announcement on the subject next week.
Big business had the ability and prerogative to break down market barriers to the development of low carbon technologies, he said. Inefficient shipping, for instance, wasted US$70 billion a year, and led him to create a website allocating ratings to the most efficient vessels and ports, that had attracted interest from large grocery chains.
Branson also outlined his US$25 million prize for the development of a commercial technology capable of removing carbon from the atmosphere, an idea he said was inspired by the 1714 prize offered for developing a means of measuring longitude on a ship, and had attracted thousands of innovative ideas.
President Mohamed Nasheed
Speaking at the symposium on Saturday, Nasheed said it was “very clear, that regardless of whether you are rich or poor, too much carbon will kill us.”
“For us, this is not just an environmental issue. We need to become carbon neutral even if there was no such thing as climate change, simply because it is more economically viable. We spend more than 14 percent of our GDP on fossil fuel energy, which is more than our education and health budget combined.”
The most important adaptation measure, Nasheed said, “is democracy. You have to have a responsive government to discuss this issue. When I do something people do not believe in, they shout at me. But they are not doing this on this issue.”
The government had reformed its economic system and introduced new taxes “so we can fend for ourselves. We cannot endlessly rely on the international community.”
Since last year’s symposium the government had launched its renewable energy investment plan, and contracted an international firm to process waste at Thilafushi, Nasheed said, as well as introduced a feed in tariff which would make generating solar “more profitable than a corner shop.”
“If you are buying electricity at 40 cents a kilowatt hour you can sell electricity to the state at 35 cents. Soneva Fushi is going to be able to produce electricity with solar at 15 cents. We will be able to finance households as a loan to pay back from savings they are making. If you do the sums in the Maldives it is really quite possible, and I’m confident that households will see the commercial viability.”
Meanwhile Ed Norton, star of films including ‘Fight Club’ and ‘American History X’, linked sanitation and waste management to human development, noting that more people had cell phones than toilets. As a result, Norton said, 1.7 million people died yearly of preventable diarrheal diseases – 90 percent of them under the age of five.
“The World Health Organisation estimates that for every dollar spent on sanitation, $3-34 is returned to the economy,” he observed.
Ocean dumping of sewage was standard, he noted, while septic tanks could leak and contaminate groundwater. He proposed a greater focus on using waste water for fertiliser and water recycling, rather than thinking of it simply as a matter of waste disposal.
UK environmentalist Jonathan Porritt, founder of Forum for the Future, observed that just by attending the Symposium he had contributed four tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
He referred to a colleague who was “so overwhelmingly conscious” of his carbon footprint that he weighed his attendance at such events by “the gravity of the audience, the quality of his speech and the effectiveness in lobbying and networking.”
However, he noted that travel and tourism was, overall, a “force for good in an increasingly troubled world.”
“We live in a world where governments invest US$1.4 trillion a year in war. We live in a world where US$4 trillion is invested in the war against terror, a world were fundamentalism is rampant and aggressive nationalism is all over the place. Many countries taking a lead on the issue suffer from a deep sense of exhaustion. Against that backdrop, hands-on [tourism] is a way to bridge the divide,” Porritt said.
At the same time tourism was driven by the balance sheet, and that while there was a great deal of ecotourism initiatives much of it was “marketing, with no credibility.”
“There is a focus on green rather than sustainable tourism, and no real understanding of what it means,” he said. “There is a reluctance to engage on socio-economic issues.”
“Gaps in equity are widening – and the gap between the have and the have nots is widening. Even as tourism contributes economically, because of the gaps resentment about the impact of the industry is rising – especially in a country where access to land, water, beachfront, reef and biomass is being privileged to support growth of tourism industry rather than the interests of local people.”
Tourism, Porritt said, was a microcosm of the local economy, with high end tourism such as that in the Maldives attracting the wealthiest and most influential people.
“For the one percent of the population that control more than 30 percent of the net wealth in a country such as the United States, it is very easy to insulate one’s self from real world by traveling from high security offices to gated communities to privileged, luxury resorts. It is a bubble through which the real world rarely penetrates.”
A state of low carbon with high inequality was “not a judgement anyone should be comfortable with. We should be thinking not just about the need to mitigate carbon impact, but offsetting inequality. I think what we are doing should be from the perspective of social justice as much as low carbon.”
However, he noted, it was easier to educate a few billionaires than the entire population of a country such as the US, distracted from the issue by Xboxes and cable TV.
“Billionaires have a vested interest in keeping the [planet sustainable], because they have enough money enjoy the planet,” he suggested.
Founder of the Eden Project in Cornwall, Tim Smit, spoke about the need to mobilise people by capturing their imagination – and the responsibility the Maldives has as a symbol of a united effort combating climate change.
“Author CS Lewis said that while science leads to truth, only imagination leads to meaning,” Smit said.
“We are used to talking to halls of middle aged men who want to be inspired. We read the books about affecting change and they have the same language, and it is really dull: paradigm shifts, centres of excellence, leading edge thinking, cutting edge thinking, and when they are very excited, bleeding edge thinking. We don’t write books about the impact of this thinking.”
Incredible things, Smit said, were “being done by the unreasonable.”
“The Maldives has captured the imagination, and the elected political elite are showing charisma and leadership on the issue [of climate change]. The danger is that we listen to too many middle aged white people, and miss the point. I see an incredible moment when the story of Maldives becomes the story of us all – but it needs to be delivered with a pirate grin that says f*** it, we’re going to do this thing. I hate idealists. I like unreasonable people who do things.”
There was, Smit said, a danger that the Maldives would lose sight of its goal, and “lose the moment when the Maldives could become the most important place in world. The goal is open but the moment will be gone, and suddenly the bright future is no longer there, just a job – and not a job in the spotlight.”
The Maldivian people needed to be given the independence to make their own decisions, such as installing solar, and given control so that they knew the impact of flipping the light switch.
“Trust in the people of the Maldives to get excited of a picture of the Maldives reborn,” Smit suggested.
“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.
The Maldives has become the first country to crowdsource its renewable energy plan on the internet.
The current draft of the plan focuses on using solar energy to generate most of the country’s electricity and cut emissions by 60 percent before 2020.
The plan suggests that up to 80 percent of the electricity island communities use could be derived from renewable energy, without the cost of energy increasing. The plan also proposes a shift to wind, batteries and biomass to complement solar power, retaining existing diesel generators for reserve power.
The Ministry of Economic Development revealed that economic modeling had shown that it was already cheaper to generate electricity from solar photovoltaic panels than from diesel on many Maldivian islands.
The direct cost of daytime solar PV is around US $0.21 per kilowatt hour, compared to $0.28 – $0.44 per kW/hour for existing diesel generators.
“The investments will largely pay for themselves because the Maldives would save huge sums of money on oil imports,” the Ministry of Economic Development observed in a statement.
The Renewable Energy Investment Office, based in the Ministry of Economic Development, was established to help combat global warming. Last week it opened an internet forum for local and international groups and individuals to advise the Maldives’ plan to develop solar energy, which has been approved by the Cabinet.
“The government has limited experience working with renewable energies because these are relatively new technologies to the Maldives,” noted Minister for Economic Development, Mahmoud Razee.
“We have published our investment framework online and highlighted areas where we require feedback and help. We are crowd sourcing our energy plans and inviting the whole world to help us,” Razee said.
A more detailed plan will be submitted again in February, with details on investment strategies, explained Razee.
“Maldives is the first country to do this on a global scale and over the internet. This shows that we are innovative and willing to share by working with other countries on this issue, which affects everyone. Also, it shows that we are willing to be as transparent as we can,” Razee said.
Forum users must register with their real name and submit identification information before contributing, and they will be asked a series of questions to confirm that they are qualified to share their expertise. The forum rules encourage debate, but note that comments that “are deemed offensive or inappropriate, or don’t relate to the question” will not be published.
The forum rules further requests that “criticism of a proposal has to be supported by offering a better alternative, with a clear idea of cost and practicality,” in order to be useful.
The goals of the plan, Razee stated, were to free the country from the uncertainties and costs of its oil dependency, and to demonstrate global leadership in the fight against climate change.
“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,” Razee said, acknowledging that storage was a primary concern.
While the Maldives has abundant sunlight during the day, the battery technology required for large-scale power generation at night is extremely expensive.
“Right now, we aren’t looking at storage because it would double the cost in this current economic environment. Technology is evolving reasonably rapidly though, and in five or ten years we think that providing storage will more affordable,” Razee said.
“Batteries are used at night, and as we know a lot of electricity is generated then. So we will need to address the issue of storage and how to provide energy at night within our larger goals.”
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.