In recent years, Malta has ramped up a particular kind of electricity production: electricity generated by means of renewable resources. Time is of the essence, as in 2009, an EU directive was issued stipulating that by 2020, Malta must generate 10 percent of its electricity through renewable technologies. While a large number of Maltese households have embraced renewable energy in the last few years, much work remains to be done.
Indeed, according to an article in Malta Today, “a total of 2.7 million sq.m of solar farms – that’s 397 football grounds – are required” to meet the target in question.
Sustainability starts from home
The Maltese government had previously aimed at having an offshore wind farm generate energy. That project has since been abandoned, and now the focus has shifted to solar energy generated by way of Photovoltaic Panels (PV) – whether those set up on solar farms or smaller ones installed in private homes.
There is certainly a long way left to go, but according to a National Statistics Office (NSO) Regional Report from 2017, the past five years have seen a 328 percent increase in the installation of solar panels. Private households have been especially quick to adapt; in the last seven years alone, Malta went from having close to zero installations to one in every five households.
As is well-known, Malta enjoys sunshine for most of the year. All the more reason, then, to make the transition from a centralized power source that derives most of its energy from a power station to a spread-out one that relies on small-scale power generation with households as nodes.
To be sure, Malta’s limitations in terms of size and voltage output limit its capacity for large-scale and high-voltage grids. Failure to supply large-frame PV panel clusters with the energy needed could result in power outages. With this in mind, Malta has for the most part sought to establish microgrids with low-to-medium voltage distributional networks on one hand, and solar farms on the other.
Having every household on the grid equipped with PV panels allows for energy to be generated for distribution largely on the basis of proximity, a reasonable approach to the matter. Researchers are also looking into methods that allow for the cross-distribution of energy between points anywhere on the Maltese Islands.
Every solar power installation has the ability to store the energy that is generated, and as the word “network” implies, it connects several users across the board. A clear advantage of this system is that it potentially evens out consumption peaks and troughs. When energy-generating conditions are optimal, excessive electricity is stored, to be distributed at a later date. And with several low-to-medium grids connected to the national grid, the result is a more balanced and reliable renewable electricity infrastructure.
Ambitious goals spawn ambitious projects
Despite the fact that Malta may not be well-suited for high-power microgrids, the country is forging ahead with its plan to reach the 10 percent renewable energy goal set for 2020. The most recent indication of this came just last year, when the Planning Authority issued a new policy framework that laid out the definition as well as the guidelines for the setting up of solar farms.
Those solar farms that cover a minimum of 1000 square meters are to be installed primarily within close range of urban areas or other areas that also typically have a high consumption rate.
“The list includes large scale roof tops and open spaces such as car parks where dual use of the site is feasible,“ explains an article in The Malta Independent. “Also appropriate for such a development are Areas of Containment, sites earmarked for Small and Medium Enterprise (SME sites), official disused landfills and industrial plants.”
These regulatory guidelines have been drawn up so as to discourage excessive infrastructural work as well as “grid connection costs, distribution losses and sprawl towards the countryside.”
All solar farms must be designed to integrate seamlessly with their surrounding environment. This means that limits will be placed on the maximum height a construction is allowed to reach, and where infrastructure work is necessary, it is to take place below ground level. Also, new access routes and trenches are not to exceed the minimum requirement, and landscaping work, where necessary, will be relegated to the boundary areas.
The only solar farm proposals that seem to have made it through the cracks of the policy limiting construction to urban or suburban areas are those concerning greenhouse projects. Among the 22 proposals to date, including a major one by Enemalta – Malta’s prime company sourcing electricity – a few include said greenhouse projects slated for the countryside.
This incentive aligns itself with a rural policy issued in 2014 that “encourages farmers to opt for greenhouse development to boost incomes through ‘intensive crop cultivation’ and overcome climatic constraints on fruit and vegetable production.”
Cultivating the right mindset
Naturally, converting old and infilled quarries in the countryside into solar farms breathes new life into them. Moreover, using greenhouses as well as urban areas such as parking lots and enterprise buildings for solar panel bases endows such sites with a double function, consequently saving space. Meanwhile, as already mentioned, quite a few people in Malta have taken to proactive engagement on an individual basis, installing solar panels and feeding energy into local grids.
These are just some examples of how Malta is making the best of limited space and resources in order to achieve its renewable energy goals. Here at AUM, we’re looking forward to playing an essential role in assisting Malta’s transition to renewable energy and sustainability. This is especially apparent in our business programs. If you want to find out more about our approach, please contact us; we’ll be more than happy to help.