The biggest of the country’s two power generating companies, STELCO has taken the fight for renewable energy production head-on. In 2019, the company launched a new solar centre to provide photovoltaic solutions across the country’s many resort islands, while deploying solar generation in its own network, to achieve very ambitious short term goals.
What is the state of the renewable energy sector in the Maldives today?
The percentage of renewable power in the national grid is still small but it is growing rapidly. Currently STELCO operates two solar power generation stations in two separate islands. We have also initiated a pilot floating solar power project, which is currently decommissioned due to a harbor expansion project on the island, but that will be re-deployed soon. Put together, these projects have a 3MW solar generation capacity.
A number of new projects are now in the pipeline, including the expansion of the two “100% Renewable Energy Islands” projects in V. Rakeedhoo and Adh. Dhidhdhoo. The Ministry of Environment is also promoting the development of a new 5MW solar power plant in the Greater Male Region, which has already passed the bidding stage.
Within the Renewable energy spectrum, solar is absolutely dominant in the Maldives. There have been some studies regarding harnessing wave and wind energy but so far only solar has been tried.
What are the main challenges in the country’s move towards renewable energy?
The Maldives has very high solar exposure, which makes this form of power generation efficient and economically sustainable. Besides, taking into account the country’s serious concerns regarding climate change, the move to solar is fundamental. Today, the country depends mostly on diesel powered generators, and while the light diesel we use is less polluting than heavy oils used elsewhere, we still need better solutions.
The challenge lies in our geography. In contrast to other countries, the Maldives doesn’t have a central grid, but a myriad of micro-grids. One major power generating Centre distributing power to a large population is not a model that works here. Further, solar has an intermittency problem. We can harness it during the day but not at night. Today, we are opting for a hybrid system that mixes diesel generation at night and solar during the day. Solar generation could come to represent 30% of our energy matrix on this model. However, beyond that we would need to rely on solar power batteries, to be able to accumulate energy during the day to distribute at night. That is where costs spike and economic viability becomes a problem. There is also the matter of space. Even if the greatest concentration of power generation is the Greater Male Region, where we are working on integrating the power grids of Hulhumale, Male, and other islands through the connectivity bridges that are being developed, there is simply not enough space for major solar parks.
That said, I believe the government’s goals are manageable and that by the end of 2019 we could see as much as 8% of our power coming from solar, and for STELCO’s network, I want to see 50% of our generation coming from solar within the next five years.
How can you promote this path towards renewables in the many resort islands?
In the case of resort islands, it depends on the operators themselves, but the solutions are now present. We have created a solar Centre within STELCO this year that provides solar generation and installation upon client request, which is directed exactly at this type of situations. Not just for resorts, but for any sort of client and installation in the country. We provide solar panel installation and connectivity to domestic households and businesses. Even local island councils that wish to move their islands to solar power, can hire STELCO. The company is now capable of selling the equipment, installation services and even service as an operator, as long as the client is located within the company’s mandated jurisdiction. We haven’t completely opened it to the public yet, because first we want to focus these services on the opportunities present in the 35 islands where we operate as power supplier. However, there is much opportunity for these services to expand when you consider that many remote islands depend on expensive barge diesel imports to produce electricity for a relatively small number of people.