By Ing. Peter Mifsud
Malta¡¯s position, in the center of the Mediterranean Sea, makes it ideal to maximize the potential of solar energy for the production of electricity. Having a warm climate during most of the year makes thermal applications quite limited, as in most applications heat is required to be rejected rather than captured.
PV Technology and Malta
Photovoltaic technology on the islands was initially embraced by few pioneers as the cost of the technology was high and regulation and technical requirements were still practically undefined. The first system was officially registered with the Malta Resources Authority in 2004 following the establishment of this requirement through the Electricity Regulations issued at the time.
In the beginning, electricity generated by photovoltaic was sold to Enemalta Corporation, the sole supplier of electricity in Malta on a net-metering basis, using an import and export power meter. The meter deducted the units exported from the electricity consumed. In cases where the photovoltaic system exported more than the electricity consumed, a spill-off tariff was applied.
Solar Uptake in Malta
Though the government installed several photovoltaic systems on public property to set an example and help the public get familiar with such technologies, the uptake of this technology became attractive and interesting to the general public through several grant schemes offered by the government through its own funding or funds obtained from the EU. This made the market quite erratic since it was depending on the schemes¡¯ criteria and was limited to a number of applications on a first-come-first-served basis dependent on the budget allocated. Planning ahead by suppliers to guarantee stock and competitive pricing was risky.
Malta does not have its own photovoltaic industry except for a number of suppliers and installers of the technology. The incentive schemes required that systems eligible to such grants needed to qualify to specified standards. This ensured that the equipment installed was of good quality. The decision also served to reassure the investors about the equipment that was still new to them. Systems are being commissioned by warranted electrical engineers. A specialized training course for installers, as required by Directive 2009/28/EC to ensure that the optimal benefits and reliability of the installed system are attained, is due to commence.
The net-metering arrangement was a good start but it represented several drawbacks. Due to its size of 316 km2 and its relatively high population exceeding 400,000 locals going up to 600,000 at the peak of the tourist season, Malta faces great challenges and conflicts in the utilization of the limited space per capita. Roof space has been identified as an ideal priority area that can be exploited. The local planning authority had issued a set of guidelines addressing the installation of such systems on roof tops. This eliminated the barriers related to applications for planning permits by building owners.
Studies1) conducted by Mott MacDonald estimate that in the case of the Maltese Islands, for a ground coverage ratio of 37%, the maximum rooftop potential area is 3.6 km2. The same study proposes three scenarios indicating that by the year 2020, 6.21 to 800 GWh may be generated from photovoltaic technology for the low to the high uptake scenario investigated respectively. From photovoltaic system readings being carried out on a representative sample of different technology, the average annual generation of a 1 kWp system may be deduced to be around 1,610 kWh. One needs to consider that the sample is represented by the majority of recent installations.
Net-metering is only viable where electricity consumption at the premises is being exchanged at the electricity market value of electricity generated by the photovoltaic system. The spill-off tariff does not provide a reasonable payback for the investment. In such case, the potential of roof spaces would not be fully exploited as such systems would not be installed on those premises which have little activity and a low electricity consumption, as it is unviable to produce more than is being consumed. This also imposes a natural limit on the installed capacity for the buildings which have a large roof space potential but low electricity consumption.
A further issue with net-metering resides in the electricity consumption tariff regime. The electricity tariff structure promotes energy efficiency through eco-reduction. The lower rates for low electricity consumers can be as little as 0.129/kWh, whereas the higher rates falling in other tariff bands, paid by high consumers are billed at circa 0.36/kWh. Through net-metering, this induces a better advantage to the high electricity consumers, as these exchange units of higher market value. Thus such setup does not encourage low electricity consumers to invest in the technology and is in conflict with the energy conservation policy, as it may provide an alternative solution to lowering energy cost without the required energy efficiency measures being applied.
Last year, the government reviewed such issues setting of a feed-in tariff regulation for Electricity Generated from Solar Photovoltaic Installations (LN 422 of 2010). The new regulation, spearheaded by the Malta Resources Authority, allows the client to either opt to consume some of the units generated by own photovoltaic system and any excess is sold to the grid or to sell all the photovoltaic electricity at a feed-in tariff. The regulations aim at giving an attractive payback period, competitive with other investments, based on the availability of a benefit up to 50% of capital costs financed by a grant or other incentive schemes. This regulation combined with a grant scheme led to more than 2,000 households applying for the ERDF funded scheme in 2010. The feed-in tariff established in the above mentioned regulation was capped at 12 GWh. In fact this limit was not exceeded.
The Malta Enterprise and the Paying Agency within the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs have both administered schemes addressed specifically to encourage commercial entities and the agricultural sector to invest in photovoltaic. Other schemes might be in the offing for other sectors.
PV Capacity Outlook
Today the number of registered systems exceeds 1,700 varying in size from 1 to 100 kilowatt peak. Most are roof mounted, and a small percentage also has sun tracking facilities. It is estimated that by the first quarter of 2011, a capacity of 4.97 MW of photovoltaic systems will be installed and connected to the grid. This is in line with the Malta¡¯s National Renewable Energy Action Plan projections, estimating that by 2020, 28 MW peak capacity is targeted, calculated to contribute up to 0.7% of the national gross energy consumption, or 1.4% of the electricity demand. The same plans indicate that the bulk of renewable energy electricity will derive from wind energy as well as waste to energy projects. Figure 2 indicates and projects the photovoltaic capacity registered.
Toward A Self-Sustainable Uptake of PV
The feed-in regulation is intended to be reviewed to include systems which do not benefit from any financial assistance, e.g., grants, tax rebates, to target Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) as well as systems which will be installed at ground level. The ground-mounted systems due to land use issues would need planning permission before being installed. The new regulation will pave the way for a self-sustainable uptake of the photovoltaic systems that will not be dependent on financial incentives. However, a limit on the approved annual installed capacity or equivalent generated units will be set matching the targets identified in Malta¡¯s National Renewable Energy Action Plan. Such a measure ensures that the best options of renewable energy sources are properly identified to ensure that Malta meets its renewable energy sources targets and possibly exceeds them by 2020 targets.
Ing. Peter Mifsud B. Elec. Eng. (Hons.) is an analyst at the Malta Resources Authority (www.mra.org.mt) and is involved in renewable energy technologies policy recommendations and regulation. He is also representing the authority participating in an EU-funded project with acronym PV-NMS-NET, aimed at creating a network between new member states in relation to the photovoltaic market and the respective barriers, as well as to promote photovoltaic technology.
1) Feasibility Study for Increasing Renewable Energy Credentials--January 2009
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