It is now official, renewable energy is considered to be the cheapest form of energy – ever. The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently announced that renewable energy – especially top solar power schemes – have without a doubt created “the cheapest source of electricity in history”.
Though renewable energy has already tended to be cheaper than fossil fuel energy around the world, the economic shock brought about by COVID-19 has aided in reducing prices further.
Due to the virus causing interest rates to plummet to around zero, governments have been given the opportunity to be able to take further interest in the investment into renewable energy.
This collapsing cost has in turn made countries more willing to set up and declare plans to reach net zero carbon emissions.
As such, this has created the opportunity for renewables to become far cheaper due to it being a rare yet easy time to invest money into them. It also offers the opportunity for more eco-friendly technologies to be researched, developed and put onto the market for consumer use.
This is because the entire calculations behind the costs for decarbonisation have rapidly changed – and they will continue to change over the next few years.
In Malta, these collapsing costs should and must give way towards further subsidies and other incentives towards encouraging the public and businesses alike to utilise renewable energy – whether it is solar, wind or whatever else may prove effective and accessible in the coming years.
In general, this also will mean that investors will no longer have to feel pressured intp investing in renewable energy by environmental activists as government investments will simply make the renewable energy industry more competitive and global by itself. This thus makes it in everyone’s best interests be on the same page with renewable energy and eco-friendly policies in general.
Already, we have seen surprisingly large strides in this as well.
1. Solar Energy Overhauls
Of all the renewable energies, solar electricity is considered to be one of the cheapest forms of renewable energy – which itself is already considered quite cheap anyway.
Solar panels use sunlight, which made up of a spectrum like what you see in a rainbow, to convert the red wavelengths of sunlight into electricity. Silicon is what you will find in most solar panels currently available. However, current solar panels only convert around a fifth of solar energy that falls onto them into electricity.
The UK-based company, Oxford PV, has recently announced their new type of PV solar panels that they are developing. Their new panels now combine silicon with a material called perovskite – a semi-conductive mineral with a crystal structure of titanium calcium oxide.
Through this, blue wavelengths are also converted into electricity which thus allows an increase of efficiency for solar panels to 30-40%.
These types of solar panels could be revolutionary for Malta more so when Oxford PV’s panels are focused to specifically allow customers to maximise the wattage from their solar panels in confined areas. It is expected that these solar panels are going into production in 2021, with early applications expected as well.
An overhaul of subsidy schemes regarding solar panels would also certainly help in further incentivising people to invest and make use of solar panels – though only if there is a genuine and definite indication that they would be getting their investments back in a worthwhile amount of time.
2. Marine Wind Farms
Marine Wine Turbines have always been a fascinating way at creating energy – although it has proven in many cases to be too expensive and risky. This is especially so for Malta who would need to likely invest in marine turbines.
It is thought that around 40% of the overall lifetime cost for marine turbines are due to the need for Humans on site to maintain the turbines.
In terms of Malta, it is these high costs that led to an EU report in 2019 state that whilst Malta is viable for wind energy, turbines are extremely expensive to invest in for the country.
However, companies like BladeBUG may have the answer to this dilemma. At BladeBUG, a rectangular robot – around the size of a suitcase with six, suction-cupped legs – is being developed to cut down on the Human costs with marine turbine maintenance.
Drones will be able to carry these robots to the offshore wind farms, who will then crawl across the tower and blades using sensors to detect damage or anything else that may affect efficiency or lifespan of the wind turbine. It will also be able to fill and polish any small defects on its own too.
According to the IEA, offshore wind warms could deliver up to 18 times today’s global electricity demand, and with innovations such as BladeBUG, could lead to wind farms being far more affordable especially when governments may be looking into investing further in various types of renewable energy.
3. Waste Management
Waste Management is perhaps an acute problem that affects people globally. The crisis with recycling, composting and waste has been in the news – and visible in our lives – for years now.
We have seen strides towards tackling plastics and recycling specifically, what about organic waste though?
In many nations, food waste simply goes to waste. Those that do have treatment centres for it tend to rack up high costs or are proven to be inefficient at properly disposing of food waste. There is also always the issue of food waste not being properly separated when disposed of.
However, companies like Goterra – a Canberra, Australia-based company – are striving towards offering waste management infrastructure that specifically aims towards clean organics from everything from kitchen waste to restaurant and pre-consumer waste too.
The intention is to support waste collectors by collecting organic waste themselves. From here, a hybrid waste management system that combines robotics and insects are used to process food waste and turn it into high-protein stock feed and soil conditioner (which helps improve the quality of soil).
In Malta this could help deal with our own waste collection – which has seen numerous issues arise regarding it in recent years. It could also aid in ensuring that agriculture in Malta remains a steady industry by utilising the soil conditioner to help support healthy plant growth.
As things stand, Malta is in early preparations to have a Waste to Energy plant established in Magħtab, nearby the current waste disposal site. This site – when finished – will be able to convert recyclable waste into energy, satisfying 4.5% on the nation’s energy demands.
However, it must be noted that this will not be able to fully satisfy Malta’s recycling rates or waste disposal issues.
4. Around the Globe
What has been perhaps the most important climate-related announcements of 2020 was Chinese President, Xi Jinping’s unexpected announcement of China’s aim to go fully carbon neutral – by 2060. It was this announcement, by a country which is responsible for 28% of the world’s emissions, that stunned people around the world.
Even if other countries did not follow China’s example, their commitment had been an unconditional one to all those that were gathered at September’s UN General Assembly.
China has not been the only country. Previously, the UK in June 2019, had become the first major economy in the world to make a legally binding carbon neutral commitment – followed by the EU in 2020.
In total, the UN estimates that over 110 countries have set some sort of net zero target for around 2050. In total, this represents more than 65% of global emissions and more than 70% of the world’s economy.
The election of Joe Biden in the United States (the biggest economy in the world) also ensures that they will most likely re-join climate agreements and enter carbon-cutting legislation – especially with the recent confirmation that the Democrats have secured both the House and Senate majorities.
All of these set the backdrop for a crucial climate conference that will be taking place in Glasgow in November 2021.
This climate conference will be the official successor to the landmark meeting in Paris 2015 which saw the Paris Climate Agreement be formed.
One of the main reasons why this is such a crucial forum for discussions about climate change though, is that is predecessor was the first time in history that virtually all nations of the world came together to discuss and agree upon a single topic.
However, it is important to note that currently most countries are very off track from the agreements they made in 2015.
The Paris Climate Agreement states that the world wants to avoid the worst impacts of Climate Change by keeping global temperatures at a maximum rise of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels as much as possible.
Projections based on current plans estimate that the world is expected to break through the 1.5C target within 12 years – or less. We are also projected to experience a 3C increase of temperature by the end of the century.
Malta’s current commitments are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 19% by 2030. Yet, given developments in the years since 2015, we are likely to see some sort of shift or change come November when Malta – alongside other countries – will be announcing what they shall be doing over the next five years.
What eco-technology do you want to see in Malta? Comment below!