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Energy

Sunny Malta struggles with energy shortfall

For southern European countries like Malta, the sun is a blessing and a curse at the same time. The resulting tourists boost the economy but also increase energy consumption. The sun itself could be the solution.

Alex Halul may have one of the most environmentally-friendly apartments in all of Malta. He recently painted his roof white, to reflect heat rather than absorb it, and has also rigged up a shading system to keep sun off the building. In addition, he's just invested in new air-conditioners.

"I recently found new air-conditioning inverters were on the market. They are about two or three times the normal price," says Halul, who lives in a large apartment in the Maltese city of Siema. "But, at least they run efficiently."

When prompted, Halul also knows the exact cost of a kilowatt hour of electricity in Malta currently. It's about three times the cost of that in Germany, he says.

Growing awareness

"This energy awareness started a few years back, in 2008, when electricity prices suddenly increased and people started to look for ways to reduce their energy bill," says Charles Yousif, a Maltese energy researcher and engineer. Yousif has been working in the energy business in Malta for more than 20 years.

The energy researcher says that electricity prices for households in Malta can be as high as 69 euro cents per kilowatt hour ($0.92).

In the summer months, northern Europeans flock to Malta for its sunny weather and beautiful beaches. The island though, like many others in the Mediterranean, is dependent on imports of fossil fuels to generate the electricity needed to cater for the influx in people. Thousands of hotel air conditioners on the island push up energy usage.

Natural gas focus

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat arrives for the second day of the European Council meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels on June 28, 2013. (Photo credit THIERRY CHARLIER/AFP/Getty Images)

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat's government wants to drop power costs across Malta

The government utility EnerMalta has been advising residents to switch off their air conditioners and change to more efficient light bulbs to help the situation. Yousif says the organization is now turning to natural gas.

"The plan of the new government is to transfer all of the electricity generation power plants to natural gas within the next two years," said Yousif. "By doing so, efficiency will be improved and also the amount of carbon dioxide emissions will be reduced by at least 30%."

The Maltese government, which was elected in March this year, has also promised to reduce household electricity bills by 20%, which will be no easy task with rising gas prices in Europe.

Going alternative

The falling costs of wind and solar energy, means that renewable electricity generation is becoming an option on the island however. Alternative energy companies are already starting to set up business here.

"From the research I've done, of all the European countries, Malta has got one of the top two tariffs and grants out there for solar installations," says Chris Pimperton from Green Energy Power solutions, a British-based company. When the Maltese government continued a scheme to encourage solar photovoltaics in March, his company was keen to get involved.

"The government gives 2,500 euros ($3,340) towards the cost of solar installation. Also, for every kilowatt hour the consumer generates, they will get paid 0.22 euro cents ($.29) for a total of six years," Pimperton said.

Sun on a solar panel
Photo: Franz Metelec

Malta is lagging in its renewable energy goals, but government subsidies may help

The grants are also part of a bigger issue. When Malta became a full member of the European Union in 2004, it committed to the target of generating 10% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2020, and it's currently way behind schedule.

Doubts ahead

With its sunny climate, solar appears to be the country's main renewable energy hope. Due to Malta's high population density, there's little room to spare for big wind turbine installations and biomass gas from newly constructed landfill facilities will take some time to establish.

Although educational programs to promote energy efficiency have been launched this year in Malta, energy expert Charles Yousif is concerned that local consumers still don't care enough. He fears that may continue to be the case if electricity prices are brought down.

Local Alex Halul says the government needs to take the lead.

"I would expect the authorities to say things like, 'listen, you are only allowed to switch on your air conditioning unit when the temperature is higher than 26 degrees'," Halul told DW.

"Otherwise, as a country, we are just going to spend way too much money on energy."

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