As Minister for Energy and Water Management, what have you set as the most important objectives and policy priorities for your term in office?
We want to provide Malta’s citizens with affordable, sustainable and secure forms of energy. As a small island with limited resources, Malta depends on imported fossil fuels and has no natural gas distribution network. Therefore, consumers are heavily dependent on electricity for most of their energy needs. The present government has directed significant investment towards the overhaul of the power sector, which today relies on cleaner fuels and a higher share of renewable energy sources. This transformation was also essential to meet increasing electricity demand driven by economic growth, as well as to guarantee the desired level of resilience and provide affordable prices for consumers.
We want to invest further in the sector to build sufficient capacity in order to match the forecasted growth in electricity demand. We will remain committed towards achieving greater security of supply through the diversification of energy sources while reducing energy import dependency primarily through the deployment of indigenous renewable energy sources. Meanwhile, we will be supporting measures to increase energy efficiency. In addition, we will be closely monitoring the development of new renewable technologies as well as energy storage solutions, which will provide scope for increased installation of intermittent renewables and opportunities for peak demand saving.
In the water sector, sustainable water management is at the top of our political agenda. Our national water policies will continue to focus on the augmentation of supply, while ensuring the sustainable use of natural freshwater resources. The utilisation of non-conventional water resources is a key aspect of Malta’s water policy, with investments in sustainable desalination, water distribution, water re-use and the harvesting of rainwater being key initiatives aimed at broadening the national water resources base. Other aspects, including water conservation and awareness, as well as the management of groundwater abstraction, are also priorities for us.
Malta completely overhauled its generation infrastructure and shifted generation from oil to gas. A new power station, including a floating storage unit and a regasification facility, has been constructed.
Can you give us a brief overview of Malta’s current energy mix?
Nowadays, Malta has in place a diversified energy mix. Over the past five years, Malta has transformed its energy mix used for electricity generation from one based on heavy fuel oil and gasoil to a more sustainable energy mix based on natural gas, electricity imports and renewables. This transition to a cleaner energy mix was only possible as a result of significant private investment in the power sector, which included the replacement of ageing power generation units with efficient gas-fired turbines supplied by an LNG facility.
In addition, a recently built 149MW power plant, which comprises eight diesel engines, has been converted to run on natural gas instead of heavy fuel oil. Four of these engines can also run on diesel oil as a fall-back, a feature sought to contribute towards the desired level of security of supply. In parallel, a 200MW electricity interconnector linking Malta to the European grid via Sicily was inaugurated in 2015. The interconnector contributes to the robustness of the electricity system and strengthens Malta’s security of supply. Further to this, Malta is eying the construction of a pipeline linking Malta to the Trans-European gas network.
The developments in the generation sector have resulted in significant primary energy savings and in substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Investments in the power generation sector were guided by the “Energy Efficiency first principle” and indeed managed to increase the overall conversion efficiency from 25-30% to more than 50%.
A new control centre formed part of a €5 million Enemalta investment to upgrade Malta's national electricity distribution system.
What role are renewable energies playing in Malta’s present and future energy mix?
We are fully aware of growing environmental concerns, and in line with Europe’s objective to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, Malta has implemented a series of policy objectives to increase the use of renewable energy sources. Solar radiation is very predictable and stable in the country; therefore, our strategy for renewables has long been focused on promoting solar technologies, and we are now including energy storage solutions to maximise the potential of renewables.
We are also envisaging the further development of photovoltaic installations, increasing the capacity from around 150MW to over 260MW by 2030. This is being done with the help of several ongoing government schemes that support households and industries by incentivising investment in renewable energy sources. Current measures include grants for households which invest in solar PV, solar water heaters or heat pump water heaters as well as Feed-in Tariffs for solar PV. One scheme specifically addresses voluntary organisations, which can benefit from a free solar PV installation, whereas households may benefit from an additional grant if they complement their domestic PV system with battery storage.
Government has also put in place an obligation on fuel importers to blend biofuels. This ensures that a percentage of road fuels include green fuels. Notwithstanding our efforts, Malta’s renewable potential is somewhat restricted by the island’s geophysical characteristics, high population density and limited space. Our future plans will surely take technological and cost developments into account, which could present cost-effective solutions for the island’s decarbonisation.
Between 2014 and 2018, the country’s electricity demand increased by 20%. How do you project energy consumption to rise in the next five years and how prepared is Malta to meet increased demand?
Our projections forecast a sustained increase in demand driven by economic growth and net inward migration. The recent overhaul of the power sector, as well as significant investment in our distribution network and fuel storage infrastructure, provide a solid base on which to further develop our energy system. We certainly expect a higher penetration of renewables over the next 10 years. However, we also need to ensure that we can still supply energy when the sun does not shine. We are therefore looking to holistic solutions, which will enable the decarbonisation of the sector while ensuring the desired level of security of supply. An Electricity Supply Study is currently underway, and results are expected by the end of this year. The study will also provide an analysis of the impact of further increasing renewable energy capacity, particularly large-scale installations, renewable storage, dispatching and curtailment.
In the 1980s, Malta invested in its first reverse osmosis plant. Today, the Malta Water Services Corporation operates several plants across the island.
The Maltese climate is predicated to become more arid in the future. Can you tell us more about Government’s long-term plans for Malta’s water infrastructure and management?
Malta faces semi-arid climatic conditions, and hence preparedness for water scarcity has long been at the forefront of national policies. In fact, Malta already introduced membrane desalination of sea-water on a commercial scale to supplement municipal water supply in the early 1980s.
Our policies today focus on the conjunctive use of water demand management and water supply augmentation measures. In particular, I would like to highlight the New Water programme led by the Water Services Corporation, which aims to provide reclaimed water for safe use in agricultural irrigation and industry. We believe it is also important to raise public awareness of water as a precious, limited resource. In the beginning of September of 2019 ‘Water – Be the Change’, was launched to educate consumers on the optimised and efficient use of water resources. This National Water Conservation Campaign will run for a period of three years targeting the domestic, commercial and agricultural sectors.
In terms of infrastructure, the Water Services Corporation is continuing with the implementation of a major project titled ‘Towards a Net Zero-Impact Utility’, which is partly funded by the EU. This consists of a number of separate projects each contributing to substantially increase the quality of tap water, reduce carbon emissions, increase efficiencies and safeguard Malta’s groundwater resources.
"We are also envisaging the further development of photovoltaic installations, increasing the capacity from around 150MW to over 260MW by 2030," says Minister Michael Farrugia.
Looking to the future, how do you believe Malta’s water management and energy mix will evolve in the coming three to five years?
In the energy sector, we will closely monitor progress in the development of alternative technologies such as floating solar and wind farms. In the meantime, we expect more of our energy to be sourced from mature renewable technologies. However, we must look at how we want our mix to develop in the long term. Decisions on infrastructure projects have long-term impacts, typically lasting 30 years, or even longer. In other words, new investments need to be future proof and fully cognisant of the national and EU decarbonisation objectives. We know that there shall be a clear shift towards electrification, both in the transport as well as in the heating and cooling sectors. As stated earlier, Malta is currently carrying out a holistic study on its future power system, and this will assist the government to make informed decisions on how best to reach our objectives.
In the water sector, we will continue working on lowering energy use for the provision of water services by investing and upgrading production and wastewater treatment plants as well as water distribution and wastewater collection networks. From an environmental point of view, we will continue reducing the dependence on natural groundwater resources through the development of additional non-conventional water resources, thus reducing the pressure on natural freshwater resources. Finally, from a consumer’s point of view, these projects and initiatives will result in improved quality and taste of drinking water provided through the municipal water distribution system.