What future energy mix for the world?

It is the duty of the national authorities to ensure that vested interests based more on prejudice and ‘rent-seeking’ rather than on technical/technological rationale do not come in the way of Mauritius’s movement towards the use of cleaner energy

One of the main reasons for looking for alternatives to fossil fuel, which means mostly petrol, is that it is known to produce greenhouse gas which causes global warming. A growing world population – which has already exceeded 7 billion human beings – needs more and more energy, and the more fossil fuel is used by our expanding human activities, the greater is the global warming. Scientists and other stakeholders have therefore been trying to find sources of renewable energy, which is generally defined as energy that comes from resources which are continually replenished on a human timescale such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat.

A Wikipedia entry estimates that about 16% of global final energy consumption comes from renewable resources (although, in its ‘The World in 2014’, The Economist puts this figure at only 4%), with 10% all energy from traditional biomass, mainly used for heating, and 3.4% from hydroelectricity. New renewables (small hydro, modern biomass, wind, solar, geothermal, and biofuels) accounted for another 3% and are growing rapidly. The share of renewables in electricity generation is around 19%, with 16% of electricity coming from hydroelectricity and 3% from new renewables.

While many renewable energy projects are large-scale, renewable technologies are also suited to rural and remote areas, where energy is often crucial in human development. This feature – suitability for rural and remote areas – makes renewable energy production at local level an interesting proposition, and that may well give it an edge over other types of energy.

Further, we read that ‘a comprehensive 2008 cost-benefit analysis review was conducted of sustainable energy sources and usage combinations in the context of global warming and other dominating issues; it ranked wind power generation combined with battery electric vehicles (BEV) and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs) as the most efficient. Wind was followed by concentrated solar power (CSP), geothermal power, tidal power, photovoltaic, wave power, hydropower coal capture and storage (CCS), nuclear energy, and lastly biofuel energy sources.

It states: “In sum, use of wind, CSP, geothermal, tidal, PV, wave, and hydro to provide electricity for BEVs and HFCVs and, by extension, electricity for the residential, industrial, and commercial sectors, will result in the most benefit among the options considered. The combination of these technologies should be advanced as a solution to global warming, air pollution, and energy security. Coal-CCS and nuclear offer less benefit thus represent an opportunity cost loss, and the biofuel options provide no certain benefit and the greatest negative impacts,” according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable_energy – cite_note-jacobson2009-7 Jacobson, Mark Z. (2009): “Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security” – Energy and Environmental Science (Royal Society of Chemistry). The general conclusions of this analysis are still valid.

It is well known that we are far behind our next door neighbour Reunion in the use of solar power, and it is in this context that we must view the energy supply agreement signed between the CEB and Sarako, the joint Mauritian-German project under way at Bambous, to produce electricity from photovoltaic panels as an important step towards energy independence. Along with other agreements with international firms to supply solar and wind power, the island now expects to have a total renewable energy capacity of 60 MW connected to its grid by 2015. These renewable energy projects would play a significant role in reducing the island’s dependence on imported fossil fuel, but even as we move towards greater use of renewable energy a case can be made for a fossil fuel-based backup which is essential in case solar and wind energy resources are not available.

Islands around the world are working on renewable energy and energy efficiency projects to increase self-sufficiency in the energy sector. Mauritius also needs to increase the share of renewable energy in its energy mix. Between 2000 and 2010, the share of fossil fuels in the country’s primary energy mix increased from 74% to 83%. During this period, the share of hydropower and biomass energy fell significantly.

Following the unrest at Bambous after the rains, the situation is now stable and quiet. It may be noted that there has never been any stop order, it was false news being diffused. The attempt at stopping the project through the strategy of ‘trial by press’ has failed. It seems that there is only one counsellor at the District Council who is alleged to be motivated by an opposition party to try to stop the project. There have been visits from NDU, Water Resources Unit, Ministry of Environment and Chief Executive of District Council and engineers from local authorities, and the Ministry of Housing. No one has seen or reported any anomaly regarding the construction works.

Besides, there are around 38 illegal shelters, and a total of 130 persons in that area. 30-35 persons are working on the site with the German counterpart, after they had received a small training on panel installation; others are working as watchmen and helpers. After the rains, Sarako talked to the authorities to provide them a roof for one night at the social centre, and it provided a hot meal and drinks for around 150 people. The next day Sarako made more provision for food as some squatters claimed to have lost all their monthly provision with the floodwater.

As per the EIA licence, last week a detailed hydrological survey report was submitted for approval to the Ministry of Energy and 90% of the recommendations have been implemented already. As for the drains near the squatter area, the works have started and almost complete. Much more than was budgeted is being spent because most ‘illegal constructions’ are on the natural water drainage. Ways are being found, and more drains are being put so as not to take any risk with any future surge of waters. The site construction will be completed shortly, though 5 days of loss were caused by bad weather and agitations.

The price of the electricity will be a very competitive one and is fixed for 20 years. There is a possibility of scaling up and if the CEB Grid can take more renewable energy Sarako is ready to invest.

There is no denying that Mauritius needs renewable energy, for an island like ours we should have more PV farms. It’s a paradox that, in Germany they have sunlight for 3-4 months a year and yet they are still investing massively in PV but in Mauritius we have the sun everyday and we are not optimising enough this free source of energy.

Maurice Ile Durable has been too long in gestation, and so far we are only making baby steps in the introduction of measures to fulfil this objective. Any intervention in this direction, as long as it complies with the fundamentals of technical and regulatory requirements, is to be welcomed and encouraged. It is the duty of the national authorities to ensure that vested interests based more on prejudice and ‘rent-seeking’ rather than on technical/technological rationale – which can be the subject of serious and informed debate – do not come in the way of Mauritius’s movement towards the use of cleaner energy, which clearly Sarako is doing.

 


* Published in print edition on 13 December 2013

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