Last Updated on Sunday, 19 September, 2021 at 8:48 am by Andre Camilleri
George M. Mangion is a partner in PKF, an audit and business advisory firm
Imagine how Malta in the Bronze Age must have been covered with greenery, vast forests of shrubs and indigenous trees that provided shelter and sustenance to our ancestors.
Fast forward to the 21st century and we pride ourselves of having built almost 35% of the land, sometimes with buildings of dubious architecture and some very spartan. Millions of euros were made since Independence by speculators who acquired cheap public land from erstwhile governments. The latter argued that by trading such prime land the curse of mass unemployment will be mitigated. Vast parts of the village core were allocated to buildings such as churches, convents, cloisters, auberges, parade grounds and military structures. All these made way for top agricultural land being dug and trees fell by the hundreds. The latest drive to widen roads and build super highways may look beneficial for motorists and the planting and upkeep of indigenous trees is a bonus. Needless to say, when such trees mature they release oxygen, trap particulates on their foliage, serve as a replacement of older trees felled to make way for roads.
Back to climate change, we notice that concentrations of carbon dioxide in the Mediterranean have increased along with the atmospheric distortion which is giving us colder winters and higher humidity in summers. All lines of evidence make it unequivocal that increase in carbon dioxide concentrations is human-induced and is predominantly a result of accelerated fossil fuel burning. It is a fact, that greenhouse gases when controlled can serve a useful purpose that is to absorb infrared radiation from the sun and re-emit it in all directions. This natural greenhouse effect results in the creation of water vapour and carbon dioxide functions like a shield to protect the Earth surface from harmful sun rays. Pierce the shield and the surface temperature would be intolerable.
We also have the problem of a gradual rise in sea levels. It is estimated that over this century, we will encounter sea-level rise of between 0.18 and 0.69m. It goes without saying that any sea-level rise will adversely impact our economy. One may observe that awareness in Malta of the benefits of using clean technology has not yet sunk; in that the massive private investment by the controversial Electrogas generating plant runs on fossil fuel.
So the argument follows that as expensive electric cars replace diesel/petrol units there will be need for more electricity, ergo massive burning of fossil fuel at Electrogas. Sadly, Malta has so far been a laggard in solar energy generation. One may question if modern PV technology is becoming more effective. Recently, research in PV technology has been making giant steps by testing new prototypes made of semiconductor materials, such as silicon which due to their properties makes them highly conductive and in turn scientists are discovering ingenious ways how to capture the energy of the sun and convert it to electricity through an inverter.
In Malta, simply fitting more panels on rooftops looks easy but the demographic and geographic characteristics of the island create issues of spatial planning, given that space is limited with a high population density reaching 8,155 people per square kilometre. The recent drive to cover arable land with PV panels is questionable.
But it is not all doom and gloom. Having started from zero in 1995 there has been a huge leap in the number of rooftop installations to date. Official statistics indicate that PV has grown at an average yearly rate of 35% from 1995 to 2005 (1,8 kW to 40 kW) and of 63% between 2005 and 2010. Ask any architect and he will point out that spatial planning is hindered by the limitation of open areas where to fit extensive renewable energy systems (RES). These often clash with other planning needs and for this reason large-scale RES installations are not practical in Malta (unless experiments to link floating sea panels prove doable).
In conclusion, the energetic energy minister Dr Miriam Dalli, while admitting defeat in the race for renewable energy, courageously soldiers on. Miracles have to wait while our youths have taken to the streets to voice their anger against perceived inaction to reach EU goals.