11 July 2007

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Business Today

Malta Today



George M. Mangion

Making the world greener

We feel belated solidarity with former US Vice-President Al .Gore congratulating him on keeping his promise to hold Live Earth concerts in favour of a cleaner planet held on seven continents on the date “7/7/7”.
Many of the world’s biggest pop stars performed at Live Earth concerts around the globe last week to try to persuade fans and governments to go green.
Tens of thousands of people poured into venues in Sydney, Tokyo, Shanghai and Hamburg to hear Linkin Park, Rihanna, Shakira, Crowded House, Kumi Koda and others.
Genesis, Razorlight and Snow Patrol kicked off the event at London’s Wembley Stadium, leading a star-studded cast there including Madonna, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Spinal Tap, who played before a large crowd.
Live Earth hopes to reach up to two billion people through radio, television and the Internet. Songs were interspersed with short videos about climate change and how to slow it.
Locally we also organised concerts at the Qawra Point Green Village with a guest singer Marco Masini and local singers including Olivia Lewis. This has helped cement the concept that global warming is happening and our duty is towards reducing carbon emissions .Yet, critics lament that the common people feel helpless in providing a personal solution .We all contribute to global warming every day on our polluted roads. The carbon dioxide we produce by driving our car and leaving the lights on adds up quickly. Many are surprised by how much Co2 we are emitting each year in these islands. Scientists define carbon footprint as a measure of the amount of carbon dioxide or CO2 emitted through the combustion of fossil fuels; in the case of an Delimara & Marsa power plants, or heavy industries such as drydocks etc, as part of their everyday operations.
Critics lament that since the building of Delimara power station in the late eighties, very little has been invested in alternative energy sources, albeit University studies were commissioned on evaluating the feasibility of wind power. The total dependence on burning fossil fuel is palpable, particularly in the case of the older Marsa power station, which was once touted for closure, but is still seen belching obnoxious fumes in a densely populated location. It is true to say that Marsa power station was a worse offender when it was run on coal, but converting it to run on lower sulphur fuel oil still carries its heavy carbon footprint. On a positive note, Enemalta is trying to spread awareness on photovoltaic systems with a demonstration system. One augurs that PV systems proliferate as raw energy from a PV panel can be fed into the national grid using an inverter.
More good news follows the appointment in Government departments of a Green Leader for every ministry, yet so far very few multi-national companies operating locally have someone who is responsible for their environmental policy. In the absence of an unequivocal energy policy it is not surprising that the amount of bureaucracy is hindering progress. Applicants wanting to install alternative energy devices had to wade through before the system could get off the ground. There is a long and winding road when it comes to face MEPA for a renewable energy permit.
Concurrently we note that
Dr Gonzi’s objective to construct offshore wind farms poses an insurmountable problem due to the disproportionate depth of Maltese waters. Sadly the deep water offshore wind farm idea has been shelved, and rumour has it that promoters are looking for an onshore solution again.
As an alternative Dr Gonzi said the government had already taken the decision to connect to the EU electricity grid, through a new submarine cable between Malta and Sicily. Financial feasibility studies are being completed in order to determine whether Malta should also tap specific EU funds for this project.
But being a small island can we be spared the additional cost to go green? Surely our footprint is negligible compared to all EU members. There is no sparing us drinking the poisoned chalice.
It is no consolation that the ex-communist countries still rely on their energy by burning coal-fired power plants. Here we note that Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary are among EU member states resisting binding targets forcing them to invest heavily in renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power. Poland, the Czech Republic and other Eastern European nations argue that they cannot afford to invest in costly alternative sources such as wind, solar or hydroelectric power, and prefer to stay with cheaper, but more polluting options such as coal. Reverting back to our shores,
seeing that the damage to our own environment is tangible,
many ask whose responsibility is it to reverse it? Bureaucracy does not help matters. MEPA would process the planning permit, then the Malta Resources Authority has to be notified about technical information for the typical wind turbine being installed and details of the warranted electrical engineer certifying the installation.
With controversies hitting regulators such as MEPA nobody wishes to add to their besieged state. Yet, up to now, MEPA has made no distinction between domestic, commercial or rural applications for wind turbines. Currently domestic wind turbines require a full development permit. It is understandable that due to the noise factor certain wind turbines are simply not suitable for mounting next to residential areas. But the technology of domestic micro-turbines has vastly reduced noise levels. These can be mounted in residential or factory premises. Micro-wind turbines of up to 2 kilowatt would generate from 1,000 up to 3,000 kilowatt hours a year. Even at the lower scale of turbines the installation on a national scale could still make a noticeable change to our carbon footprint. Wind turbines at a set wind speed can generate different amounts of electricity at varying wind speeds. Typically we note how efficient wind turbines installed in Britain range at anything up to 60 kW output.
Then we are lucky to be graced by another government-funded authority such as MRA who have extensive studies on the renewable energy we can generate.
In 2005 the Malta Resources Authority (MRA) bluntly told the EU that the five per cent national indicative target as agreed by 2010 could not be met. Instead MRA conceded that they afford to go down to a figure of less than one per cent. Within such limitations , one may well ask if MRA is conscious of its duty to educate consumers on calculating their individual carbon footprint ? MRA is the agency responsible to issue an renewable energy policy and one hopes that citizens are better educated on how to reduce their carbon footprint.
For the sake of clarity let us define “carbon footprint “. A carbon footprint is often expressed as tons of carbon dioxide or tons of carbon emitted, usually on a yearly basis. There are many versions of calculators available for carbon foot printing but the safest one is the measure related to the amount of natural resources consumed, increasingly used or referred to as a measure of environmental impact. Carbon dioxide is recognized as a greenhouse gas, of which increasing levels in the atmosphere are linked to global warming and climate change. So is there a plausible way on how to counterbalance one’s own carbon emissions?
The lobbyists tell us to cut down on flying, particularly long distances. One can then purchase “off-sets” from sellers who claim they will use your money to neutralize or off-set your personal CO2 emissions – by planting trees or supporting wind/solar energy systems. The damage done is non irreversible but we can slow it down in the future.
Quoting Al Gore, he wants Live Earth viewers to pressure leaders to sign a new treaty in the next two years that would cut global warming pollution by 90 per cent in rich nations and more than half worldwide by 2050.
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi admitted that the binding targets will not be easy to meet, but he added that Malta was determined to give its fair share in the fight against global warming. Let’s hope we start in earnest.

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