When it comes to renewable energy, is Seychelles still too fossilized in its thinking? | 24 November 2020
Seychelles still has a high dependence on fuel for energy at over 95%. Investment in renewable energy has been limited. Technical difficulties with the grid and regulatory bureaucracy has failed to facilitate progress on this, leaving us far behind the rest of the world.
Most governments are taking aggressive steps to transition their countries to clean renewable energy. Norway is banning petrol cars in 48 months i.e. by 2025 and will provide free charging stations for electric vehicles. India has the largest solar farm on land. China has the largest floating panels on water. Iceland has done the impossible and gone on a 100% renewable grid. By comparison, Seychelles gets barely 2.5% from renewable energy as per the last published figures.
Why should we care?
Whether it’s the generators at Roche Caiman or a Tata bus spewing black fumes, anything that uses fuels pollutes the environment, and this accelerates climate change, leading to issues like coastal flooding where road ways, businesses and homes on the coast get affected.
Also, the country spends millions of dollars importing fuel to generate electricity and to run vehicles. Using renewable energy would translate into less demand for fuel, which would reduce pressure on the forex. Renewable energy is also a whole sector by itself that can lead to job creation for our youth. The return on investment is indisputable when calculated in terms of environmental, financial and social benefits.
What can Seychelles do?
Being a tropical country, there is enormous potential to harness solar energy. We get an average of 2500 hours of sun annually. If every rooftop had a PV panel to generate electricity, many homes and businesses would not even pay electricity bills and this would lower the cost of living. The solar farm at Romainville due to be commissioned 10 months ago was supposed to provide free electricity to 400 homes. Even with this, we are still nowhere near the target of 15% renewable energy by 2030.
Waste to Energy
Simply put, the landfill emits gas which can be converted into energy. The country is said to produce 70000 tonnes of waste annually, half of which is organic and can be converted to bioenergy with a waste to energy plant. Local bodies are still evaluating proposals submitted in 2011 for biogas plants and gasifiers. 10 years and three landfill fires later, we still have not implemented effective waste management solutions.
Electric buses and cars are growing increasingly popular. A few months ago, the Minister for Finance had said that all new government vehicles would be electric. This was a step in the right direction. Solutions can be provided for fast charging from solar energy. Car agencies that sell petrol vehicles would be impacted but they have to catch up and evolve. Car manufacturers all over the world are anyway changing their product lines to electric vehicles, as more countries set targets to ban petrol cars. However, the Ministry of Finance seem to be more concerned with loss of import duties from fuel and petrol/diesel vehicles impacting their budget. This is a short sighted view and with renewable energy, the government benefits in the long term from keeping money in the country. Other stakeholders also have to take responsibility, like banks should give loans only for electric vehicles and private companies should have longer term plans to convert their fleet to electric.
What are the drawbacks?
Investment in renewable energy infrastructure is expensive. Batteries are required to store the energy generated during the day to provide electricity at night. Climate, geography and landscape also plays a part on what kind of technology will work.
There are solutions to this. Technology is improving at a rapid pace and new innovations are on the horizon. Cost of PV panels has reduced significantly and they are also low maintenance. There are also an increasing range of financing and leasing options. Where there is a will, there is a way.
So what is government’s role?
Seychelles has done countless studies, and put masterplans and energy policies on paper, all of which are yet to translate into any meaningful action.
Internationally, it has signed agreements, made commitments and set goals. Domestically, it is a different story. There have been a few fiscal incentives in the form of tax rebates and low interest loans for households installing panels but restrictions on electricity uptake to the grid has been a major barrier and has indirectly discouraged private investment in renewable energy.
Grid constraints has been a constant hurdle from the get go and it is not clear if there were sufficient efforts to upgrade over the past several years. An article published in February 2020 suggested that the utility corporation loses revenue from houses and businesses if PV systems were installed, and, thus lacks incentives.
Studies have also detailed what government needs to do:
- Remove regulatory roadblocks
- Improve framework
- Increase technical knowledge
- Seek international funding
- Engage public private partnerships
- Create awareness among the public
- Offer incentives
But the studies left out one critical requirement – More progressive leadership at the helm of the relevant bodies to act in the overall benefit of the country. We need a forward-thinking driving force to take good proposals on paper and turn it into actual Kilowatts.
For now, we are far from the speed and scale we require for renewable energy to make any significant impact. Seychelles has a choice to either be the pioneer for small island developing states (Sids) in sustainable renewable energy or to just pass the problem on to the next generation. Which will it be?
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Seychelles NATION newspaper.