01 Apr Ambitious Mauritius building its renewable energy capabilities from grassroots up
Oomeshwar Sewtohul, Acting Director, Energy Efficiency Management Office, talks about the multi-pronged approach to making green energy a priority
The country aims to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by the end of this decade. What is the country’s current energy mix? And what are the strategies in place to decarbonize?
The energy mix of the country comprises coal, diesel and gasoline, as well as heavy fuel and kerosene—the primary fossil fuels. Some 13.3% of the country’s primary energy needs come from local resources, with 86.7% being imported fossil fuels; needed in order to meet the energy needs of the country. In the electrical sector, 23.9% of the energy needs come from renewable resources. The leading one is bagasse (sugarcane pulp used as biomass fuel), photovoltaic, hydro, wind and landfill gas.
The 2021/22 budget, presented in July, made decarbonization and the green energy transition a focal point for public investments. How do you evaluate the government’s investments in sustainable energy? What major investments are being made to drive forward Mauritius’ goals for renewable energy and decarbonization?
Indeed, the 2021/22 budget has presented the green industry as key economic driver, even though some $4.5 million is already spent on imports on fossil fuels. Now is an opportunity to substitute these imports with renewable energy. There are renewable energy schemes for households, businesses and SMEs, such as the provision of solar water heaters to households and a concessionary loan to enable households to purchase solar kits for domestic use.
In terms of investment, over the next three years there will be a number of initiatives and projects. To raise the absorption capacity of renewable energy, the Central Electricity Board (CEB) has planned the introduction of Battery Energy Storage Systems on its network which will balance the fluctuation of the variable renewable energy and also cope better with the intermittency of renewable energy on the grid.
We have a center for training in renewable energy and energy efficiency: the “Centre de Formation et Perfectionnement Professionel”, which operates under the CEB. At the level of the Mauritius Agency for Renewable Energy (MARENA), which itself operates under the aegis of the Ministry of Energy and Public Utilities, there are several projects for training students in renewable energy because we have to build the capacity at a local level.
Solar and wind projects are increasingly becoming a larger part of Mauritius’ energy portfolio. Can you tell us about the major projects that will aid Mauritius in diversifying away from fossil fuels? What about hydropower and investment opportunities in these emerging sectors? What is your expectation for the future of renewables in the country?
The Energy Efficiency Management Office (EEMO) was established in 2011 under the Energy Efficiency Act, as the national regulator for energy efficiency and with the purpose of systematizing the government’s response to energy management. Its existence and mandate serve as useful starting points for energy efficiency in the country.
Our objective is to promote national awareness for the efficient use of energy, in order to reduce carbon emissions and protect the environment. Reducing the growth in energy demand is essential in order to help renewables attain a larger share in the energy mix. Part of our job is to establish procedures to monitor energy efficiency and consumption.
The national renewable roadmap is being reviewed in light of the fact that the government has the ambition of reaching 60% renewable energy in the electricity mix by 2030.
The CEB will allow more renewable on its grid. For that they are increasing the amount of battery storage. The CEB will also launch a Request for Proposal to set up a 40 MW wind farm. They also have a project of setting a 10 MW solar farm in Tamarind Falls. A detailed feasibility study will be carried out on the implementation of offshore windfarms and for the setting up of mini hydro power plants. The Net Billing Project will also be implemented.
The CEB will allow for integrated green energy projects, combining the use of biomass, wind and solar energy, and will also allow companies and individuals to provide renewable energy directly to the CEB.
The implementation of the biomass framework will have several positive impacts on the economy. Bagasse is now the main contributor but there is potential to use also cane trash and find out how more energy can be extracted from this source.
Micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises can benefit enormously from using energy more efficiently. How do you build capacity to start-ups and entrepreneurs in this goal, in order to increase competitiveness and profitability? What key strategies have you put in place to aid MSMEs?
In the past years, we have put much emphasis on the development of the SME sector. SMEs contribute largely to 40% of the GDP of the country and 55% of employment. There have been a number of financial initiatives which has been put in place to support SMEs.
In terms of energy efficiency, we are aware of the need for SMEs to be more competitive, to be empowered, to be able to control the energy consumption and better manage their energy use. Improving their energy efficiency is a key way to increase their profitability and competitiveness but they lack time, resources and information. A study has been carried out to find out how they are using energy from the end-use and create updated data. Following this survey, we will be able to deliver training to those SMEs that are interested so that they can be made aware of opportunities and adopt energy efficiency measures to save energy. This is a start. The next step would be to use the information to develop guidelines for energy conservation and energy efficiency for SMEs.
Recent geopolitical considerations have reshaped how many of us think about energy supply. What strategies do you have to mitigate the risks of the global energy market, both in terms price volatility as well as the security of supply?
Our office, the Energy Efficiency Management Office, had attended meetings at the level of the Ministry of Finance, where a working group has been set to address this issue. We are actively contributing to the needs of the committee. We have already submitted measures, which, in our point of view, reap benefits. We have to ramp up awareness for the public and also have identified measures to find ways of providing incentives for people to take energy efficient technologies, because energy efficiency and technology are very close lines. The use of new technology is a key enabler for energy efficiency. As an example when you compare two technologies for fans, you can have an immediate saving of around 40%. We are trying to push forward to shift to this energy, and we have already worked in the banning of incandescent lamps. It is soon to be enacted. We are targeting using new technologies to be able to meet our energy demands by reducing energy consumption.
Mauritius has started to implement the use of electric vehicles in the country. As its stands today, what are the biggest obstacles in adopting this technology? What are your growth projections for the sector over the next 10 to 15 years?
In 2019, we had around 200 electric vehicles and in 2020 we had over 600. The global trend is to move towards electric vehicles. At the level of the local market, all major manufacturers are already providing a wide, much-improved range of models. Several measures have already been taken in this regard: a time-of-use tariff to allow electric-vehicle owners to benefit from advantageous off-peak electricity rates for charging their vehicles, and the ability to implement a renewable-energy charging plant on your premises and deduct this investment from your income tax among them. We are sure the new generation will shift towards this way of transport.
Another measure was carried out for mass transport; the Ministry of Finance has phased out the subsidy for the importation of diesel buses and is increasing it for electric buses; the government is putting a lot of effort into this transition.
Mauritius being a small economy, there is an issue with the recycling of batteries. Various solutions have been proposed to tackle the issue; for instance, providing battery storage that enables the grid to accommodate more renewable energy resources. We currently have the concept of vehicle-to-grid but are moving towards making the grid smart. It’s fundamental and will pose a great opportunity to be able to use our efforts to date in shifting huge reserves of battery storage on the grid.
How have you been adapting new technologies so far? Can you tell us about any exciting data technologies that are coming to the market in the sector?
Since no specific standard has been set to date, it’s all been market-driven. But there is a lot of potential: the smart grid, consumer appliances with smart functions, and even peak shaving. In Mauritius, we have noted that the peak occurs mostly in the afternoon during summer. There is the potential to shave this peak by delaying the turn on of air conditioners to avoid the peak demand period. The development of a smart grid, coupled with the availability of such technological features, has the potential to maximize energy savings through active demand side management.
We are also aiming at providing an information center for the large energy consumers to guide these consumers with tailor made solutions to improve energy efficiency. Given that the Office has limited human resources we are try to find out how to use AI to provide tailored solutions to a larger number of energy consumers.
Do you have any final comments for the readers of Newsweek?
The creation of the green energy industry is a great opportunity for investors to come to Mauritius, and they should make the most of it. We have made ambitious commitments, as seen by our Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted for COP26 which are in the electricity sector where we aim to reach 60% of renewables and a total phasing out of coal by 2030.
The EEMO is already implementing a number of projects to increase energy efficiency by 10% by 2030 and we are striving to meet these targets. We look forward to being provided with the financial and technical support promised under COP26. We are expecting this support to be made available to Mauritius so we can even make more progress in our ambitions to decarbonize our economy and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, while also improving the energy security of our country.