For 2019, the Maldives has set the ambitious goal of implementing solar power projects in 82 of its close to 200 inhabited islands, effectively doubling power generation from renewable energy sources. Tasked with providing power to most of the country is State Electric Company Limited (STELCO), whose managing director Hassan Mughnee shares President Solih’s enthusiasm to make Maldives a champion of the environment. Here he explains his ambitions for STELCO and the power generation sector in the Maldives
In 1949, STELCO provided electricity to around 50 residences in Malé. Could you review the major milestones of STELCO’s growth over the years?
Now we are providing electricity to the majority of the country. We started with one small power station and now we have around 35 stations producing around 130 MW of power. Currently, we provide our services to approximately 52 percent of the population. STELCO provides to the whole Greater Malé region and some atolls. We have another utility company in the Maldives named Fenaka Corporation. They provide their services to the remaining islands.
The Maldives archipelago consists of around 200 inhabited islands. What are the main challenges to providing electricity to them all, and how is STELCO innovating to overcome them?
Geographically, the Maldives is scattered, and logistics are challenging. Air and sea transport costs are high compared to road transport. If there are problems with generator sets, we must sometimes use private transport to fetch spares from other islands. Yet each of our 200 inhabited islands has more than 10 independent communities, and they all have the basic necessary electricity infrastructure including power hubs. So we cannot have all duplicates on one island. We must transport them, and other things related to the electricity grid; therein lies a large challenge. Every island has a power station and electric grid. In the near future, I would like to look into connecting the islands via submarine cable, which could reduce our operating costs in the long term.
What are your key priorities for the near future?
Key priorities are to move towards electricity generated by solar and renewable energy and to harness technology to increase the efficiency of STELCO’s operations. New technologies for transmission and distribution of electricity are arriving regularly. They allow for efficient and centralised monitoring and controlling of the power that is fed into the grid. These technologies should be put in place at STELCO. Using a remote data system, we could see all the necessary information at our head office.
In February, STELCO announced plans to develop a solar centre for electricity generation. What opportunities could this present for investment from the UAE?
This is to be a solar service centre and is part of STELCO’s ‘green life’ project. It is in line with the government’s target of increasing renewable energy production in the Maldives. STELCO wants to provide services such as solar panel installation to whoever wants them, be it in domestic households or private islands. We already have staff engineers with experience in solar projects. It makes sense for us to make these services available to business and the general public. Minister of Environment Hussain Rasheed Hassan has said it was crucial for the Maldives to attract UAE investment in green energy expertise and technology. Certainly, investment is needed in this area. The UAE has a similar environment to the Maldives, with an equal amount of sunlight. So, technologies and techniques used in the Gulf, such as solar panels, inverters and battery storage systems, could also be used and would be welcome here. Battery systems, in particular, would be very useful to help raise the share of power generation coming from solar energy sources above 30 percent, which is where you start to get instability issues. For these, we would welcome investment.
How do you wish to enhance STELCO’s services through investment from Gulf countries?
STELCO is an engineering company in the energy sector. We intend to increase revenues and efficiency through technology. Using solar power is a major example. After this would come battery storage technologies, then transmission and distribution technologies, then interconnection. On the transmission and distribution side, we hope to increase efficiency by monitoring the energy used in different locations, as well as identifying and troubleshooting problems and energy leaks remotely. Technology will also open up opportunities to connect the islands and improve efficiency that way. Technology is always improving. By using new innovations, we will be able to reduce costs in the long term and positively impact the Maldivian population.
Where do you see STELCO in 10 years’ time?
I hope that we have transitioned to solar (or another form of renewable energy) generators from our current diesel generators. That is very important. We should set an example to the rest of the world that we can make this transition. We are always promoting environmental issues in global fora, so we need to walk the talk. The Maldives strives to become a role model for green energy countries.
What message would you like to give to people living and working in the Gulf?
The environment belongs to everyone. Though we are a very small country, we are focused on improving the global environment. We are trying our best to contribute with the resources currently at our disposal. With greater resources, we will make further progress and we can become an environmental champion.