Seychelles makes ‘green’ push for energy independence

AFP, VICTORIA

Mon, Jul 01, 2013 - Page 15

On two islands surrounded by deep turquoise water, the blades of eight wind turbines spin, providing a rare source of “green” energy for the port of Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles.

The popular tourist archipelago far out in the Indian Ocean is almost entirely dependent on imported fossil fuels for power, but is now embracing renewable energy.

The new wind farm opened last month with funding from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development and has a total capacity of 6 megawatts, enough to power about 2,000 houses in Mahe — the main island of the Seychelles, which is home to 70,000 people, about 90 percent of the total population.

The turbines are the first opened in a plan to provide at least 15 percent of the Seychelles’ power needs from renewable sources by 2030.

“The decision to produce electricity using renewable energy was taken in 2008, after oil prices peaked, to ensure energy security,” said Tony Imaduwa, acting head of the Seychellois Energy Commission.

Currently, the islands “are 95 percent dependent on imported oil,” the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), a regional body, and the European Commission said in a joint statement last month.

Since then, the EU has announced 15 million euros (US$20 million) in funding for renewable energy projects in the wider Indian Ocean region, including the Seychelles, but also for Mauritius, the Comoros Islands and Madagascar.

“The IOC countries are highly vulnerable to the effects of soaring oil prices,” the two institutions added. “Yet the region has a large potential for renewable energy [hydro, solar, wind and geothermal] that is underutilized.”

Since the Seychelles decided to launch renewable energy generation, it has also revised legislation to break the state’s power monopoly.

“Now, companies that produce renewable energy can sell electricity,” Imaduwa said.

Reducing dependency on expensive fossil fuels is only one concern, with the Seychelles also keen to boost “greener” sources of power.

Experts warn that the tiny nation — the only one in the world where half the land is a nature reserve — is threatened by changing weather patterns bringing harsher storms and much longer dry spells, and environmentalists are working on projects to help combat the impact.

However, building up a reliable system for production of renewable energy is still far off for the 115-island archipelago, whose economy depends mainly on high-end tourism.

“Currently, the Seychelles does not have the financial resources to undertake renewable energy [by themselves], as the equipment is still too expensive,” Seychellois Ministry of the Environment official Wills Agricole said. “But thanks to the help of several countries, we are currently conducting several projects that should allow us to reduce fossil fuel consumption.”

Other green power sources are planned too.

Mascareignes Seychelles, a subsidiary of a French company based on Reunion Island, further south in the Indian Ocean, has won a tender to produce energy from waste incineration.

Agricole said that if it materializes, the project will take several years to be completed, with many technical details yet to be resolved.

Yet he also pointed to other projects, including the installation of solar panels on homes on La Digue, the third-most populated island of the Seychelles, whose famous palm-fringed and white sand beaches are one of the most popular with tourists.

“We have just started a pilot project with a South Korean company, KC Cottrell, so that the island is completely self-reliant for power by 2020,” Agricole said. “This project will see a photovoltaic system on almost every house ... and gasoline vehicles will even be replaced by electric cars.”

By September, La Digue — currently supplied with electricity from a generator located on the neighboring island of Praslin — should be equipped with solar powered streetlights, added Nicolas Hoareau, head of projects at the Seychellois Land Transport Agency.

“A Chinese company, ZET Corporation (中興), has made a donation of 200 street lights,” he said.

For Andrew Grieser Johns, program coordinator at the UN Development Programme, the Seychelles’ target of having 15 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2030 “is quite possible to achieve.”

The Seychelles hopes it can even exceed that with foreign investment.

“The figure will certainly be revised upwards — even doubled — because many foreign companies are investing in this area,” Agricole said.