Solar panels placed on the roof of New Harbours generated enough electricity on Tuesday this week to power 345 homes in Gibraltar for a day, highlighting efforts to increase the Rock’s use of renewable energy.
At present wherever electricity is being used on the Rock, approximately 2% of it is generated by these solar panels during peak times.
This also translates to a reduction of 3,258 kg of carbon dioxide being released into the air.
The announcement was made at a press conference held by the Ministry for Environment and led by its Minister, Dr John Cortes, just as Main Street and surrounding areas endured a power cut.
The hour long power outage was caused by a cable overload in the old system that is currently being replaced, resulting in the system having to be reconfigured and backup emergency diesel generators being used in the meantime.
Dr Cortes was quick to stress that the outage was not related to the new power station.
The solar panels at New Harbours, known as Solar Plan One and generate 800kw, form one of the various schemes currently being set up by the Government.
Regarding the company who has installed the solar panels, Dr Cortes felt some misinformation needed to be cleared up.
“There has been some comments politically, particularly made by the Opposition spokesman for environment [GSD MP Trevor Hammond], that there was an irregularity that this project was allocated to a company which involved a person who has certain connections with one of the parties in Government,” he said.
He went on to explain why that was not correct, stating when he got into Government it stated it was looking at renewables as a source of energy, something that was not considered by previous administrations.
“When we made this statement the Government was approached by many companies who were interested in bringing renewals. These included solar power and there was four or more who wanted to make solar installations,” he said.
“We entertained every single one of them equally and they were all given the opportunity to make presentations. Only two then progressed to actually delivering it, the others fell by the wayside and never entered any formal discussions. The two were the current project and the eco wave project.”
“That eco wave company, which is not locally based, has never been criticised as to how it was awarded, but this one has been and I think that is unfair,” he added.
SOLAR PANEL ONE
The entire surface of the roof is being used for solar panels, with four different types of panels at various inclinations being used.
Divided into 16 zones there are as many converters feeding the generated electricity back into Gibraltar’s grid.
“The policy is to continue to roll this out, we have a commitment to reach 20% of our power from renewable sources by next year and that commitment continues,” said Dr Cortes.
There will be 450kw generated from the rooftop of Europa Business Centre, 490kw from the Mid Harbours estate and 1,300kw from the top of the airport terminal. Combined with the New Harbours panels, that means a total of 3,040 kw.
“When we have three megawatts that are going to be generated when this project is finalised within the next few months, then it will be 7.1% of peak [consumption],” Dr Cortes said.
“That means we are already getting close to our 20% [in renewable energy] so I remain absolutely confident that we will make 20% next year as a minimum.”
Scaling up the figures using the information that power was generated for 345 homes on Tuesday, when renewables are at 20% of demand it would create enough power for approximately 6,900 homes.
“I am not going to be satisfied at 20%,” said Dr Cortes.
“The motion that all my colleagues in Parliament, and I use the word colleagues to include both sides in this context, supported last Friday [climate change emergency] was aimed at achieving carbon neutrality,” he added.
In the future, Dr Cortes will present a bill in Parliament which will allow people to get credit for power or solar power that they feed into the grid.
“This will be an incentive, if you have your own solar installation, you use it and any excess you have you feed into the grid and at the end of the year you get credit for those units,” said Dr Cortes.
“You are almost getting the same twice, because you are not spending the money on what you are consuming and you are getting a credit,” he added.
The Government also plans to expand solar panels to other buildings such as the new stadiums at Europa Point and Buffadero, Mount Alvernia and the University.
At present the panels installed to heat the water at GSLA and the hospital are generating enough power to provide 1/3 of this need. Thereby reducing the power needed to be taken from the grid for these facilities.
Addressing the suggestion that the water catchment area on the Eastside could be used for a solar panel farm, he said: “Two reasons, one is that the water catchment area is no longer water catchment it is a protected habitat under European law.”
“It is part of the special area of conservation under the European Union, it is an important habitat for plants and animals.”
“Our policy is not to rob Peter to pay Paul if I can use that and destroy a natural area which is a carbon sink that absorbs carbon dioxide in order to produce solar power.”
Secondly, he said that the Eastside, particularly when you get closer to the Rock, has limited exposure to sun and after 3pm even in the summer, it would be in the shade.
“We would not get the full amount and it would not be as sufficient,” he said.
In addition, he noted that potential rock falls in the area would damage the panels.
Addressing comments made by the Opposition, Dr Cortes stated he was an expert in lizards and likened the solar panels to lizards with regards to their behaviour and the sun.
“I can tell you now, I will make a political comment. I know more about this [solar energy] than Mr Trevor Hammond,” he said.
Pics by Johnny Bugeja