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Renewables provided 20% of peak energy demand in 2022

Peak energy demand in Malta has increased by 42%, from 408 MegaWatts in 2013 to 581MW in 2022, official figures reported by the energy regulator to the European Commission show.

Provisional figures for 2023, not included in this official report, indicate that energy demand in 2023 reached a new record high of 649MW on 17 July, during the latest power outrage. This represents an increase of 12% from 2022, and of 59% over 2012.

But while renewable energy accounted for more than one-fifth of energy demand on the day with the highest energy demand, overall renewables still account for 7.2% of the fuel mix injected in the grid.

Unsurprisingly, all peaks in energy demand occurred in summer, particularly in July and August, months characterised by a greater influx of tourists and by widespread use of air-conditioners.

Statistics show the sharpest increase in peak energy demand occurred between 2016 and 2017, when it increased from 417MW to 488MW. The latest figures released during the power outrage in July indicate another burst in energy demand, from a record 581MW in 2022 being surpassed by another one of 649MW in 2023.

And with the exception of 2020, which coincided with the pandemic, and a small dip in 2018, Malta has seen peak energy demand increase every year since 2013. This suggests that the increased energy demand corresponded with massive influx of labour migrants, which mainly occurred after 2016.

The latest statistics also show that the total volume of electricity injected into the Maltese distribution network in 2022 increased by 6.4% when compared to the previous year, reaching a total amount of 2.79 million MWh. The increase in electricity demand was mainly met by imports from Italy, with  annual energy demand set to increase from 2.9 million MWh in 2023 to 3.3 million MWh in 2027.

Increase in renewables

Significantly, official figures show small-scale renewables, in the shape of rooftop photovoltaic panels, providing an increased share during days of exceptionally high demand.

The monitoring report sent to the European Commission by Malta’s Regulator for Energy and Water Services (REWS) shows that peak system demand, as reported by Enemalta plc for 2022, occurred on the 7th July at 15:00. The system demand at that time reached the level of 581.3MW which represents an increase of 3.4% over the previous year and till then was the highest peak load ever recorded.

54.5% of this peak demand was covered by the gas-fired power stations, 24.2% by the interconnector, while 21.3% was covered by solar photovoltaic installations. This was the first time that renewables accounted for more than a fifth of energy supply during peak hours, up from 6% in 2014 and 2015 and 12% in 2017.

No Enemalta back-up plants were used to cover peak demand in 2022. The statistics suggest that the local power stations, with an installed capacity of 589MW, would barely accommodate energy demand during peak hours even if used to the full, which is never the case.

Total electricity generation capacity from renewable energy sources installed by the end of 2022 amounted to 225.25MW.

In 2022, 17.57 Megawatt peak (MWp) of new solar photovoltaic capacity was connected to the public grid, while 0.632MWp was decommissioned. This translates into an increase of 8.2% in the total solar photovoltaic capacity connected to the grid over the previous year.

The largest solar photovoltaic installation in Malta has a capacity 5.4MWp, but 95.4% of the PV installations connected to the grid by the end of 2022 have a capacity of less than 11kWp – the amount required to power three or four dwellings.

It is estimated that in 2022 the total electricity generated from renewable energy sources was 296.8 Gigawatt hours – an increase of 12.8% over the previous year. Of this amount, 95GWh was self-consumed on site while 201GWH was sent out in the grid.

Why is solar energy used more during peak demand?

Peak electricity demand often occurs during the daytime, particularly on hot sunny days when people are using air conditioning to cool their homes. This coincides with the peak generation period for solar energy since the sun is at its highest point in the sky and solar panels can generate electricity at their maximum capacity.

Solar panels connected to the grid are also more likely to produce more electricity than the property owner needs, particularly during daytime on sunny clear days. This excess electricity can be fed back into the grid, contributing to overall grid supply during peak load times.