In the past five years, the Maldives has produced positive economic and human development outcomes. The poverty rate decreased from 3.9% in 2019 to an estimated 2.1% in 2023. Tourism, which makes up 28% of the Maldivian GDP, can be credited for this decrease in poverty. However, only about half of the Maldivian islands are tourist islands, meaning many rural islands still face developmental struggles.
Due to the size and geography of the Maldives, the islands lack the resources needed to develop new industries. The Maldives relies on importation for resources, such as energy and electricity. In 2021, the Maldives imported $553 million worth of refined petroleum. Energy imports are successful in powering the main Maldivian industries, such as tourism, fishing and sea transportation, but they come at a high cost for the Maldivian government and remain less accessible and affordable for rural islands. To combat this obstacle, the Maldives is implementing renewable energy sources — predominantly solar-powered energy. Renewable energy in the Maldives is now providing more affordable electricity, protection for current industries and potential for economic development.
Fossil Fuel Availability in the Maldives
Out of the 199 inhabited Maldivian islands, 197 islands receive electricity. Despite the wide physical reach of electricity, the quality and affordability of electricity differs greatly between more urban areas, like Malé, and the rural outer islands. Unlike Malé, the outer islands do not receive direct access to imported petroleum. While Malé receives power from state-owned electricity, the outer islands must purchase diesel from private resellers who apply a markup to diesel prices. Due to this, only 82 islands have 24-hour access to electricity, while others may have as little as five hours of electricity a day. This discrepancy in accessibility offers outer islands limited methods of income growth and economic development. Instead, rural islands remain reliant on electricity-free industries like small-scale fishing.
Additionally, the predominance of fossil fuel energy depletes the few natural resources that Maldivian islands do have. A previously used form of renewable energy in the Maldives is biomass energy, such as wood and agricultural residue. However, rising sea levels, which are strongly correlated to the use of fossil fuels, are depleting these resources. Rising sea levels and changing weather patterns are also reducing access to fresh water due to longer dry seasons and are raising concerns for tourism and fishery as both industries take place within 100 meters of the coastline. Renewable energy in the Maldives offers the potential for more accessible and affordable energy to all Maldivian islands, without any environmental consequences.
Implementing Renewable Energy in the Maldives
In 2022, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) financed the Preparing Outer Islands for Sustainable Energy Development (POISED) Project, which has helped increase renewable energy in the Maldives. The project installed a photovoltaic hybrid energy system, which harnesses both solar and wind power, in more than 70 outer islands in the Maldives. These installations have been aided by private investment, encouraged by the World Bank’s ASPIRE project. The ASPIRE project has mobilized $9.3 million in investment and provided the Maldivian government with technical assistance to install 6.5 megawatts of solar power in the Maldives.
The ADB plans to continue this approach by installing another 20 megawatts of solar power through private investment. Other private groups are going a step further to determine how renewable energy can best be implemented while taking rising sea levels into consideration. Since 2009, Swimsol has been creating floating solar-powered energy banks to overcome land limitations. Additionally, their solar-powered energy is less expensive than diesel-powered electricity, making it an affordable option for those living in rural islands.
Through collaborative efforts involving the Maldivian government, NGOs and private investors, renewable energy is gaining traction in the Maldives. As these initiatives progress and receive additional support, the islands of Maldives are poised to reduce their dependence on fossil fuel imports and embrace locally generated electricity from solar and wind-powered sources. This transition to renewable energy will not only grant all Maldivian islands improved electricity access but also foster healthier lifestyles while unlocking possibilities for industrial advancement and economic growth.
– Aliya French