Electricity in Malta
Electric lighting was introduced for the first time in Malta during the opera “ Un Ballo in Maschera” at the Royal Opera House. During the same year, Piazza San Giorgio in Valletta was also illuminated by electric lighting.
The first demonstration of electricity for consumers’ use was demonstrated by Chev. Edward Rosenbusch on behalf of the eastern Electric Light and Power Co. Ltd of London at his private residence, at 27, Merchant Street, Valletta. He invited various dignitaries and members of the public to see the beginning of a new era of the electricity supply for consumers. During this demonstration he set up a simple installation of lighting by electricity.
The Government of Malta, with the intervention of the Secretary of State for the Colonies commissioned the first feasibility study (which included both the technical and economical aspect) to advise on the introduction of electric current supply in Malta. This report was prepared by Mr. William H. Preece Consulting Engineer and was forwarded to Government of Malta on the 1st December 1890. The report recommended the introduction of high-pressure alternate current system to provide power for 10,000 lamps of 10-candle power each. It was estimated that the plant would cost £40,000. The project included the extension of the mains to Valletta, Floriana, the Three Cities, Hamrun and Sliema.
1894 – 1896
The year 1894 saw the rise of the first public electricity service in the Maltese Archipelago. The Central Power Station, as it was known at that time, was erected at the foot of Crucifix Hill overlooking the Grand Harbour in the limits of Floriana. The equipment consisted of a set of four steam driven generating units with a capacity of 350KW. At the very beginning it was used for street lighting but then it ousted the town gas as an illuminant in houses and building premises, and later on in industry. The first public lighting took place at Valletta and Floriana. The same year the supply was extended to Hamrun and the three Cities. The supply at that time was single phase at 100 cycles. The plant was scheduled to be inaugurated in 1895 but due to difficulties and delays of work it was extended to the following year. The first generating plant was ordered from Modley Brush.
During this period, due to the expansion of the electricity system in Malta, more generating units were added to the already existing plant. During 1904 two generating units having a capacity of 600 KW were installed. These were purchased from Westinghouse Beliss, and ECC Beliss respectively. Another plant was installed in 1915 increasing the generating capacity by another 500 KW; this was ordered from Ljungstrom Brush.
1925 – 31 (GOZO)
Following a decision taken in 1925 by the government, a Power Station was built in St. Domenica Street in Victoria Gozo. The supply was inaugurated on the 1st. August 1926. The generating plant consisted of two units by 44KVA Diesel Alternator Sets. The electricity demand was rather restricted in Gozo mainly due to the fact that it was an agrarian society with very little mechanized industry, and thus the electricity was mainly used for lighting purposes. In 1931 more equipment was added, bringing the capacity to 94KVA. During this period the supply was provided mainly after dusk and on some occasions during daytime.
1922 – 1933
In 1920 a recommendation was made to replace the old engine driven alternators at the Lascaris Power Station by a steam turbine system set of a higher capacity. This would have included the introduction of the 3-phase 50 cycle operation system. Because of the high costs this proposal was declined by the government. Two years later, following a report on the electricity supply in Malta, the system proposed was introduced. During this ten-year period several developments took place.
Proposals for a larger plant were brought up again in 1935 and this proposal once more included the conversion of the out-dated distribution system to the standard 50-cycle 3-phase operation. Again these plans did not materialize because they were upset by the intervention of World War II and the whole scheme was postponed once more.
Ten years after the introduction of electricity on the island of Gozo, the 3-phase 50-cycle system was approved by the government. A proposal for the changeover to a similar system in Malta did not occur because of the advent of the war.
Following World War II the Maltese Government sought help under the Marshall Aid Scheme that was a plan for the Recovery of Europe. The financial help sought was to finance the cost of the plant and equipment for a new Power Station to finally replace the one at Lascaris Wharf. The Economic Administration of the United States of America, after more than a year of discussions, approved this grant.
In 1949 a new unit with a capacity of 120KW was installed in Gozo. This brought the overall capacity to 180KW because some of the old equipment was also replaced. During the same period an alternator with a capacity of 200KW was also installed to be able to reach the demand of electricity. The new equipment was inaugurated in august 1951. Because of this improvement some of the rural villages were also served with electricity by 1953.
The Marsa ‘A’ power station, which was installed in the galleries excavated in solid rock at the base of Jesuits’ Hill, was inaugurated on December 5, 1953. This generated electricity at three phases 50 cycles. This power station, better known as the “underground station”, was totally closed down in September 1994.
1954 – 1958
Following the commissioning of the Jesuit Hill’s Power Station a new era started. The introduction of 3ph 50cycle system necessitated the complete changeover of the distribution network installations and equipment. This ambitious programme commenced in 1954 and it lasted four years. This task demanded co-ordination of labour and material resources to achieve its completion in such a short time. This was known as the “changeover period” when the electricity supply and distribution network were converted from single-phase 100 cycles to three-phases 50 cycles. The reconstruction of the distribution system involved the laying of 11Kv three-phase cables and erection of 11KV overhead lines, construction of new substations and the stringing of 3-phase 415/240v service mains.
1954 – 1959
The demand to supply electricity to the most remote villages, especially those in the North of the Island, was being continuously pursued by residents. In order to keep up with the demand, the Government commissioned a feasibility study to see what steps were to be taken. It was recommended that it was more viable to serve Gozo from the Power Station in Malta and in 1957 two submarine cables were laid from Marfa to Comino and from Comino to Gozo. This was commissioned in 1958. During January 1959, the Gozo Power Station stopped operating and another chapter in the history of electricity of the Maltese islands came to an end.
The inauguration of the new Power Station, which was installed in the galleries excavated in the base of Jesuits Hill at Marsa, was inaugurated on 5th December 1953. This generated electricity at three phases 50 cycles. The installed capacity of this new equipment was 15,000KW. This Power Station, better known as the “Underground Station”, was totally closed down during September 1994.
Due to the constant demand for electricity supply and due to the diversification of the Island’s economy during 1965 a 5,700KW Gas Turbo Alternator was installed at the same station. Due to lack of space in the under ground tunnel which housed this first station at Marsa it was decided that a new Power Station will be erected next to it.
The new Power Station, which is better known as the Marsa “B” Power station was inaugurated. Prime Minister Dr George Borg Olivier opened B station on 18 March 1966. This new station housed two 12.5MW Turbo Alternator Units. It also housed a million gallon per day desalination plant that was very much needed at that time. In 1971 the B Station continued to be extended and in March 1970 three one million gallon / day seawater distillation units were inaugurated. The two Turbo Alternator units followed this in 1971.
The innovative aspect of the new station was that it incorporated a seawater desalination plant using a distillation process as water consumption was also mounting and natural water was becoming scarce. Initially, B Station consisted of two 12.5 MW Franco Tosi turbines, two boilers and a distiller, capable of processing one million gallons of water daily. Up to 1967, Malta’s only source of water was underground galleries. The contract for the fuel supply was signed with AGIP, which transported the cargo in tankers from Italy and discharged it directly into two large purpose-built tanks on top of nearby Jesuits Hill.
Some of the tankers involved in the early years were MV Ombrina, MV Rina Lolighetti and MV Paraggi. On one ill-fated occasion in January 1966, a valve in the vicinity of the oil tanks cracked and oil flowed out on the ground and making a mess at the power station. In a similar episode in May 1972, the heated underwater pipeline connecting the discharging point at the New Quay to the oil tanks somehow cracked and fuel leaked slightly into the sea at Bridgewharf.
Fuel has always been crucial to assure a constant electricity supply on which the economy so depended. This was highlighted in the 1968 strike by pilots, tugboat crews and port workers, which blockaded the harbour. As a result, the AGIP tanker could not unload its oil at a time when the power station oil stock was critically low and was threatening a national blackout.
The new power station called for the laying of a more potent cable to strengthen distribution from Marsa to three strategic centres in Malta. In 1969, the 33 KV cable was extended to Tarxien, Mosta and Mriehel, which served as arteries for other sub-stations. It also considered taking the cable to Gozo. Gozo was only supplied with a submarine 33 KV cable in 1981 and with a second one in 1987, thereby putting an end to long years of unstable and low-voltage electricity and consequent erratic water supply. Another powerful submarine cable was laid in the Gozo channel in 2001. It should be noted that a major attempt to provide Gozo with an independent source of water production had been made in 1969, when the Water Works Department opened a small distillation plant, capable of producing half-a-million gallons of water daily, at Hondoq ir-Rummien. The project was aborted a few years later due to the high cost of fuel to run it and the place was abandoned.
The second phase of B Station, which added to the overall generating capacity, was completed in March 1971 and opened in June that year. It comprised two other 30 MW Franco Tosi Turbines, two boilers and three Weir Westgart distillers.
Then came the shock of the 1973 oil crisis. The cost of fuel more than trebled and the price of local energy products followed suit. The government announced economy measures, including the discontinuance of the distillation plant. Reverse osmosis was eventually adopted for the production of potable water from the sea to supplement the island’s supply of ground water. The first reverse osmosis plant was opened in 1982 at Ghar Lapsi and a second one at Tigné in 1986.
The importation of petroleum products was nationalised, with a Fuel Oil Board with executive powers appointed within the Office of the Prime Minister on 1 February 1974. Up to 1977, petroleum products were imported by three private enterprises, Shell Malta Co. Ltd, British Petroleum and Esso Co. Ltd, with settlement effected by means of counter-trade. Counter-trade is a system of settling debts by bartering of goods and services and was adopted as part of the government’s bulk buying scheme in 1980. Thus, oil purchase from Libya was exchanged for exported goods. The counter-trade accounting was handled by the Central Bank of Malta.
In 1977, the government set up Enemalta Corporation to be in control of all aspects of energy supply in Malta, with E.C.Tabone as the first chairman. It had three divisions: electricity, gas and petroleum. L. Ciantar was head of the Electricity Division.
Another storm in the international oil market occurred in 1980, causing the government to a major rethink of the energy policy: a shift back to the use of coal was on the cards. Work was carried out to adapt a portion of the electricity generation to coal.
Three used turbines, acquired from Palermo between 1982 and 1985, were also converted to coal use.
The dismantling of the machines in Palermo and their re-erection in Marsa was undertaken entirely by Enemalta employees. A fourth coal-based turbine was purchased second-hand from the UK. A coal yard was constructed at Il-Menqa, Marsa, but any economic benefits from the use of coal, which was mainly purchased from Poland and was also paid for by counter-trade, were obliterated by its grave polluting consequence. Marsa Local Council was not happy with the damage that coal, and the accompanying dust and ash, was causing to the environment and resolutely appealed to the government to clear the coal heap at Il-Menqa and to rehabilitate the area. The last cargo of coal arrived in Malta on 12 January 1995 on MV Antares.
In 1987, Enemalta took another landmark decision: coal-use was to be phased out again in the existing A and B Stations, while a new, technologically advanced, power station was to be built at Delimara.
However, until the new power station could start operations, further expansion in capacity had to be catered for and this was done through the acquisition of two gas turbines with a capacity of 97 MW. Strident controversy again accompanied the decision to build a new power station, but Malta’s energy investment had seriously lagged behind and the need for such a project had become urgent. Phase 1 of the new Delimara Power Station was opened on 9 April 1994 by Prime Minister Edward Fenech Adami. Its modern sophisticated computer-controlled infrastructure comprised two 120 MW Bharat Heavy Electronics Ltd turbines and two boilers. Ballut Blocks and AX Holdings were among the local contractors involved in the construction work, which included the erection of oil storage tanks. Concurrent with the opening of the Delimara plant, the underground A power station at Marsa was closed.
Phase 2-A consisted of the installation of two 74 MW John Brown open cycle gas turbines and was commissioned on 29 September 1995. It draws fuel from its own fuel storage tanks nearby. Instead of laying a new distribution system, the Delimara power station was connected, by means of a powerful mainline cable though an underground tunnel, to the Marsa power station, thereby feeding into the existing distribution. The 132 KV cable supplied by Kaiser of Berlin is laid in a tunnel eight kilometres long by five metres wide. Another section of the tunnel brings the cable to Mosta.
To improve the conductivity of electricity distribution, the overhead aluminium lines and wires criss-crossing the islands had some time earlier been replaced with copper cables. Actually, copper cables had always been in use but, following a surge in copper prices in the commodity markets in the early 1980s, aluminium wires started being used as alternative.
New Delimara Power Station begins operations. Phase 1 is commissioned. The Delimara Power Station chimney rising to a height of 150m becomes Malta’s tallest structure.
In April 1995 Enemalta stopped using coal as fuel for its generation plants thereby reducing CO2 and dust emissions
Enemalta commissioned a combined cycle generation plant in 1999 using 0.2% sulphur gas oil.
In 1999, in keeping with its environmental credentials, Enemalta installed a generating plant using a low margin of sulphur gas oil to reduce acid emissions. This was Phase 2-B of the Delimara power station and involved the commissioning of three 110 MW Nuovo Pignone combined cycle gas turbines.
By 2008, Malta’s aggregate generating capacity had reached 571 MW, compared to a peak load of 424 MW registered in that year.
Matters came to a head in 2008 in the oil business, with an unprecedented surge in the international price of oil causing uncertainty in the local energy sector. These episodes have heightened the public’s awareness of the need for prudent use of energy and increased emphasis on the use of energy-saving devices.
The water and electricity billing process, which has become archaic and has been a headache for the governments of recent years, is to be modernised. The government has contracted IBM to replace all 250,000 analogue electricity meters with new electronic devices that use advanced IT applications and has announced its intention to embark on a national energy policy, including the linking of the Maltese Islands with the European Grid System. Leadership is being provided by the Malta Resources Authority, established by the government by Act XXV of 2000 as the sole regulator of practices and operations relating to energy, water and minerals. The policy will put great emphasis on renewable sources of energy in preference to fossil fuel. While we will definitely witness more technical advances and proliferation in the use of solar energy and wind power, Malta will undoubtedly continue to depend to a large extent on oil-based electricity generation for some more decades.
Enemalta embarked on Phase 2-C of the Delimara power station extension, not without the concomitant controversies. The contract, awarded to Burmeister & Wain Scandinavian Contractor A/S, provided for the installation of a 100 MW combined cycle turbine, using heavy fuel oil or gas. This was scheduled for completion by 2011 but was officially taken over by Enemalta on the 14th December 2012. Phase 3, planned to be taken in hand thereafter, was intended to lead to the total closure of Marsa power station.
In 2001 Enemalta re-commissioned the Electrostatic precipitators which were originally installed on the coal fired boilers for operation on the oil fired boilers at the Marsa power station to reduce dust emission by 99%
In 2005 Enemalta committed itself to purchase renewable energy generated on the Maltese islands. The new Delimara extension was officially taken over by Enemalta on the 14th December 2012.
IBM in 2008 won a five-year contract to help Malta’s national power and water utilities, Enemalta Corp. and Water Services Corp., to build the world’s first national smart utility grid. The task was to replace 250,000 analogue electric meters with smarter meters that can monitor electricity usage close to real time, identify electricity losses and set variable rates. At the same time, IBM integrated the smart electricity metering applications with the island nation’s new smart water metering system.
On the 14th December 2010, Enemalta together with the Department of Contracts and the Ministry of Finance signed the adjudication tender contract with Nexans, for the building of Malta’s Interconnector which will see the island’s electricity grid connected to mainland Europe.
The new Delimara extension was officially taken over by Enemalta on the 14th December 2012.
A deal announced in September 2013 for Chinese equity investment in Enemalta was formally signed at the Auberge de Castille on 11 March 2014.
Through this memorandum of understanding Shanghai Electric agreed to invest €320 million in Enemalta and getting a 33 per cent stake in the corporation. The investment meant halving Enemalta’s debt. €100 million were a capital injection into Enemalta, €150 million as investment to acquire the majority shareholding in the BWSC plant and €70 million as a commitment to convert the BWSC plant to gas.
Moreover, Shanghai Electric and Enemalta agreed to form two joint venture companies: the first to invest in renewable energy projects in Europe with a target to have 300mw over the next five years; the second an energy service centre to service the power plants Shanghai Electric will have in the region.
The deal was first announced in Beijing on 12 September 2013 during a visit to China by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi. A memorandum of understanding had been signed by Dr Mizzi and Lu Qizhou, president of China Power Investment Corporation, the parent company of Shanghai Electric. It had been welcomed by credit rating agencies, with Standard and Poor’s improving Enemalta’s rating to stable from negative.
Enemalta chairman Charles Mangion signed the memorandum of understanding on Enemalta behalf. A formal agreement was signed on Friday 12 December 2014,
On 12 December 2014 the government signed a €320 million investment deal with the Chinese energy company Shanghai Electric Power (SEP).
Through the agreement, Shanghai Electric took a 33% stake in Enemalta for which it paid €100 million and purchased a 90% shareholding in the BWSC plant for €150 million. The Chinese company also agreed to front the conversion cost of €70 million to shift the BWSC plant from working on heavy fuel oil to gas. Enemalta’s debts were halved through this deal. SEP guaranteed 33% of the remaining debt and the government 67%.
In August 2014 Enemalta urged customers who still had old electricity meters in their properties to contact the company to have them replaced with new smart meters. The utilities’ project to introduce an automated meter management system in Malta and Gozo in August 2014 was nearing its final stages as the majority of smart meters required for this technology had been installed. The company said that over 87% of the electricity meters connected to the grid had been replaced with new smart meters and the remaining ones were expected to be replaced till the end of 2014.
Through the introduction of smart meters, customers’ actual electricity consumption readings are automatically transmitted to the billing system without the need for meters to be read on site.
On 12 August 2014 a landmark planning application to decommission, dismantle and demolish the Marsa power station was presented by Enemalta Corporation to the Malta Environment and Planning Authority. Along with traffic the Marsa power plant was considered to be a leading source of air pollution in the country.
No details were given by Enemalta on the envisaged timeframe for the decommissioning of the power station and on future use and ownership of the site after the powerhouse is dismantled.
The Marsa power station, which was installed in the galleries excavated at the base of Jesuits Hill, in Marsa, was inaugurated on 5 December, 1953.
A commitment to close the Marsa power station was first made in 1987 following the government’s decision to construct a new power station in Delimara but this promise was made amidst protests by environmentalists on the impact of the new power station on the quaint fishing village.
In 2011 MEPA confirmed that the Marsa power station was the likely source of the black dust problem in neighbouring towns.
Plans for the regeneration of the Grand Harbour presented in 2007 also envisaged transforming the area occupied by the Marsa power station by a public garden by 2015. The government was committed to close the power station after the interconnector connecting Malta to Sicily came into place.
Fines imposed on Enemalta for the operation of the Marsa plant had reached around €2.5 million after the plant exceeded the 20,000-hour limit of operation imposed in EU directives in 2011.
A formal ceremony was held on the evening of 9 March 2015 to mark the switching off of the Marsa power station, after more than 60 years.
It was not the first farewell for the Marsa power plant, which for decades was Malta’s main source of electricity, and its biggest source of pollution. The power station was actually switched off in the evening of February 15 in the presence of several people who saw its birth and growth.
The power station’s origins go back to 1953 when the first equipment was installed underground in what became known as the ‘A’ station. It was gradually enlarged over the years with turbines and boilers installed above ground for ‘B’ station. Among the extensions were the installation of three turbines bought second hand from Palermo and two boilers – Boiler 7 and 8 bought from the UK in the 1970s and early 1980s. The power station burnt coal for many years before being converted to use oil in 1995. A gas turbine was added in 1990.
In 1987 the Government announced plans for the building of a new power station at Delimara, with the intention of eventually closing down Marsa. That commitment was repeatedly put off until the interconnector project to supplement the Delimara power house was completed in February 2015. The beginning of the end for the Marsa power station came in October 2014 when Enemalta issued a call for tenders for the demolition of three chimneys and four fuel tanks. Preparatory work for the dismantling of turbines and boilers was also started by Enemalta staff while a section of the power station remained in use. Some of the oldest equipment in ‘A’ power station are preserved as historic relics.
The electricity interconnector linking Malta to the European energy grid via Sicily was officially inaugurated on Thursday 9 April 2015 by two Prime Ministers, Malta’s Joseph Muscat and Italy’s Matteo Renzi.
The project was initiated by the Gonzi government – former Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi was invited to the inauguration – and the contract with Norway-based cable-laying company Nexans was signed in December 2010.
Initial forecasts suggested that the project, which was part-financed through the EU’s European Energy Programme for Recovery, would have been concluded by the end of 2013, but faced a number of delays, including in the issuing of the necessary permit to lay the undersea cable from Sicily, where the project attracted opposition from environmental groups.
The project was finally approved by Italy in January 2013 after Malta agreed to pay €600,000 in environmental compensation. The necessary authorisations to construct the required installations at Marina di Ragusa, where the undersea cable starts, were secured during summer 2014.
All equipment installation and cable jointing works in Malta and in Sicily were completed by the end of December 2014, and the main testing of the system began last January, paving the way for its commissioning in April 2015.
The interconnector is a 120km-long high-voltage alternating current system capable of transmitting up to 200MW of electrical power in either direction, thus providing Malta the opportunity both to purchase electricity from Europe as well as potentially sell excess capacity.
It is linked to the Italian – and as a result, European – energy network at the Terna substation at the southern Italian city of Ragusa, and travels 19.1km over land before reaching the Mediterranean Sea at Ragusa’s coastal suburb of Marina di Ragusa.
Its subsea circuit is approximately 98km long, and was laid between December 2013 and March 2014 using a specialised cable-laying vessel, the Nexans Skagerrak. The submarine cable is buried in a trench beneath the seabed along most of the route, but in areas where the seabed was too hard to excavate, the cable is covered with a rock berm. The cable also crosses some Posidonia oceanica meadows, and in these areas, to avoid damaging the plant’s habitat, the cable has not been buried or entrenched but wrapped in strong cast iron shells.
The cables connecting the station to the distribution centre comprise three circuits, each with three single core cables in trefoil formation. At the other end of the terminal, the interconnector cable heads towards Sicily through an 850 metre underground culvert until it reaches Qalet Marku Bay, at Bahar ic-Caghaq.
The interconnector makes landfall at Qalet Marku in Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq, and is then linked to Enemalta’s Magħtab terminal a short distance away. At the terminal station, electricity from the submarine cable – which is to be received at 220kV – is stepped down to 132kV, and fed to the Maltese grid via cables which pass through a 6.5km underground tunnel leading to the Kappara distribution centre.
Besides electricity copper power cables, the interconnector also includes two fibre optic clusters, and Enemalta is set to use this capacity to transmit the data required in the operation of the interconnector’s monitoring, protection and control systems.
In their speeches marking the event, both prime ministers – as well as Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi – emphasised that the importance of the project went beyond its own merits, but hailed what should be the starting point of further collaboration between Malta and Italy. However, Dr Muscat also emphasised that the government was aiming to embark on more energy interconnectors in its bid to transform Malta into an energy hub, stating that the first step would be a gas pipeline linking Malta to Italy, on which preliminary studies were at a “very advanced stage.” He also said that once the political situation in North Africa stabilised, Malta would also seek to develop interconnections with its southern neighbours.
Dr Renzi said that the choice to develop an interconnector was not simply technical, but also cultural, stating that at a time when the Mediterranean was characterised by conflict and division, building bridges was important. He said that the interconnector was not only an asset for both countries and for Europe, but should also mark the first step for further collaboration between the two countries.
Dr Mizzi made similar remarks stating that the project was not simply an engineering achievement, but also a true collaboration between neighbours and a testament to a long-lasting bilateral relationship between the two countries. He said that the project was only the beginning of a “journey of collaboration” on energy between Malta and Italy, which, he said, would hopefully lead to the implementation of a Euro-Mediterranean gas platform and to the development of a future gas interconnector between the two countries.
In his address, Dr Muscat took care to pay tribute to his predecessor, stating that Dr Gonzi embarked on an ambitious project which likely faced a lot of resistance, not least because of the significant expense involved. “He had a choice to make, and he made the right call,” he maintained.