The Seychelles Energy Commission was created following the 2007-2008 oil crisis with the mission of reducing the country’s dependence on foreign fossil fuels. Since then, the commission’s mandate has expanded to incorporate regulatory functions in addition to its policy implementation focus. For Seychelles, transitioning to the renewables-centered energy sector is a matter of national importance, and is consistent with the value the country places on protecting its environment. Current efforts are underway to revitalize the existing infrastructure to enable the system to sustain new renewable technologies, and investment and support from overseas partners such as China have been critical to success thus far
You have been the CEO of the Seychelles Energy Commission since March 2014. What have been your greatest milestones and challenges in leading this organization?
Even though I was appointed commissioner in 2014, I have been at the commission since 2010, so I have seen the development of the sector for nearly a decade. The establishment of the Commission came about after the 2007-2008 oil crisis. At the time, Seychelles was almost 100 percent dependent on imported fossil fuels. This is a huge constraint on the country’s finances. Importation of fossil fuels accounts for around 11 percent of the country’s GDP. At the time of the oil crisis, the government took on the financial burden of the rising costs. In order to avoid something like this happening again in the future, the commission was created to explore ways to address our energy security. It was clear that to strengthen our energy security, we need to move away from fossil fuels and toward green energy.
In 2010, the Seychelles Energy Policy was formulated. The policy focuses on strengthening our energy security through diversifying our energy base, development of renewable energy and energy efficiency. It also made recommendation for putting in place the appropriate legislative framework in order to facilitate the transition to an energy sector less dependent on imported fossil fuels. In 2011, we started working on the legislation necessary to transform the sector. One of the provisions in legislation was to allow anyone to produce electricity, especially from renewable energy technologies. This legislation came into effect in 2013, and led to a change in the mandate of the commission. The commission became the electricity regulator as well as the body responsible for the implementation of energy policy. In 2014, when I became CEO, we restructured the commission itself to accommodate this new mandate. We had to recruit and promote training of our staff to help the commission adjust to this new responsibility.
Over the years, we have developed and implemented a lot of projects, mostly focused on the deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies such as the Grid-connected rooftop photovoltaic (PV) project, which helped in establishing the enabling environment for distributed PV systems. We are currently implementing a similar project but this one involves the development of the energy-efficiency sector.
The major challenge is that this regulatory environment is quite new, and especially when the incumbent utility has been operating and regulating itself for a long time. The legislative framework is not complete, and there are numerous laws that need to be amended or repealed. This is still ongoing. Recognising this gap instead of taking a strong-arm approach to regulation, we’ve taken a collaborative approach to regulating the electricity sector. In this transition, we recognize that there is a capacity gap within the country, so we also seek technical support from outside organizations or governments that have the expertise we need. Another challenge lies in the infrastructure which has suffered from delayed or no investment in the past. These are potential areas for investment. The electrical infrastructure in Seychelles needs updating and modernizing to allow for more integration of renewable energy, and also to cater to more cutting-edge technologies. You cannot integrate beyond what the current system can sustain. This is one of the areas we are addressing. The work is ongoing and there are numerous investment opportunities in these types of projects. In addition to this, we are also pursuing pioneering innovative projects in the renewables sector. We are currently working on a floating PV project, which will be the first of its kind in Africa.
In terms of the current energy supply landscape in Seychelles, what is the percentage of renewables versus traditional sources of energy?
We are currently getting about three percent of our energy from renewables: two percent from wind and one percent from PV. With the new renewables projects we have in the pipeline, we will reach five percent before 2020. The energy policy sets a target of five percent of renewables before 2020, but we are projected to exceed that before 2020. The official renewable target is 15 percent by 2030, but based on our success thus far, the President has announced a target of 25 percent by 2030. To do this, we are looking at how we can maximize the use of solar energy in the system and make it more reliable. We are also exploring liquefied natural gas (LNG) production as a cleaner, cheaper source of energy.
Last May, the Government of Seychelles signed an MOU with the Chinese government for a $4.7 million grant to accelerate the country’s transition to a low-carbon economy. What has been the impact of this agreement so far, and what other opportunities remain for increased cooperation?
The Chinese grant has been allocated to two big projects: one is to look at putting PV on all the schools in Seychelles, the other is to make one of the islands 100-percent green. Every little installation of renewable energy will make a difference, but to go beyond the small increments of progress, we need to bring in other technologies. That’s why we’re looking at storage as a way of really offsetting fossil fuel generation, which is what we’re currently working on, among other things, with support from partners and especially with support from foreign governments.
What are the most pressing needs for investment in the energy sector in Seychelles?
I think for us it is investment that will work towards overcoming the technical challenges that we are facing. There’s no issue in terms of deploying renewable energy in Seychelles. We have sunlight and we have the roof space, but we face the challenge of integrating these into the existing system. At the end of the day, consumers need to have a reliable energy supply. Too many solar PVs destabilize the system unless there are stabilizing technologies that are also introduced into the system. We know we have a limit at present, but if we want to go beyond this limit, getting the funding and support required to make these changes is critical. Finally, there is also training and capacity-building, especially for the utility, so that it can operate the system reliably with increased penetration of renewable energy.
Seychelles’ very innovative project, Africa’s first floating solar energy initiative, will surely attract a lot of attention internationally. What are your hopes for the project and for attracting attention to it?
People were skeptical about this project when we first introduced it. This has never been done in the ocean before—there is a host of challenges to doing it on seawater. However, we’ve sought support from key partners, and we’ve run the numbers. We are confident that this project, though challenging, will work, and that it can be a case study for future projects of this scope. There are a number of other small island nations in a similar situation to us in terms of energy challenges. We are putting a lot of effort into ensuring the project’s success.
President Faure has set ambitious environmental targets in line with the UNFCCC’s climate change goals. These targets include making Seychelles 100-percent renewable by 2050. What are your thoughts on this target?
In order to achieve this goal there needs to be a drastic shift in terms of technological improvements. Countries with variable energy resources such as solar need to be able to make it more reliable. Today, we cannot really say we are driven by solar power. If we can get 24-hour energy without any fluctuation through renewables, then we can safely say we are on our way to 100 percent.
This transition will take time, and I believe that in order to reach our targets, more efforts need to be made in research and development, especially by big countries that signed onto the Paris Agreement. I personally believe that there are some countries that could be doing a lot more in terms of the collective global effort to shift to low carbon. They need to recognize that renewable is the future and make similar kinds of investments in systems that are conducive to renewable energy as they did in fossil fuels historically.
Consumers would be interested in modifying their consumption habits to more environmentally conscious choices, particularly the people who are coming as tourists to Seychelles. How does this factor into your strategy?
The benefit of transitioning to renewables is multi-fold; it is a win-win no matter how you look at it. If you really want to transition, it’s not a commercial decision in terms of cost; we are thinking of long-term impact. For Seychelles, we have to use this to our advantage. The tourists can definitely support us in keeping Seychelles green. As a pristine, environmentally clean destination, this will attract tourists.
What do you think of China’s leadership position in the Paris Agreement?
I think China decided to fill in the void when the US stepped out of the Paris Agreement. They made some major decisions for their own country as well as for their work in other countries. A country like China should be taking these strategic positions.
What is your hope for the energy sector in Seychelles?
From the policy side, renewable energy or energy efficiency in the sector is not a government business, it’s everyone’s business. That is something we’d like to see reflected in the government’s policies. Renewable energy and energy efficiency must be incorporated across policies for all our sectors, whether it be for tourism, fisheries, or agriculture. Green energy should become a norm and not a luxury. We need to do what is best for the country, and there’s no way around it. We need to put more effort into it and take bold decisions. We need to create an enabling environment, one that will attract investment in the sector. At the end of the day, investors are there to make money, of course, but you can make it a win-win situation, where the country as a whole benefit as well.