A vitalising effort to bolster photovoltaic research in Malta

Malta’s lack of fossil fuel sources or gas distribution networks means that the country relies strongly on imports of fossil fuels and electricity to cover its energy needs. Since 2015, Malta has been connected to the European power grid, through which it imports a considerable share of its electricity. Additionally, it has attempted and succeeded in increasing its share of energy from renewable sources, though it fell short of the 10% target it had set for 2020. Nonetheless, the increase from 4.4% in 2015 to 8.2% by 2019 was largely a result of the adoption of solar energy. This source accounted for more than 97% of the total renewable production in Malta in 2019. That was followed up by additional policy initiatives to subsidise and promote the installation of solar panels in residential, commercial and public spaces.

In that context, the JUMP2Excel project (Joint Universal activities for Mediterranean PV integration Excellence), funded by Horizon 2020 and coordinated by Malta’s College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST), stood out as a vital effort in the endeavour towards realising the potential Maltese attribute to current and future PV research. From 2018 until 2022, JUMP2Excel aimed to step up and stimulate the scientific excellence and innovation capacity of MCAST Energy in the field of PV integration, including related technologies such as energy storage and ancillary services and electricity markets. This achievement was possible thanks to joint activities with a group of top world-leading research centres (CENER and CEA) together with one of the best research-intensive universities (UNIMAN), which provided access to an extensive network and contacts in the field. The activities consisted mainly of knowledge transfer and networking through a series of workshops, winter/summer schools, MRes (Master of Research) and PhD programmes, internships, exchanges, meetings and mentoring.

With the main focus being PV research, particularly towards establishing MCAST Energy as a regional leader in cooperation with world-leading research groups, the following objectives were established:

• To enhance and increase the research output of MCAST Energy (in quality and quantity).

• To increase the success of MCAST Energy in grant applications and recruitment of excellent personnel.

• To strengthen and develop long-term relations between MCAST Energy, partners, networks and stakeholders.

• To increase the international standing of MCAST Energy, acting as a regional hub in the field of PV, relevant technologies and electricity markets.

The project developed an interface between scientific output and the market to stimulate economic growth in many areas, increase the possible emergence of local industry in the field, and potentially attract new sources of international investment to the island. Moreover, JUMP2Excel was designed to benefit all partners in a way that went sustainably beyond the three-year funding period. This approach is meant to result in enhanced skillsets and profiles for MCAST Energy, which in turn should reflect the positive development of Malta’s knowledge economy, including its ambition as a regional energy hub, solar country and blockchain state.

Even though social benefits derived from energy projects of this nature are not immediate, as they tend to manifest in longer timeframes and often depend on additional contextual variables, the project still concretely succeeded in achieving the abovementioned objectives. Additionally, potential impacts of the project included targeted PV energy integration research with synergies between academia and enterprises, encouraged the training of enterprises and policymakers, reduced CO2 emissions, and intensified efforts in the research field, amongst others.

The project also resulted in the publishing of several research papers, as well as the organisation of events and conferences, which have fostered the sharing of knowledge and experiences. This, alongside the other project’s activities, has stimulated the research and innovation capacities of MCAST and, subsequently, it is an effort that may prove to be vital to boost Malta’s role as a regional hub in the field of solar energy.