by Gan Pei Ling / 24 February 2012 © Selangor Times
Malaysia has been slow to adopt renewable energy options compared to regional counterparts Thailand and the Philippines.
Putrajaya only implemented the feed-in-tariff system last December in a bid to boost the renewable energy industries in Malaysia.
Pioneered in Germany, the feed-in tariff scheme allows individuals and companies to sell energy produced from renewable sources such as solar photovoltaic, biogas, biomass and mini-hydro at a higher rate to Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB).
Currently, renewable energy sources contribute less than one per cent to our energy mix, with only 62.3MW capacity in 2010.
Malaysia targets to increase renewable energy sources’ contribution to 5.5 per cent in 2015, 11 per cent in 2020 and 25 per cent by 2050.
However by 2050, advanced countries like Denmark and Germany are aiming to source energy mostly, if not entirely, from renewable sources.
A recent report published in international journal Energy Policy claimed that the world can achieve 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030 if proper measures are taken.
Australian environmental expert Dr Mark Diesendorf, speaking at a public forum in Kuala Lumpur last Thursday, pointed out that Malaysia has huge potential to develop renewable energy.
“You receive more sunlight than Germany (where solar photovoltaic contributes to 3.5 per cent of its electricity production),” observed the associate professor and deputy director of the Institute of Environmental Studies, University of New South Wales.
He said Malaysia should hire independent energy experts to conduct a comprehensive study on the country’s renewable energy potential.
TNB chief executive officer Datuk Seri Che Khalib Mohamad Noh had told the 200-odd audience earlier that renewable energy options have limitations in Malaysia.
He cited cloud cover and high capital costs for solar energy, sparse location of palm oil mills for biomass, high installation cost for biogas, and remote locations for mini-hydro.
In addition, the energy supply from these sources fluctuates. Therefore, nuclear power is needed to produce stable and constant base-load electricity.
New way of thinking
But Indian activist and author Praful Bidwai argues that the world needs to move away from the model of a centralised electricity production system.
“We need a much more flexible, de-centralised power production system that can adapt according to changing demand,” said Bidwai.
He added that it was more efficient to install independent solar panels or micro-hydro system to supply electricity to remote areas, compared to connecting them to the national grid to receive power produced miles away at a power plant.
His remark was echoed by Diesendorf, who described the concept of base-load power plants as “redundant”.
He said a combination of renewable energy sources can be used to meet electricity demand by the hour, with higher production during the day and lower production at night.
In addition, Diesendorf highlighted that Malaysia could explore its geothermal potential if it wants a base-load power provider to support its renewable energy systems.
Our country produces around 18 million tonnes of palm oil per year and oil palm plantations cover 15 per cent of our land – 4.7 million hectares. The empty fruit bunches, tree fronds, trunks, fibres and shell can be burned to generate power.
His 10MW case study showed that biomass is profitable in the long-term with the introduction of the feed-in tariff system.
“Demo projects are essential. Renewable energy has a bright future in Malaysia and its growth provides opportunities for local employment,” said the Associate Professor from the Chemical and Environmental Engineering Department.
Finally, Diesendorf also commented that Malaysia should strengthen its electricity conservation and energy efficiency programmes.
With the use of efficient electrical appliance and mindful consumption habit, Malaysians can reduce our demand for electricity.
TNB’s Che Khalib noted that Malaysians usually take their electricity for granted as it is still subsidised and cheap, for now, but the country must find a way to stabilise power demand as the cost of power production is likely to rise in future.
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