Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Dato’ Ir Dr A. Bakar Jaafar[1]

The alignment of the Ministry for Energy[2], Green Technology, and Water since 9 April 2009 toward realising the concept of “sustainability”, as a result of the most recent change in the Cabinet line-up of the federal Government of Malaysia under the leadership of the new Prime Minister of Malaysia, YAB Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Tun Abd Razak, is timely and in line with the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI)[3], adopted at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, which addresses energy in the context of sustainable development. Among other things, the JPOI calls for action to:

- Improve access to reliable, affordable, economically viable, socially acceptable and environmentally sound energy services;
- Recognize that energy services have positive impacts on poverty eradication and the improvement of standards of living;
- Develop and disseminate alternative energy technologies with the aim of giving a greater share of the energy mix to renewable energy and, with a sense of urgency, substantially increase the global share of renewable energy sources;
- Diversify energy supply by developing advanced, cleaner, more efficient and cost-effective energy technologies;
- Combine a range of energy technologies, including advanced and cleaner fossil fuel technologies, to meet the growing need for energy services;
- Accelerate the development, dissemination and deployment of affordable and cleaner energy efficiency and energy conservation technologies; and
- Take action, where appropriate, to phase out subsidies in this area that inhibit sustainable development.

As stated in the 9th Malaysia Plan (2006-2010), the access to electricity in the rural areas is expected to increase: in Peninsular Malaysia from 97.5% in 2000 to 98.8% by 2010; in Sabah from 67.1% to 80.6%; and in Sarawak 66.9% to 89.6%. Though the coverage[4] has improved, the remaining areas would be best served by the in-situ generation of renewables: from pico-hydros to mini-hydros, solar and wind energy, and biogas from the anaerobic digestion of organic-waste including that of palm-oil mill effluent (POME), the perishable household waste, “green” waste from grass cutting and tree-pruning.

Established as early as in 1955 by Professor Dr William F. Cottrell[5] of Miami University, Oxford, Ohio-USA, there is a direct link between “energy”, “social changes” and “economic development”. Thus, it has been well recognized that the availability of “energy services” would help eradicate poverty, particularly in the rural areas. Therefore, rural electricity coverage, especially in Sabah and Sarawak need be improved by developing and applying the “green” renewable energy techonologies.

On the diversification of energy supply from oil-coal-gas-hydro to other sources of energy, there is a pressing need to plan and develop more advanced, cleaner, more efficient and cost-effective energy technologies. There is also a need to re-visit the use of nuclear energy, but the question of nuclear waste management including its safe disposal site remains uncertain.

Nonetheless, a high priority ought to be given to the development of renewable energy not only from solar and wind, tide-tidal and wave, biomass-biogas, but also from ocean-thermal sources[6] in deep waters with 5 degree to over 20 degree Celcius of temperature differential in the water column of about 2900 metre deep in the Sabah Trough.

Ocean Thermal Conversion (OTEC) “ technology is not new. In 1881, Jacques Arsene d'Arsonval, a French physicist, proposed tapping the thermal energy of the ocean. But it was d'Arsonval's student, Georges Claude, who in 1930 actually built the first OTEC plant in Cuba. The system produced 22 kilowatts of electricity with a low-pressure turbine. In 1935, Claude constructed another plant aboard a 10,000-ton cargo vessel moored off the coast of Brazil. Weather and waves destroyed both plants before they became net power generators. (Net power is the amount of power generated after subtracting power needed to run the system.) In 1956, French scientists designed another 3-megawatt OTEC plant for Abidjan, Ivory Coast, West Africa. The plant was never completed, however, because it was too expensive. The United States became involved in OTEC research in 1974 with the establishment of the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority. The Laboratory has become one of the world's leading test facilities for OTEC technology.”[7]

“OTEC has important benefits other than power production. For example, air conditioning can be a byproduct. Spent cold seawater from an OTEC plant can chill fresh water in a heat exchanger or flow directly into a cooling system. Simple systems of this type have air conditioned buildings at the Natural Energy Laboratory for several years. OTEC technology also supports chilled-soil agriculture. When cold seawater flows through underground pipes, it chills the surrounding soil. The temperature difference between plant roots in the cool soil and plant leaves in the warm air allows many plants that evolved in temperate climates to be grown in the subtropics. The Natural Energy Laboratory maintains a demonstration garden near its OTEC plant with more than 100 different fruits and vegetables, many of which would not normally survive in Hawaii. Aquaculture is perhaps the most well-known byproduct of OTEC. Cold-water delicacies, such as salmon and lobster, thrive in the nutrient-rich, deep seawater from the OTEC process. Microalgae such as Spirulina, a health food supplement, also can be cultivated in the deep-ocean water. As mentioned earlier, another advantage of open or hybrid-cycle OTEC plants is the production of fresh water from seawater. Theoretically, an OTEC plant that generates 2-MW of net electricity could produce about 4,300 cubic meters (14,118.3 cubic feet) of desalinated water each day. OTEC also may one day provide a means to mine ocean water for 57 trace elements. Most economic analyses have suggested that mining the ocean for dissolved substances would be unprofitable. Mining involves pumping large volumes of water and the expense of separating the minerals from seawater. But with OTEC plants already pumping the water, the only remaining economic challenge is to reduce the cost of the extraction process.”[8]

Indeed, during the Ninth Malaysia Plan period (2006-2010), the energy sector will further enhance its role as an enabler towards strengthening economic growth. In this regard, the sources of fuel will be diversified through greater utilisation of renewable energy. A market-based approach will be promoted to ensure efficient allocation of resources. Emphasis will be given to further reduce the dependency on petroleum products by increasing the use of alternative fuels. In ensuring efficient utilisation of energy resources and minimisation of wastage, the focus will be on energy efficiency initiatives, particularly in the industrial, transport and commercial sectors as well as in government buildings.

In terms of priority, special attention ought to be given to the most energy-consuming sector of the economy, that is, the “transport sector”. In 2005, the transport sector was the largest consumer of energy, accounting for 40.5 per cent of the total final commercial energy demand[9]. This was followed by the industrial sector at 38.6 per cent and the residential and commercial sector at 13.1 per cent. By 2010, the transport sector’s share would increase the most, by another 0.6 per cent, to 41.1 per cent.

To regulate the demand of energy from the transport sector is beyond the purview of the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology, and Water. It rests with the whole Government of Malaysia itself on the question of balancing the needs of maintaining the current fuel-subsidies for transport and related-sectors and that of for energy conservation and efficiency.

Nonetheless, there are hidden subsidies or “barriers” within the transport sector itself, which is not only inefficient but also unbalanced. More goods and services are transported by roads and highways than by waters and rails. Increasingly greater number of commuters rely more on their private motor-vehicles than on public transport: buses, commuter trains, and LRTs.

Another source of energy-wastage is traffic congestion not only due to heavy traffic at road and street-intersections but also due to road-hogging and “zig-zagging” by somewhat inconsiderate drivers. At major intersections, there is a pressing need to build more flyovers or underpasses. Thus, more investments ought to be given to such infrastructure than by widening the existing roads approaching to these usually congested junctions.

Nonetheless, over the major roads and toll-highways, serious consideration should be given by the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water to the prospects of harnessing both rain-water and solar-wind energy. Furthermore, the eventual structure with solar-panels would also provide some sun-shade to motorists who might opt not to switch on their car-air conditioning to save some fuel.

Under the existing energy-policy framework, it is still far from being conducive for the other sectors, namely, the manufacturing, commercial, and residential to switch their dependency from fossil-fuel based energy and electricity to the renewables, namely, solar-wind, and biogas. However, with access to attractive financing and with the right incentives, it would make more “sense” and “cents” to install solar panels, wind-turbines, or waste-to-biogas generators, at home and offices, than “to put money in bank saving accounts”.

It is not the question of the lack of knowledge, skills, and technologies for Malaysia to be so far behind in realizing a greater share of its energy mix to renewable energy; it is the question of having to introduce the appropriate legal and policy framework in place and to remove or phase out subsidies in this area that inhibit sustainable development. “Legislation does provide a framework for implementation and creates a market. For example, a renewable portfolio standard can set a target for 5 per cent of renewable power by 2030. The legislation also have to be stable for a long enough period of time to give investors the confidence to invest. Once the market is created, we need incentives like a feed-in tariff for a fixed number of years to encourage investment. This tariff should be substantial enough for investors make reasonable return from renewable projects,” said Mr Nguyen Xuan Thang, GE-Vietnam Executive[10].

“The German Renewable Energy Sources Act is regarded as the world‘s most successful law for the introduction of renewable energies in the power sector. Apart from the power sector, the Act also applies to the heating sector – as a result of its use of waste heat emitted during the generation of power from bioenergies and geothermal energy. The Renewable Energy Sources Act has given Germany a large internal market and brought about a tumultuous series of innovative developments in wind energy, photovoltaics, biogas, wood-generated electricity and vegetable oil-fired district heating plants. In the years to come, similar successes are to be expected in the generation of power from deep geothermal energy, while marine energies will also have a limited impact at a later date. Traditional hydropower has also benefited from the Renewable Energy Sources Act. The Renewable Energy Sources Act has created more than 150,000 new jobs in Germany without any commitment of taxpayer’s money. In total, more than 250,000 jobs have been created in the renewable energies industry. This is particularly significant at a time when stimulus packages are being adopted in response to the world recession. The Renewable Energy Sources Act is a stimulus package that does not involve new public borrowing! It creates incentives for private investment, above all with money from civil society, but also with money from financial investors. The costs for the market introduction of renewable energies have been considerably lower than in other countries. For instance, the average cost for the generation of power from wind energy in Germany is approximately 8 euro cents per kilowatt hour, compared with approximately 14 euro cents per kilowatt hour in the UK, which has far more wind. At the same time, the expenditure avoided in 2008 thanks to the reduced amounts of fossil and nuclear fuels that had to be purchased and the external costs that were avoided amounted to a total of 17 billion euros – several times the additional costs for the generation of power of approximately 3.2 billion euros, according to the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.
Many observers have been astonished by this development, which has become possible thanks to the principle of cost-covering feed-in tariff. The feed-in tariff provided for in the Renewable Energy Sources Act is oriented consistently towards the minimum economic requirements of investors in the generation of power from renewable energies. As a rule, returns of 7% are taken as the basis for the calculations. It is true that there are now a great many copies of the successful German legislation. But only a very few have been successful over the long term. The basic fact that a certain feed-in tariff is fixed by law is not by any means a guarantee for the functioning market introduction of renewable energies. There are a great many details that have to be right if the desired momentum towards the industrial development of renewable energies is to arise.
Of course, as well as functioning legislation on feed-in tariff further statutory parameters have to be laid down. They should relate, above all, to the approach taken to the approval of plants for the generation of power from renewable energies. All over the world, there are barriers of various heights to the approval of renewable energies. Lowering these barriers to approval is just as indispensable.”[11]

In short, a more integrated planning approach should be undertaken to enhance sustainable
development of the energy sector. The newly aligned Ministry for Energy and Green Technology has to be the “champion” for Malaysia to move forward toward “energy with low impact on carbon” and future “sustainability”.

Danang, Viet Nam,
July 1, 2009

[1] Former Director-General, Department of Environment (DOE) Malaysia (1990-95). Dato’ Bakar is a mechanical engineer by profession (www.akademisains.gov.my), environmental scientist by specialization (www.envirolift.com.my), and a maritime expert by current pre-occupation (www.un.org/depts/los). He can be reached by e-mail: bakar.jaafar@gmail.com

[2] http://www.kttha.gov.my/bm/index.asp 29 June 2009
[3] http://www.un.org/esa/dsd/dsd_aofw_ene/ene_index.shtml 29 June 2009
[4] This refers to rural housing units served as a percentage of total rural housing units.
[5] William F Cottrell (1955). Energy and society: The relation between energy, social changes, and economic development. McGraw-Hill.
[6] http://www.brighthub.com/engineering/marine/articles/37091.aspx June 1, 2009
[7] http://www.energysavers.gov/renewable_energy/ocean/index.cfm/mytopic=50010 10 April 2009 7:07 pm

[8] http://www.energysavers.gov/renewable_energy/ocean/index.cfm/mytopic=50010 10 April 2009 7:07 pm
[9] Ninth Malaysia Plan (2005-2010). Chapter 19. p. 395.
[10] Song Ngoc “Renewable energy sector is heating up,” Vietnam Investment Review, June 29-July 5, 2009. P. 9.
[11] Hans-Josef Fell, Member of the German Bundestag, Spokesperson on Energy and Technology Policy ALLIANCE 90/THE GREENS parliamentary group in the German Bundestag, Vice President EUROSOLAR, “Feed-in Tariff for Renewable Energies: An Effective Stimulus Package without New Public Borrowing”, March 2009.