clean energy 2

When talking about the world's environment, sometimes it seems that there is no room for optimism.

Climate change has reached an irreversible point, which in turn is increasing the temperature of the world, melting ice caps, and contributing to the world's rising sea levels.

Meanwhile, things aren't looking good among our immediate neighbours in the region, as deforestation, open burning, and slash and burn practices still reign in some parts of the world.

All this, combined with pollution, makes for a not so pretty picture of the earth that we're leaving for our children.

But, the people around the world have taken notice of the world's ills, and major governments are working on solutions on how we can at least slow down the effects and start shaping a better world for the future.

One of those initiatives that have taken hold globally, is renewable energy.

Renewable energy or clean energy simply refers to energy taken from a source that will not deplete when used. As we all know, the world now runs on fossil fuel which is not renewable.

Some of the leading sources of renewable energy technology available in the world today includes solar power, wind power, hydro power (power generated from water) and biomass energy (energy produced by land resources such as food waste and garbages).

According to an article by Knowledge@Wharton University of Pennsylvania, Denmark produces 43% of it's energy from renewable sources, and they are aiming to have 70% by 2020. Meanwhile, Germany utilizes clean energy at more than 30% now, and are aiming for an incredible 80% by 2050.

So, in light of this, where does Malaysia stand? Where are we in terms of utilizing and implementing clean energy?

What Is Our Government Doing So Far?

According to the National Renewable Energy Policy and Action Plan, which has been in place since 2011, Malaysia aims for a total of 11% of our energy sources to be from renewable sources by 2020.

The Renewable Energy Act 2011 was also passed by Malaysia’s Parliament, paving the way to establish and implement a special tariff system to ensure that the development of that energy sector is well governed from the start.

The act provides for a Feed-in Tariff (FiT) System regulated by the Sustainable Energy Development Authority of Malaysia (SEDA) to provide strong regulatory support to ensure renewable energy produced in this sector is purchased, distributed and utilised effectively.

Although this seems miniscule compared to the countries mentioned before in this article, we also must remember that Malaysia is still a developing country, and comparing us to major powerhouses countries is a foolish notion.

Which is why considering where we are right now economically and technology wise, we are actually doing quite well with our renewable energy program.

But although there are some considerable progress in Malaysia when it comes to renewable energy, there are also some challenges in the implementation of clean energy.

One of the biggest challenges is, that there are other alternatives to traditional fossil fuels, other than renewable energy as well despite the alarm raised by the International Energy Agency (IEA) that if we continue to unlock the earth’s resource of fossil fuels, we will raise our planet’s temperatures to the point of no return.

According to IEA, to keep the world below an average 2°C temperature increase which has catastrophic consequences, we need to leave 80% of all fossil fuels in the ground.

Yet one of the most popular alternatives is coal energy. Coal energy is generated through burning coal to produce energy.

Although coal has been receiving international backing as an alternative to fossil fuel, the fact remains that the burning of coal contributes to harmful carbon emissions, which makes it part of the problem rather than the solution.

One of the main draws to coal as an alternative compared to renewable energy, is that coal is very cheap, especially when compared to renewable energy.

And for a developing country like Malaysia, cheap energy tends to be more valuable, due to our socioeconomic restraints.

Which begs the question, where does renewable energy stand in Malaysia? Is is the way to the future, or is there still a place for other alternatives?

“The Most Important Thing To Note About Traditional Fuels Is That They Won't Be Around Forever”

In terms of where renewable energy stands in Malaysia, climate change advocate and activist Harith believes that there is a bright future in Malaysia when talking about renewable energy.

“I believe that with national policy, and the way the world's governments has been leaning, there is a bright future for renewable energy,” he said.

According to Harith, although we are still very reliant on fossil fuels for energy, thanks to the efforts of several government initiatives such as Sustainable Energy Development Authority of Malaysia (SEDA), renewable energy is starting to find their own foothold in Malaysia.

Harith also talks up the importance of renewable energy, especially considering the worsening state of the earth.

“Renewable energy is important in our status as a developing country, especially considering our own reliance on traditional fossil fuels.

“The most important thing to note about traditional fuels is that they won't be around forever, one day the resources will deplete themselves. So we need to be ready to look in the long term and start implementing renewable energy as one of our primary energy sources,” said the 33-year-old..

AirAsia Berhad chief executive officer Aireen Omar (left) participated in a recycling campaign in conjunction with a talk by Power Shift Malaysia, a climate change movement, talk on raising awareness about climate change. Pic: TwitterAirAsia Berhad chief executive officer Aireen Omar (left) participated in a recycling campaign in conjunction with a talk by Power Shift Malaysia, a climate change movement, talk on raising awareness about climate change. Pic: Twitter

Harith, who spends his free time organizing and giving talks about climate change advocacy and the importance of renewable energy, also points out that awareness among people about the importance of renewable energy is high, but the action being taken is lacking.

“The general public needs to be doing more, when it comes to the implementation of renewable energy. Even simple acts such as separating your trash will be beneficial in the long run,” he said.

This says Harith, shows the need for proper education in conserving the nature around us in schools and education institutions.

“I believe that a special subject dealing with environmental conservation should be taught in schools. This will go a long way in letting the public, especially the children and teenagers the importance of their role in keeping the earth healthy,” he said.

Although renewable energy is the way to the future, some people still believes that it is something that is long term, and quite idealistic in it's nature.

Let's take the South Australian Blackouts for example. In 2016, the southern parts of Australia experienced a blackout in the entire state.

Although the reasons for the blackouts were established to be due to storm damage, it did not stop politicians to ask if renewable energy failed them then.

After the incident, Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, Barnaby Joyce attributed the blackouts to the failure of wind energy.

Malcolm Turnbull, the President also said that the incident was caused by state governments paying little attention to “energy security”.

The whole incident sparked a furious debate in the field of renewable energy, with most people questioning the feasibility of renewable energy.

After all, most renewable energy is intermittent energy, such as solar and wind. In countries where there is little to no sunlight or wind, this means that there is no solar energy and wind to be harnessed.

Which brings us to the next question, is renewable energy really that feasible?.

“Time Is Of The Essence”

According to Encik Fahmi Mansur, who is a lecturer of Environmental Sciences in a private university, says that it is feasible, but if implemented in the correct way.

“This is the reason why, renewable energy needs to be implemented correctly.

“We are still in our infancy when it comes to renewable energy. Technology. This is why we need to study every aspect of it carefully and, choose where and when we can implement it,” he said.

Although he believes that it is good to meticulously study the effects and the consequences before implementation, Fahmi also believes that when talking about renewable energy, “time is of the essence.”

But he applauds the government for their efforts, and thinks that the government is on the right track with their initiatives.

“The government is doing a fine job with the implementation of renewable energy. When you look at the New Economic Model proposed way back in 2010, it shows that the government wants the nation to be able to take a leadership role in the implementation of renewable energy.

“Amongst ASEAN countries, we are among the leaders, and that is a very proud achievement,” he said.

`Kazakhstan’s Astana expo 2017 commissioner Rapil Zhoshybayev, Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Maximus Ongkili, Malaysia Pavilion commissioner Datuk Seri Dr Zaini Ujang and Sustainable Energy Development Authority chairman Datuk Dr Yee Moh Chai launching the Malaysian Pavilion at the Astana Expo 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan. Pic: NST`Kazakhstan’s Astana expo 2017 commissioner Rapil Zhoshybayev, Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Maximus Ongkili, Malaysia Pavilion commissioner Datuk Seri Dr Zaini Ujang and Sustainable Energy Development Authority chairman Datuk Dr Yee Moh Chai launching the Malaysian Pavilion at the Astana Expo 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan. Pic: NST

In fact, a BMI Research in February this year places Malaysia among the top three for renewal energy investment. BMI's “Asia Renewables RRI: Investment Opportunities” report published in early 2017 lists Malaysia, Singapore and Australia as the best countries such investments.

“Momentum behind Malaysia’s renewables sector has been gathering pace, in line with the country’s National Renewable Energy Policy and Action Plan and the government’s feed-in tariff scheme.

“This supportive energy policy, alongside relatively good access to finance and well-developed grid infrastructure results in Malaysia’s risks profile outperforming the regional average as well,” BMI's report states.

Fahmi also said that it is not only the federal government, but some state governments and corporations deserve praise for their commitment towards renewable energy as well.

“Such as Sabah state government, when they rejected the plans for a new coal fired power plant back in 2010, as it will have detrimental effects on the environment.

In fact, Sabah announced the country's first geothermal power plant to be developed in Apas Kiri, Tawau in August last year.

"The geothermal energy technology is considered as both very green with extremely low carbon footprints and has very high availability and reliability rate as clearly demonstrated in other operating plants worldwide," said SEDA in statement, ernama repots.

“The same goes for corporations like the Berjaya group, who had funded plenty of renewable energy projects in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. FELDA also is one of the main proponents of Biomass energy, which counts as one of our biggest contributors to sustainable energy growth.

When asked about the main challenges in implementing renewable energy in Malaysia, he believes that convincing companies to make the jump is one of the greatest challenge.

And he believes that better education will be key in overcoming the challenges.

“First of all, we need to educate the people on the importance of renewable energy, and why they need to get behind it. Then only will the businesses follow suit.

“Investors need to invest more in companies that cares about their sustainibility of their projects, which will in turn get the companies to switch their stance.

“Capital can be moved, but the public needs to be educated first,” said Fahmi.

The Business Of Renewable Energy Must Be Economically Viable

When talking about challenges in the implementation of renewable energy, one thing that always stood in the discussion is the cost of implementing clean energy.

Which is why coal is still such a popular alternative across the world, even with the proven carbon emission contribution.

And with the recent introduction of clean coal technology, there has been a push back for coal powered plants in some countries, like the USA.

And cases are also being made that the introduction of renewable energy and their plants will take away jobs from traditional coal plant workers.

But with proper retraining and re-education, there will be no problems for the workers in coal plants, to secure jobs in the coming renewable energy power plants.

And although coal might work as an energy source in the short term, we still need to look at the long term in our decisions.

In Malaysia, it is clear that the move to renewable and sustainable energy is always at the forefront of the government in their actions.

In 2010, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in a blogpost on the environment said that Malaysia's fuel mix was leaning too much towards natural gas and coal. He went on to express his hopes to correct this imbalance as Malaysia moves to become one of the leaders in sustainable energy development, and a low carbon economy.

As we can see, this led to the Renewable Energy Act in 2011 and the setting of the National Renewable Energy Policy and Action Plan to ensure 11% of our country’s energy needs are meet from renewable sources by 2020.

SEDA's projection on the renewable energy business sector by the year 2020. Chart: SEDASEDA's projection on the renewable energy business sector by the year 2020. Chart: SEDA

However, even renewable energy must be shown to be profitable to generate continued investment and growth.

The private sector has also been coming around to the ‘green is good for business’ concept with developers, manufacturers and even the financial sector introducing green initiatives which were recognised in the first Green Tech awards in 2015.

Among the sectors recognised during the awards ceremony were Maybank in recognition for its Green Technology Financing Scheme, Gading Kencana for its push for renewable energy services, Malakoff Corp for investing in the largest wind farms in Australia. Companies involved in developing solar energy were also awarded, Cypark Resources was recognised for initiative to construct solar farms on closed landfills and Malaysian Solar Resources, a leading investor in local solar manufacturing.

Bandar Eco-Setia was awarded for building homes with solar energy systems while Panasonic Malaysia was awarded for its line of energy efficient appliances and Tan Chong Motors for its efforts in bringing in electric cars for the mass market.

Government linked agencies were also recognised for their efforts in going green. Among them Malaysia Airports Holdings for incorporating solar photovoltaic technology in KLIA and green features in KLIA2, Malaysia Debt Ventures in promoting Islamic financing for green technology and Malaysian Resources Corporation in advocating commercial buildings that meet green standards.

On 1 August 2016, RAM Ratings published a rating methodology on renewable energy projects to enable sustainable and responsible investing, technological advancements, and a stable local regulatory framework.

RAM Ratings reported that currently it is the large-scale hydro power plants that dominate the renewable energy sector citing government statistics that 6,083MW of electrity produced in 2015 was from this source making up 23 per cent of the national capacity. Meanwhile the rest of the sector, including solar photovoltaic, biomass and geothermal sources only contribute 2 percent to the nation's energy consumption.

Although there is still a long way to go, with a government like Malaysia's and their continued fight for renewable energy, there is much room for optimism

After all, although there might be some rocky waters ahead, the conversion to renewable energy is important, in order to secure a better future for Malaysia.

Source: Malaysian Digest | 24 July 2017

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