Renewable energy: where are we?

TNB is under extreme pressure with subsidised gas shortage

A few days ago Business FM, a private radio station ran a series on renewable energy which renewed my flagging interest on this topic. I wrote a small dissertation on solar energyway back in the early 80’s. Even up to this day I am still baffled on the reason why Malaysia has not taken much effort to utilise the energy from the sun. Being a tropical country, the sun is abundant throughout the year and it is free. In fact our Southern neighbour had taken  a firm action to be a leading nation on solar energy research.  I know the incentive may not be that great since our fossil energy is heavily subsidised by the Government. But then, our gas supply can only last for another 30 years or so and oil  can only last for another 19 years. We should be ready for the eventuality of us being a net importer of oil.

The lady from SEDAR (sustainable energy development authority) told us the Government have started planning for feed in tariffs since seven years ago. Feed in tariff as I understood it is a mechanism where energy can be fed back into the national grid by generators of electricity and the supplier can be compensated according the wattage fed into the grid. Plans are afoot to allow private generators of power supply to feed excess power into the national grid. Home owners can install photo voltaic cells on their roofs and any excess electricity form the PV can be transmitted to the national grid.

Efficiency of power from PV cells are still low and it is still cheaper to use fossil fuel for electricity

 The same can be said for organisations which use biomass or garbage to generate electricity for their own consumption can now contribute any excess power to the TNB via the national grid. The days of TNB monopoly on electricity is nearing the end. I remember in the early days of our nation, they were a few companies involved along the electricity supply chain. Perak hydro and Kinta Electricity Distibution (KED) were such companies. But these days everything is under the jurisdiction of TNB (except a few indpendent power producers, IPPs, which also used fossil fuels to generate elctricity and TNB must buy power from them).

TNB relies heavily on the fossil fuel for its generators and when Petronas recently cut down on supply of subsidised gas due to maintenance work and the price coal skyrocketed, TNB suffered heavily. It was reported that TNB is asking for a compensation to the tune of RM3 billion from Petronas as a result of shortage of gas. I wonder how long TNB should rely on fossil fuel to power their generators. Hopefully with the feed in tariffs come into force, 30% of the elctricity would come from feed in supply.

More importantly, SEDAR said, consumers must learn to be prudent in using power. The power game should not only concentrate on the suppliers but consumers also play a crucial part. SEDAR estimated that consumers can save as much as 30% of the national energy costs. Maybe Malaysia should spend a lot more on research on solar energy to make it more efficient. In terms of supply, we can never be short of sunshine. In Korea, I saw many car parks use PVs on the roofs to light up the areas.  I believe our Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI) can do a lot more than their Singapore’s counterpart. Then again, as long as fuel being subsidised by the Government, both the suppliers and consumers had little incentives to conserve and innovate on energy. Economically, it is still  a lot cheaper to use fossil fuel than its alternatives. But then for how long can we sustain this?

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