Harnessing the power of the sun

There is no denying it — global climate change is here. We experience erratic weather and the days seem hotter than they used to be. Global climate change is caused by the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, disrupting eco-systems. According to a 2009 report by Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council, an average global warming rate of 2ºC threatens millions of people, increasing the risk of hunger, malaria, flooding and water shortages.

Significant reduction in greenhouse emissions is the critical way to keep rising temperatures within acceptable limits, and the main greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by using fossil fuel for energy and transport.

Basically, “business as usual” is not an option for future generations. The report states that the power and utilities industry need to take more responsibility as “today’s investment decisions will define the energy supply of the next generation”.

Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council strongly believe this should be the “solar generation”, stressing that the future of renewable energy development will strongly depend on political choices made by both individual governments and the international community. In addition, politicians from the industrialised world urgently need to rethink their energy strategy, while the developing world should learn from mistakes and build economies on the strong foundations of sustainable energy supply.

The report states there is revived interest in renewable sources of energy. Creating and using low-carbon substitutes to fossil fuel may reduce emissions of greenhouse gases significantly, while ensuring growth and development across the world. In other words, most renewable energy sources do not require fuel.

Renewable energy technologies, such as solar photovoltaic panels, wind turbines, biomass power plants, solar thermal collectors and many others, are moving steadily into the market. The global market for renewable energy in 2007 saw a turnover of over US$70 billion (RM245 billion), almost twice the growth from the previous year, and accounting for 13% of the world’s primary energy demand. The main renewable energy source is biomass, while the share of renewable energies for electricity generation stands at 18%. However, about 80% of the primary energy supply today still comes from fossil fuels.
Solar energy does not produce any emissions and we do not need rocket scientists to maintain it - Hadri
Solar energy & PTM
Solar energy is a huge power generator, which remains largely untapped. Germany currently generates more solar energy than any other country in the world despite its northern location far from the Equator and its relatively small population.

The good news is that solar power is a renewable energy alternative which Malaysia could consider, given our climate.

“Solar energy does not produce any emission and we do not need rocket scientists to maintain it. We should fully utilise our natural resources (renewable energies), which we have not, before we even begin to consider other alternatives,” says Pusat Tenaga Malaysia (PTM) National’s Ahmad Hadri Haris, the leader of the Malaysia Building Integrated Photovoltaic (MBIPV) project.
PTM is a non-profit organisation under the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water that was formerly known as the Ministry of Energy, Water and Communications.

PTM functions as a one-stop agency on national energy-related matters. Hadri says the Ministry is now working closely with PTM and other relevant stakeholders to draw up the scope and roadmap for Green Technologies for the immediate, short, medium and long-term future. Hadri says solar photovoltaic (PV) application is growing fast and is expected to play a significant role in the Malaysian economy, with almost RM14 billion worth of foreign direct investments within the last two years.

“It is foreseeable that the role of PTM will grow in scope to mirror the requirements of the ministry, particularly to fulfil its role as the implementing agency for energy efficiency (EE) and renewable energies (RE) strategies. It is also the secretariat for several national programmes and training programmes for EE and RE implementation,” he says. Among the national programmes are Clean Development Mechanism, Quality Assurance Schemes for Photovoltaic (PV) systems and Approved PV Service Providers.

For those who have been considering installing Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) systems, or in simpler terms, solar panels for either homes or commercial buildings, there is the MBIPV project which offers financial incentive programme under Suria 1000.
The project is a national renewable energy project under the Ninth Malaysia Plan, with the main objective of reducing the long-term cost of BIPV through promoting the use of photovoltaic or solar panels in buildings, which are capable of producing energy.

This, in turn, may be capable of generating income once the Feed-in-tariff (FIT) Bill is passed. This is expected to happen in 2011. The proposal for FIT is still being finalised for a presentation to the Cabinet, Hadri tells City & Country.
Suria 1000 was first initiated in 2006 for a period of five years, with a target capacity of 1,500 kWp. Suria 1000 provides financial incentives through capital discounts to both residential and commercial sectors to install BIPVs in their homes/buildings. Based on records from previous calls (or phases), most recipients are from the Klang Valley, including those from Bangsar, Taman Desa and Saujana.

Hadri says Suria 1000 will start its sixth and final call on July 1, 2009, with a target capacity of 340 kWp and a maximum financial incentive of 42% for each participant. It will end on December 1, this year. While its first two calls for Suria 1000 were for residential only, commercial properties were invited to participate in the bid from its third call onwards.

Hadri explains that currently, net-metering is used, as Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) agreed to “buy” the electricity generated by the PV systems at a 1:1 rate. “Buy” in this context means TNB does not pay the excess, should there be any surplus of PV elecricity by the end of the month, but allows the excess to be carried forward to the following months. The excess has to be fully utilised within the calendar year.

“For example, if a household uses 1,500 kWh electricity per month, an installation of a 8kWp PV system will be able to generate 733.33 kWh electricity per month. That means, the house owner will save RM322.53 in electricity bill per month,” says Hadri. The same house with no PV system installed would have to pay RM568.50 for the similar total amount of electricity used.
A true BIPV system is where the PV acts as a primary roof, where there are no roof tiles underneath the PV system while a retrofitted PV is where the PV system is fitted on an existing roof.

Retrofitted PV systems are expected to have a lower FIT, as an encouragement for true BIPV systems. For comparison purposes (see above), if the tariff for retrofitted PV system is RM1.25 per kWp, with the same monthly electricity consumption of 1,500kWh, TNB will pay the owner the balance of RM348.16.
Hadri says the formula for FIT between true and retrofitted PV systems is only in its conceptual stage and there are still other ways of splitting tariffs, for example, based on capacity.

Fifth call
Response to Suria 1000’s fifth call which just ended, was very encouraging. Over 364.94 kWp of BIPV capacity applications were received, with an average financial incentive requested by applicants of 47%.

“It is interesting to see that despite the current economic situation in Malaysia, successful applicants are willing to pay as high as 60% of the cost. Because of this willingness to pay, the PV capacity for the fifth call increased from 140 kWp to 183.24 kWp, an increase of 31%,” he says.

“The average cost of installing PV systems on houses is around RM24,000 per kWp. It is recommended that a typical house installs 3kWp PV capacity. Any PV system that is less than 3kWp will be slightly more costly. Based on our Malaysian record, a bungalow typically installed 5.5 to10 kWp, linked homes have around 3 to 5 kWp and office building 10kWp and above ,” PTM’s MBIPV technological advisor Chen Wei-Nee says. The PV capacity for a house depends on the customer’s willingness to pay and the roof size suitability for a PV system. She adds the Budget 2009 provides exemptions for import duty and sales on solar PV system equipment and sales tax on locally manufactured solar heating system equipment, which is encouraging.

Hadri says while there has been new public excitement about FIT implementation under the coming 10th Malaysia Plan, it is important to be aware that payment for the proposed FIT is generated from a levy on the electricity tariff.

“In some European countries, the levy can be as high as 5% to 6%. In Malaysia, we try to maintain the levy for FIT low so as not to burden the public,” he says. Any increase in the electricity tariff in the near future will accommodate the levy so there is a pool of fund ready to service FIT. The public can do their part to promote a green Malaysia, while generating a new source of income from FIT, he adds. FIT is not limited to PV systems, but for other renewable energies as well, at different rates.

Ultimately, it is not just a matter of saving money or possibly making more money once FIT is approved; it is also about sustainable living and reversing the damage done to the environment. PTM is leading the way with its built-towards-zero-energy office in Bangi, Selangor, the first of its kind in Southeast Asia, costing a cool RM20 million.

As City & Country goes to print, sources familiar with environmental issues voiced concerns that a nuclear policy will be presented to the Cabinet for consideration next month. Based on history, Germany was one of the largest nuclear producing countries, but has passed a resolution to abandon nuclear power by 2020, and is now focusing on solar energy. The move by Germany was the result of the worst nuclear power reactor accident in history — the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Soviet Union in 1986, resulting in the release of radioactivity into the environment.

According to the report by Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council, although the generation of electricity through nuclear power produces much less CO2 than fossil fuels, there are multiple threats to people and the environment, such as nuclear proliferation, nuclear waste and safety risks. Manufacturing a nuclear bomb requires fissile material — either uranium-235 or plutonium-239 — while disposing of nuclear waste by burying it deep underground will not isolate the radioactive material from the environment forever. A deep dump only slows down the release of radioactivity into the environment.

Windscale (1957), Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986) and Tokaimura (1999) are only a few of the hundreds of nuclear accidents which have occurred to date.

This article appeared in City & Country Special Focus, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 760, June 22 - 28, 2009.

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