Renewable energy sources – such as sunlight – are being increasingly used throughout Malaysia to supplement coal, oil and gas-fired plants.
By P. Shavin
AS we move into the 21 century, there is a greater global push towards sustainable development, rather than development at all cost that has since blighted our landscape with pollution and degradation.
The era of rapid industrialisation that capped the end of the 19th century and all of the 20th has resulted in depleting natural resources even as there are now more mouths to feed.
Cutting down virgin forests for timber while displacing the native tribes, as well as unbridled mining activities that leave the land desolate, even conversion of plantation land for development into housing estates, etc. has resulted in the locals forced to shift to urban areas, where they end up as squatters.
These are not sustainable in the long term and scientists and green activists have searched for a better way. And they may have found it with sustainable development.
The term ‘sustainable development’ was used by the Brundtland Commission, which, in its report: Our Common Future in 1987, coined what has become the most often-quoted definition of sustainable development: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Sustainable development ties together concern for the carrying capacity of natural systems with the social challenges faced by humanity.
Nowhere is this plainer than in the power generation industry. For too long, we have been too dependent on fossil fuels to power our generators, light our homes, cool our offices, and energise our transport system.
But without energy to power growth, how will nations, particularly emerging nations hungry to develop their economies, be able to move forward?
The answer is in finding and exploiting – in a sustainable manner – new sources of energy. In fact, renewable energy sources, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat, as well as biomass, are being increasingly used throughout the world to supplement coal, oil and gas-fired power plants.
Malaysia has recognised the need for more sustainable sources of energy to help power its economic development. Its renewable energy of choice is biomass. The National Biofuel Policy launched in 2006, encourages the use of environmentally friendly, sustainable and viable sources of biomass energy.
Under the government’s Five Fuel Policy, biomass was identified as one of the potential renewable energy, and certain incentives were provided to project developers. According to reports, Malaysia produces at least 168 million tonnes of biomass, including timber and oil palm waste, rice husks, coconut trunk fibres, municipal waste and sugar cane waste annually.
The biggest potential contributor to renewable energy is oil palm waste. Malaysia currently has around 4 million hectares under oil palm cultivation. Around 58 million tons of palm oil mill effluent (POME) is produced in Malaysia annually, which has the potential to produce an estimated 15 billion m3 of biogas each year.
According to Salman Zafar, a renowned expert in waste management, renewable energy and sustainable development, another important biomass resource in the country that has good potential for power cogeneration is risk husk.
Writing in his blog, Cleantech Solutions, Salman points to a US$15 million project in Perlis for power generation using risk husk as the main source of fuel. The plant produces 10MW power to meet the requirements of 30,000 households,
Malaysia also currently has several other cogeneration programmes, including three full scale demonstration projects under the EC-ASEAN Cogeneration Program to promote biomass energy systems in Malaysia. They are in Titi Serong, Sungai Dingin Palm Oil Mill and TSH Bioenergy in Tawau.
The rice husk-based 1.5MW Titi Serong power plant, is located at Parit Buntar, Perak, while the 2MW Sungai Dingin Palm Oil Mill project makes use of palm kernel shell and fibre to generate steam and electricity.
As for the 14MW TSH Bioenergy Sdn Bhd, located at Tawau (Sabah), it is currently the biggest biomass power plant in the country, utilising empty fruit bunches, palm oil fibre and palm kernel shell as fuel resources.
Plans are underway for several more plants using biomass to be build, especially near Felda projects where there will be a ready supply of empty fruit bunches and POME.
According to the ASEAN Centre for Energy report Overview of biomass for power generation in Southeast Asia, Malaysia has the potential to generate about 1,117 MW of power from the palm oil industry of Malaysia.
But it is still far short of the country’s energy needs, which are expected to reach 20,700MW by 2020 from 15,826MW in 2012, spurred by the New Economic Model, Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) and the country’s strong GDP growth.
To meet the demand, utility provider Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) plans to invest RM9.7 billion over the next five years to build new power capacity.
In a forthcoming article next week, we will look at how the eco-tourism industry has embraced sustainable development… and is profiting from it!
Photo credit: Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water