When we talk about renewable energies and a green future, what pops up in your mind? Is it the wind energy farms that cluster the countryside?
Or maybe we are talking about solar panels on multiple buildings and public facilities, perhaps even the rooftop of KL Sentral station, similar to what one would see on Blackfriars station in London?
Do we see people sorting their trash according to what can be recycled? Maybe even looking towards product packaging which is easily recycled?
Do we see people sorting their waste in restaurants, at a local Starbucks, where plastic cups are emptied of liquids similar to what you will find in a Pret A Manger?
What about food, for that matter? Do we see a boycotting of restaurants that waste too much, a fine for those who waste too much, even during the upcoming Ramadhan buffets?
Do we see ourselves becoming like the Swiss, where each garbage bag of trash requires a sticker that will be attached to a cost paid to local councils?
It is good to have a proper image of what you think of when we talk about renewable energies and a green future, because then we can gauge a baseline of what you believe versus the realities of the world.
Let us start with wind energy and its potential in Malaysia, because we seem to have people with this misinformed belief that we can somehow have wind farms all across the country to make up our energy production.
You need a wind speed of 3.5 m/s to start generating wind energy, and up to 10-15 m/s to generate the optimum amount of power of 1-3 kW. So, where exactly can you find such wind speeds?
Quick answer? Nowhere. According to the General Climate Information page of the Malaysian Meteorological Department, the highest mean daily wind speed is recorded in Mersing, Johor – and it’s a mere 3.8 m/s.
So, we can quickly put this wind energy alternative to rest for now.
Secondly, let us talk about solar energy. First off, let us dispel this myth that we get sunshine non-stop all year around. On an average Malaysian day, we only have 4 hours – from 11 AM to 3PM – of solar energy generation, sometimes less, out of 24 hours.
We have an average 2 months where the skies are cloudy and rainy, which tend to limit the generation of solar.
Thus, you would have to build up a huge plot of solar energy panels which will collect enough energy for those four hours that we get, to achieve optimum collection. Land might be cheap in certain areas, and thus, it could be used.
But how many panels would you have to build to even achieve a proper amount of solar energy to feed into the grid to make it meaningful?
Plus, for those not in the know, heated solar cells actually produce less energy rather than more. In other words, you need the sun, but it cannot be too hot outside. Also, be prepared to clean each and every panel properly to ensure proper collection every now and then.
So let’s talk about other renewable energies that truly matter. First off, let us talk nuclear. After all, KKB Engineering and China are already teaming up for a study to see its potential in Sarawak. We aren’t the only ones considering such an option, as Thailand, Singapore and even Cambodia are considering it now. Thailand, in particular, is targeted to have its first plant in 2023. Malaysia aims to have it after 2030, while Indonesia will reconsider it post 2050.
Two things are in favour for Malaysia; we don’t have large earthquakes other than that recorded in Sabah, and we don’t face large scale tsunamis. We are geographically primed as a haven for such a development.
The second renewable energy we can cater for is waste-to-energy technology, which is already in Singapore, Thailand, with the largest one currently being planned in India. We have been dependent on landfills to the point that we have 170 of them, plots of land with trash dumped on it to rot in whatever climate we get.
Waste-to-energy lessens our dependency on landfills and uses it to generate energy, which will feed back into the power grid. Best of all, we have had companies in Malaysia who have built such power plants and the technologies involved since 1996.
At the same time, we need to change our ideas of solid and organic waste disposal, as well as recycling.
Actually, we need to go back in time to the 1990s when each school was equipped with recycling bins, televisions had kids featured in recycling commercials, and even have recycling drives in each neighbourhood to show people how to do it, especially in more rural and suburban areas.
Subsequently, we must make waste of resources expensive – this includes having fines for excessive waste, increase landfill prices, and charge a green tax for companies which do not promote recyclable packaging.
There may also be a need to look at energy efficiency and monitoring for individuals to be aware of wastage, perhaps by having each metre actually programmed to show the amount of ringgit per hour spent. Perhaps even allow the setting of an alarm should it reach a user set ceiling.
Similarly, we need to monitor roads to limit emissions, with a fine attached as we can see in London. It is also a step to ensure vehicle maintenance is not lagging and endangering others on the roads.
To move towards a greener Malaysia is to consider both reward and punishment, and to look at viable solutions while also talking about things that make us uncomfortable in terms of progressive technology.
There will always be luddites and fearmongers who use our lack of trust in the government to their advantage, but the ideas are safe, efficient and sound. That is the only mantra one needs in order to make Malaysia cleaner and greener, as well as energy efficient.