MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku



10 APRIL 2024

Monday, May 30, 2022

Tap into huge potential of ‘mini’ power plants


From Gobbi Ramasamy

The government is aiming to achieve 40% renewable energy capacity by 2035 with a focus on green energy, including solar, hydro, and bio energy.

This aim, as outlined in the Malaysia Renewable Energy Roadmap (MyRER), is noble and progressive.

The reality is that while renewable energy is the buzzword for governments, NGOs, and climate change experts alike, it is not a new concept in Malaysia.

For many years, the government has supported efforts to increase renewable energy uptake in Malaysia.

Most energy industry players have focused mostly on photovoltaics (PV) solar projects leveraging on the approximately four hours of sunlight we enjoy a day on average.

The downside of this, of course, is that solar farms take up large tracts of land. The government’s Net Metering Scheme – to encourage the installation of PV solar panels at home – is also unattractive.

Changing weather patterns due to climate change have also made harvesting solar energy less predictable, on top of the fact that the initial investments needed for a solar energy system are quite high.

The authorities have also in the past looked at hydroelectric dams but these always come with a high cost to the environment, flora and fauna, and communities.

For the government, there is also a political cost in pushing for hydroelectric dams. Often, there is a lot of resistance towards these mega infrastructure projects because of the impact they have, from flooding habitats to displacing entire communities.

But hydroelectricity is not all about “going big”. In fact, “mini” hydroelectric projects are the way to go, specifically “run of river” (RoR) projects.

RoR projects leverage on the flow of rivers and involve little or no water storage. This means you do not require a lot of space nor would you need to chop down hectares of forest or displace communities.

This makes RoR power plants suitable for Malaysia, which is blessed with a wide network of rivers.

As far back as 2010, a total of 149 sites had been identified as having the potential to house RoR hydroelectric power plants.

It is estimated that Malaysia has approximately 500MW of RoR hydropower capacity of which only 17.5% is being utilised.

So why isn’t RoR as big as it should be? Despite their potential, there are stumbling blocks to RoR becoming more mainstream.

There is a lack of technical knowledge, with few industry players actually able to make it workable. This is where the government should look to support research, development, and training programmes in this field.

The government should also consider incentives for private-public partnerships or for industry players to develop more RoR power plants.

With energy consumption expected to increase and climate change worsening, we should not waste any more time looking for greener solutions to our energy needs. - FMT

Gobbi Ramasamy is associate professor at PV Energy Storage Lab, Centre for Electric Energy and Automation (CEEA), Faculty of Engineering, Multimedia University.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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