Is Malaysia falling short of renewable energy target?

The global community had generally agreed at the Conference of Parties (COP) 15, held in 2015 in Paris, to limit the global temperature rise to not more than 1.5 °C by the end of the 21st century under the Paris Agreement (PA).

Sadly, the encouraging commitments then received short shrift from the bulk of the COP members in the following years due to the realities of their economic development aspirations, further influenced by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hence, the ambitious initiatives “promised” did not materialise, and the hoped-for pace of action fell far short of the rate needed globally to meet the desired targets.

Subsequent COPs continued reinforcing the need to enhance international climate variability management initiatives to get back on track to achieve PA’s objective.

COP 26 in Glasgow in 2021 was the “last best chance” to reset the global mitigation agenda to avoid the impending severe consequences of worsening climate variability.

Malaysia repeatedly confirmed its commitment to do its share in the energy transition from the predominant fossil fuel use to a more significant share of renewable energy (RE) use.

It made a sustained commitment to achieve a higher percentage of RE in its electricity generation mix to 40 per cent by 2035 and to reduce its “emission intensity” by 45 per cent by 2030.

Among the initiatives are reducing the use of fossil fuels for overall energy needs and replacing them with RE sources.

More recently, attention shifted to the potential use of green hydrogen as a silver bullet for the desired decarbonisation of global energy needs before 2050.

Malaysia has abundant biomass waste from the palm oil plantation industry, some of which ended in landfills, shortening the planned life of those landfills, besides emitting polluting gases from their decomposition and leachate into the soil or nearby waterways.

Electricity generation from RE resources was planned with the Small Renewable Energy Project (SREP) programme from 2001, following the formulation of the National Five Fuel Policy. This initiative, supported by a United Nations Development Program – Global Environment Facility Biogen project to establish an Empty Fruit Bunches (EFB)-fired “Demo Project” to demonstrate the practicality and viability of such biomass power plants.

The SREP promotion, launched with high expectations, failed to take off for various reasons until the enactment of the RE Act in 2011 (which incorporated attractive Feed in Tariff – FiT – rates).

Notwithstanding the shortfall in the SREP implementation, some RE project developers of commercial EFB-fired RE plants established and operated their plants, particularly in Sabah, even before the establishment of “Demo Project”.

Some other business entities took advantage of the situation to use EFB for composting to produce organic fertiliser and to produce biomass pellets, either as standard pellets or in terrified form, for export to countries such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, which sought to reduce their carbon emissions by increasing their use of biofuels.

These initiatives needed lower capex investment than RE power plants and gave better revenue returns.

Malaysia promoted biomass and biogas RE by enacting the RE Act 2011 and establishing the Sustainable Energy Development Authority (SEDA).

SEDA formulated RE development plans, which projected accelerated development of some RE technologies by providing attractive FiT rates.

Despite SEDA’s efforts, the development was far less than hoped for, particularly for the biomass, biogas and mini-hydro segments.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that biomass RE developers who did not have self-generated feedstock (mainly EFB) from their palm oil mills (POMs) faced feedstock supply problems, both from the supply quantity requirements and the price their suppliers demanded.

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) to energy (W2E) project developers also faced a similar problem – inadequate combustible waste to fully utilise their plant capacity to generate enough electricity to earn the revenue needed to make their projects economically viable.

Late-comers in the biomass RE development projects were burdened with much higher power plant capex due to the rapid escalation of commodity prices of 30 per cent after FiT rates were set for such RE developers.

In addition, they also faced high capital costs for the network interconnection, usually at 33 kV, to connect to the distribution supply systems as most of the POMs were not close to the existing relevant distribution supply systems.

Biogas projects were not immediately developed as the POMs didn’t have the desired biogas capture and use systems as the Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME) was retained in open ponds in the earlier days before they were compelled to better manage their Green House Gas emissions from the POME ponds.

Moreover, as the prospective biogas power plants were of a much smaller capacity compared with the biomass plants, their supply interconnection costs were even more of a handicap to feed their electricity generation into the utility grid.

Similarly, the design of landfill gas plants meant they didn’t get adequate gas generation to capture the emissions for power generation (or flaring).

Malaysia’s Economy Minister Rafizi Ramli reiterated the commitment to the national energy transition. The policy statement is appropriate, but does Malaysia have abundant (or even adequate) biomass for substantial decarbonisation of the national energy system?

From the Malaysia Renewable Energy Roadmap report, it would appear that Malaysia has abundant biowaste. So why has the local bio-fuelled RE generation capacity failed to match the planned capacity?

One question is: “Why haven’t the government-owned plantation groups taken the initiative to satisfy the government desired biomass and biogas RE development targets when the options were available?” @Green


This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.