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Tuesday September 20, 2011

Conserve energy and reduce costs

Energy-efficient appliances not only pare down electricity bills, they reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power generation too.

AT the height of the oil crisis in the 1970s, renewable energy and energy efficiency (EE) were touted as Malaysia’s fifth fuel. However, the discovery of substantial deposits of oil and natural gas in the 1980s relegated EE issues to the back burner in no time.

The promotion of EE was “renewed” in the 1990s by the Electricity and Gas Supply Department (EGSD) and the Ministry of Energy (now the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water, or KeTTHA). Some regulations on EE were drafted then but were not implemented due to “legal issues”.

Looking back, there was actually an EE unit that was established under EGSD (the predecessor of the present day Energy Commission), but its regulatory scope covered only lamp chokes and fans. Efforts at consumer education on EE was spotty and haphazard, though under the 8th Malaysia Plan (2001-2005), there was again some official proclamation of making EE (and renewable energy) the “fifth fuel”, after oil, natural gas, coal and hydroelectric.

Air-conditioners are another high energy user.

In his 9th Malaysia Plan (2006-2010) speech, then Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said that adequate and quality energy supply is key to the nation’s development. “The public has to realise the value and scarcity of such resources. An energy conservation culture must be inculcated. Buildings should be designed to optimise energy usage. Such resources need to be prudently and carefully utilised.

“The Government will adopt measures to reduce wastage by enhancing energy efficiency and increasing energy sufficiency. The Government is also committed to reduce dependence on petroleum products through the increased usage of alternative fuels such as biofuel and biodiesel as well as renewable energy.”

Malaysia is now into its 10th Plan (2011-2015), and EE still remains pretty much a concept that has yet to be translated into widespread measures on the ground. If anything, national utility provider Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) has gone on a fuel oil buying spree due to the lack of natural gas supply from Petronas for power generation, a phenomenon labelled as “gas curtailment”. According to Petronas, supply has to be curtailed as some of its offshore production facilities have to undergo maintenance and upgrading.

The episode of gas curtailment blew away the myth of Malaysia having a power generation reserve margin of 40%. In reality, reserve margin is about reserve installed capacity, not actual amount of electricity that is “put to waste” as reserve.

Having a hefty installed reserve capacity means nothing if there is no fuel to power them, and this is precisely what happened at the height of the gas curtailment in the first half of this year, where TNB even had to buy about 180 megawatt (MW) of electricity from Singapore to cover the shortfall in actual running reserve margin, marking the first time that Singapore exported electricity to Malaysia. Just last week, TNB said that it expects to spend an additional RM3bil this year to buy fossil fuels (excluding gas) like fuel oil, coal and distillates to run its stations in the face of sustained gas curtailment.

The Energy Commission’s sixyear- old energy efficiency label is still not compulsory for electrical appliances manufacturers and importers.

Energy guzzler

Malaysia is a high energy user. According to the World Bank, each Malaysian used 2,693kg of oil in 2008. In comparison, each Indonesian used only 870kg, Filipino 455kg and Chinese, 1,598kg. In terms of electricity use, each Malaysian used an average of 3,667kWh (kilowatt hours) in 2008.

A glance at the consumption pattern in developed countries shows that Malaysia could easily double its demand for electricity as it continues to climb the ladder of affluence. For example, Hong Kong’s per capita consumption was 5,899kWh, Germany 7,184kWh, Switzerland 8,163kWh, Japan 8,474kWh and Singapore, 8,513kWh. According to KeTTHA, electricity consumption is expected to grow at an average rate of 3% to 4% annually until 2020.

In the face of depleting oil and gas reserves, and rising carbon dioxide emissions, curtailing the amount of fossil fuel burnt for power generation is the clear way to go. While waiting for that to happen, KeTTHA has announced the banning of incandescent light bulbs by 2014, and to mandate that air-conditioners be set no lower than 24°C, starting with Government-owned buildings.

As far as the consumer is concerned, the most visible manifestation of EE education is the sweeteners amounting to RM50mil currently being dispensed by KeTTHA called Sustainability Achieved via Energy Efficiency (SAVE) programme. SAVE is envisaged to create a culture of efficient energy usage among the general public and business entities by inducing them to choose energy-efficient electrical appliance through the offer of rebates for purchases of such goods. The programme aims to save up to 127.3GWh (gigawatt hours) this year – equivalent to the amount of electricity consumed by 425,000 houses (assuming an average monthly consumption of 300kWh.)

It is hoped that SAVE could “save” the need to set aside 26MW in generation capacity. For comparison, the latest coal-fired plant ordered by TNB in Manjung, Perak, scheduled to be online by 2015, is sized at 1,000MW.

KeTTHA hopes that widespread adoption of greener appliances can help consumers save costs and at the same time, reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Targetting household appliances makes perfect sense, especially those that consume the lion’s share of a home’s electricity usage. Typically, these are refrigerators, air-conditioners and clothes driers.

Modern energy-efficient appliances use significantly less energy than older appliances. Current energy-efficient refrigerators, for example, use 40% less energy than conventional models did in 2001. As such, replacement of old appliances is one of the most efficient measures to reduce electricity usage.

According to Bosch Germany: “Modern household appliances consume up to 73% less electricity than comparable appliances of 15 years ago and thus offer enormous potential for reducing energy consumption and CO2 emissions. The highly efficient appliances that were sold in Europe in 2010 by Bosch (including Siemens) will lead to electricity savings of 1.9 billion kWh.’’

Following this, if all households in Europe changed their more than 10 years old appliances into new ones, 20 billion kWh of electricity would be saved annually, hence reducing carbon dioxide emissions by almost 18 million tonnes.

Efficiency labels

KeTTHA’s way of informing consumers on what constitutes an energy-efficient appliance is through its little known EE label, which uses a star rating, with the most efficient appliance having a five-star rating. EE labelling is entirely voluntary at the moment but at least a dozen manufacturers have come on board to support SAVE, which is actually a rebate system to induce consumers to choose five-star rated appliances over those that are less efficient.

Even though SAVE was launched in Putrajaya two months ago, those who are familiar with the pulse of green purchasing do not think that Malaysians are aware of the concept of energy efficiency in the first place.

“I don’t think Malaysians have been properly educated on energy efficiency concepts. This view is, of course, not backed by statistics, but merely an observation. This is because our electricity, being subsidised indirectly through lower priced gas to TNB, is relatively cheap,’’ said David Lee Boon Siew, managing editor of Green Purchasing Asia, a publication specialising in green procurement.

Anthony Tan, executive director of the Centre for Environment, Technology & Development Malaysia (Cetdem) feels the same way, remarking that what attracts Malaysians are low-priced products. “Understanding about saving electricity is perhaps confined only to the use of low-wattage compact fluorescent lamps or LED bulbs instead of high wattage incandescent bulbs or fluorescent tubes.”

It also does not help the cause of EE or conservation when households using less than RM20 (or up to 92kWh) of electricity a month get away with paying nothing since October 2008.

Lee is of the opinion that Malaysians are generally unaware of the Energy Commission’s energy efficiency labelling. “The industry has been using other more well-known labels (from Europe, the United States, Japan or Singapore). Unless it is made compulsory, they will not want to paste so many labels on a product. The Energy Commission will have to do more to promote the label if it wants buy-in.”

According to Tan, the average Malaysian does not recognise the EE label, let alone understand what it means, even though it is already six years old. “The voluntary part actually serves as a disincentive to retailers to display the label on products. While the intentions of SAVE are good, the Malaysian consumer has to first understand what EE is all about, and why it is important to achieve EE as a nation. People have to understand the concept of climate change and the relationship between wasteful energy use and high carbon dioxide emissions. Good intent and good results don’t necessarily come hand in hand.”

Tan is cautious in his prediction whether SAVE will achieve its intended objectives. “Some people might end up buying larger capacity equipment because they realise that they can get away with paying the same amount every month yet enjoy the use of a larger capacity air-conditioner, television, or refrigerator. To overcome this, education and awareness are key issues that need to be addressed.”

Carrots and sticks

At any case, those who have bought five-star rated appliances are happy with the results they are seeing. Lee had bought a five-star rated Panasonic inverter 395-litre fridge last November to replace his creaky 15-year-old fridge. “I noticed an immediate drop in my electricity bill by about RM40. While I didn’t do an in-depth check on whether it was due to the fridge alone, I would say it definitely helped. My normal electricity bill is about RM200.”

While giving of rebates is practised by some countries, other developed countries like Singapore has chosen a non-rebate model to push for EE. It made energy-labelling compulsory for air-conditioners and refrigerators in 2008, and added clothes dryer to the list in 2009. Early this month, it enforced a “minimum energy performance standards” (MEPS) on all registrable appliances (air-conditioners, refrigerators and clothes dryers) sold there, with regular audits and checks on the stock sold in the market to ensure compliance.

KeTTHA denies that it is putting the cart before the horse by dishing out rebates in the face of non-compulsory EE labelling, and the non-existence of MEPS for most products on sale now. “Actually, there are lots of things we have to do. We are currently preparing the EE masterplan for the Government’s approval, but there are many things that need to move first. Getting the law sorted out takes at least 16 months, and we cannot be waiting for everything to fall into place before doing things,” said Badriyah Abdul Malek, KeTTHA’s under-secretary for the sustainable energy division.

Pointing to the feed-in tariff (FiT) programme which is expected to be implemented by Dec 1 after several postponements (due to various regulatory hurdles), Badriyah said that the raising of awareness is important in the meantime. “We want people to know about EE, and to get their buy-in, even as the regulations are being worked upon. We cannot wait until the entire EE masterplan is ready before we start doing things. We do not want it to be like the FiT where nothing can move until all the laws are in place.”

She maintains that pushing for EE through appliance purchases is a quick and effective way of achieving the Government’s goals of curbing carbon intensity and at the same time, provide real savings to the people. Alluding that this is indeed the plucking of low-hanging fruits, Badriyah said that pushing the entire slew of EE measures will be a long journey. “Yes, it is carrots first, but rest assured that the whip will follow. You don’t want to start by punishing people.”

Green fridge

Assistant Editor Meng Yew Choong has consistently clocked less than 220kWh per month since purchasing a four-tick rated (given by Singapore’s National Environment Agency and equivalent to a five-star rating) 460-litre Panasonic refrigerator nearly two years ago.

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