By MENG YEW CHOONG
Malaysia's dependence on fossil fuels for electricity is staggering. In 2013, more than 90% of electricity produced in Peninsular Malaysia came from fossil fuels, with gas and coal each contributing 43.7% while fuel oil and diesel, 3.3%.
Hydropower, at 8.7%, came in a distant second, according to the 2013 Energy Balance report produced by the Energy Commission. Other renewables such as biomass and photovoltaics contributed 0.7%. Even though 2015 statistics are not yet available, there is every reason to believe that coal has surpassed gas as the main fuel for electricity.
Peninsular Malaysia has four major coal-fired plants with a total installed capacity of 8,215MW, and they consumed 20.4 million tonnes of coal in 2013.
Barring the discovery of a major gas field in our waters, gas is unlikely to displace coal as the preferred fuel. Petronas has maintained time and again that local gas fields are depleting.
To counter vastly reduced domestic gas supplies, it constructed a RM3bil liquified natural gas regasification terminal – Malaysia’s first – in Malacca in 2012 so that it can import LNG. It is currently planning to build a second regasification terminal in Johor to secure long term supplies of gas for the country.
According to Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB), long-term energy security concerns prompted the nuclear energy option to be revisited. This also explains the country’s coal-binge drive – it will add another 5,000MW of coal-fired capacity over the 2015-2019 period, thus guaranteeing that coal will be the dominant fuel for decades to come.
The Energy Commission expects the share of coal in power generation to grow to 63% by 2020, or 37 million tonnes a year. For contrast, in 2009, 65% of electricity came from gas, while coal’s share was at 29%.
The only silver lining is that Malaysia is not burning the worst grade of coal, or stuck with highly inefficient plants. TNB imports “better” coal (lower in sulphur and bitumen) mostly from Indonesia for its latest generation of coal plants.
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On its website, TNB said it is exploring low-carbon technology such as nuclear to meet future energy needs. Electricity demand in the peninsula is expected to grow at 3% to 5% annually from 2010 until 2020.
In June 2009, the Malaysian Cabinet decided to include nuclear as an energy option for the peninsula post-2020. In December that year, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak made a commitment to reduce Malaysia’s carbon emission intensity by 40% by 2020 (compared to 2005 levels). This goal was revised to a 45% cut by 2030 at the recent climate change meeting in Paris.
In January 2011, the Malaysian Nuclear Power Corporation was set up to evaluate the feasibility of nuclear plants but its work slowed down after the Fukushima Daiichi incident.
Currently, TNB is working with Nuclear Malaysia and the Atomic Energy Licensing Board for potential nuclear power development. The country is still some distance away from the “point-of-no-return” on the nuclear power timeline but TNB is already working with Korea Electric Power Corporation on preparatory work related to public acceptance, regulatory requirements, safety and health considerations, technology identification and site selection.