We need to use electricity and water more responsibly

  • Environment
  • Tuesday, 08 Aug 2017

Since the setting up of the Sustainable Energy Development Authority (Seda) and the introduction of the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) mechanism in 2012, solar projects have sprung up across the country Photo: Filepic

Will increasing water and electricity rates help reduce consumption and wastage? Is solar energy the next big “alternative” wave? How do we keep our rivers clean?

All these issues were addressed in a recent interview with Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry’s (KeTTHA) secretary general Datuk Seri Ir Dr Zaini Ujang.

“One of the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals is responsible consumption. This is very important, otherwise our environment and consumption won’t be sustainable,” said Zaini.

In relation to electricity, he said people usually switch on lights when they are inside a building because they close all the windows curtains. Why not use natural lighting? Design features like skylights will also help.

Skylights allow sunlight to illuminate this mall at Setia Alam, leading to substantial savings on electric bills. Photo: Filepic

Similarly, why use so much air conditioning? Why not cool down a building naturally through cross ventilation? That, of course, would save on electric bills too.

The same applies to water usage.

“The importance of water security can be viewed from various perspectives; water to sustain life, water for the environment, water for food production, water for water supply, water for good hygiene and so on,” said Zaini.

“Malaysians use 236 litres of water a day per capita. That is beyond what is sustainable. We are aiming for 180 litres per day per capita, as per the 11th Malaysian Plan.

“But I can see that unless we go to the public and push towards better understanding (of responsible consumption), we will be staying at that level (236l/day) because our water tariffs are so low,” he added.

Powering the nation

Since the setting up of the Sustainable Energy Development Authority (Seda) and the introduction of the Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) mechanism in 2012, solar projects have sprung up across the country. The FiT programme requires Tenaga Nasional Berhad to buy all electricity generated from renewable energy sources, including, for example, from homes which have solar panels (photovoltaic systems) installed on their rooftops (and who have signed up for the scheme), at attractive rates.

These louvres can be opened to allow cooling air and natural light into the Socso Rehab Centre in Melaka, as architect Mokhlis Abdul Rahim explains. Photo: Filepic

According to the Ministry, the solar projects under FiT are operating within initial forecasts and getting reasonable yield.

Zaini noted that, as of May 31, 472MW of solar power is being generated nationwide, which amounts to about 2% of estimated total energy generated in the country. Of that total, 314MW are connected to the national electrical grid.

“This shows that solar photo voltaic (PV) development is the most viable renewable energy resource as compared to other sources,” said Zaini.

Solar power is the most viable renewable energy resource, says Dr Zaini Ujang, secretary general of the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry (KeTTHA). Photo: The Star/Mohd Sahar Misni

The introduction of the Large Scale Solar (LSS) programme last year has also given a boost to the solar farm development in Malaysia.

To date, the government has approved approximately 1700MW of solar PV projects and the number is still growing. Malaysia is also the third largest producer of solar panels in the world (much of it is exported).

Another planned initiative is the Net Energy Metering (NEM). This will allow consumers who have installed solar PV panels on their rooftops to “net off” (deduct) their electricity bills by generating more electricity during daylight hours.

The 5MW SunEdison solar farm in Sepang, Selangor — SEDA Malaysia

KeTTHA, through Seda, has also engaged with Universiti Malaysia Terengganu to conduct research on the potential of wind energy in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah.

Pilot projects are being explored in eight locations in Peninsular Malaysia – namely Langkawi (Kedah), Mersing (Johor), Durian Tunggal (Melaka), Chuping (Perlis), Kuala Terengganu, Setiu and Kijal (Terengganu) and Bachok (Kelantan) – and three locations in Sabah (Kudat, Kota Marudu and Pulau Banggi).

In terms of geothermal energy, plans for the country’s first Geothermal Power Plant in Tawau, Sabah with a capacity of 37MW are in the pipeline.

Reducing wastage

But promoting efficient use of resources faces the challenge of changing mindsets and habits.

“Climate change seems very remote to most people unless they live on a low-lying island endangered by rising sea levels,” said Zaini.

Lack of coordination among the various government ministries and agencies, NGOs and private entities also lead to them working in separate silos, resulting in duplication of tasks and inefficient deployment of resources in promoting energy efficiency. Added to all that is the sensitive issue of jurisdiction.

Another challenge lies with low tariffs, said Zaini.

“Our levelised tariffs are too cheap, where return of investment is (not attractive) compared to other countries. Many countries push energy efficiency by rationalising (raising) the tariffs,” he explained.

“When the tariffs are high, people want to reduce usage and change their electrical equipment to more efficient ones.”

Companies are also not interested to improve their machinery for better energy or water efficiency because the tariffs are still relatively low in Malaysia, he said.

“We must price water at a certain level so that people are interested to reduce water consumption and water companies are interested to invest to reduce non-revenue water (NRW),” said Zaini.

In the government sector, initiatives taken to reduce energy consumption in 25 ministry buildings (monitored from 2014-2016, compared to a baseline in 2013) showed energy savings improving from 5.6% in 2014 to 10.9% in 2016.

The 13th Asia Pacific Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production (13th APRSCP) is themed ‘Enabling Sustainable Consumption and Production Towards Achieving Green Growth’. Endorsed and supported by the Melaka State Government, it is co-hosted by APRSCP and ENSEARCH and will be held on Oct 24-26 in Melaka. For registration and more information, please visit the Ensearch website (www.ensearch.org/aprscp/).

Keeping rivers clean

Two sources of river pollution are “grey water” from households and commercial premises that go straight into rivers (via drains) instead of into the public sewer network.

(Grey water is wastewater from kitchen sinks, showers, clothes washing machines, oily dishes being washed at restaurants etc. This is contrasted with “black water” or sewage, which is discharged from toilets and contains human faeces.)

Sewage from toilets is channelled into the public sewer network (which is handled by Indah Water Konsortium), while industrial waste should be treated before it can be discharged into drains and rivers.

“For grey water, the main challenge faced would be to get all premises connected to the centralised sewage treatment plants. Direct discharge of grey water into storm drains pollutes lakes and rivers. This not only harms the fauna and flora, but also threatens raw water sources to feed water treatment plants (which produce tap water),” explained Zaini.

Polluted and highly contaminated raw water increases the treatment cost and will eventually result in higher water tariffs to the public.

“Storm drains should be dry when there is no rain. If they are not, there must be wrong connections in the piping system. All water from houses should ideally either go to the sewer network or septic tanks but that’s not happening now, except in new townships,” he said.

At the moment, sewage treatment plants (STP) do not treat industrial wastewater under the Water Services Industry Act 2006 (Act 655) and most STPs are not designed for it.

Volunteers cleaning up the waterway in the Friends of Langat River project. Photo: KeTTHA

However, under the proposed amendment to Act 655, industrial wastewater can be channelled to STPs for treatment.

Zaini said that tackling river pollution requires a multi-pronged approach. One of the ministry’s latest initiatives is the National Blue Ocean Strategy (NBOS) project called MyLangat Water.

The pilot project involves cleaning up a river tributary near Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, involving staff, volunteers and the local community.

The aim is to adopt 10 river tributaries along Sungai Langat (which flows to Banting, Selangor), which has over 100 tributaries in total. NBOS involves everyone, including the local community, working together, rather than in separate silos.

“We believe in creating awareness for people to ‘own’ and take pride in cleaning our rivers ,” said Zaini.

“To support this, we have launched a WhatsApp group called Friends of Langat River to gather support from people of all walks of life.”

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