Sun rises on solar power

By D RajRJ Devan
IMAGINE this – 17 acres of solar panels, producing some 12,000KW of electricity per year, enough to power some 5,000 homes. It will not just be renewable, clean energy, it will be green too. Not a single tree needs to be felled and no vegetation has to give way. To top it off, carbon dioxide emissions can be reduced by 8,328 tonnes per year.

Pie in the sky? No, it is happening in Malaysia.

The roofs of about 100 buildings belonging to the Public Works Department (JKR) will soon be converted into “solar farms” all connected to the national electricity grid. The roof spaces on these buildings span more than 68,000 sq m, which is about 17 acres, or the size of about 13 football fields.

Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB), through its subsidiary TNBX Sdn Bhd, is working with the JKR to convert these rooftops into power-generating farms. When the panels are installed, users in these buildings will earn a rebate on their electricity bills. After an agreed period of time, the system will be handed over to the building owner, who can then use the power for free.

The good news for everyone is that the price of solar panels is on the decline. It is much cheaper now to install solar panels on rooftops than it was a few years ago, says JKR senior electrical engineer Dr Abdul Muhaimin Mahmud. Dr Muhaimin has been at the forefront of the solar revolution for close to 15 years now. He has helped more than 100 schools in Sabah and Sarawak get off-grid solar power. These schools, he says, now have power round-the-clock and facilities equal to their urban counterparts.

“What’s the point of giving them computers, and internet access if there is no electricity?” he asked.

JKR senior electrical engineer  Dr Abdul Muhaimin Mahmud.JKR senior electrical engineer Dr Abdul Muhaimin Mahmud.

“We also teach them to conserve energy to ensure sustainability of the programme,” he said.

Dr Muhaimin said the country’s solar energy programmes were far-sighted but it is important that they be sustainable. “We must teach people to maintain all the components and they must not waste energy.”

Off-grid solar power is when the power generated is used immediately or stored in batteries to benefit the areas where the national electricity grid is not available. On the other hand, grid-connected solar power aims to generate green power to be fed into the national grid. JKR hopes to have more government buildings use solar power in the future to support the National Green Technology initiatives. The collaboration with TNB for rooftop solar power can realise this aim.

Another TNB subsidiary, GSPARX, is providing “Zero Capex” option for commercial and industrial customers. It invests in the solar photovoltaic (PV) system and customers are only expected to pay as the system starts generating electricity.

Currently, the company works with another 17 acres of roof space on commercial and industrial buildings, with the potential to serve residential rooftops with a direct purchase model. Mohd Yusrizal Mohd Yusof, the company’s director, says these buildings would have two meters – one for solar and one for the grid. The building owners would pay lower rates for solar power and earn a rebate if there is excess to be fed into the grid

Yusrizal said they are also working with developers like Sime Darby Properties to have housing estates with solar-ready homes. The buyers need only install the panels to start saving on their electricity bills.

“We have three main stakeholders – the customers, the Government and our owners TNB,” said Yuzrizal.

TNB subsidiary GSPARX’s director Mohd Yusrizal Mohd Yusof.TNB subsidiary GSPARX’s director Mohd Yusrizal Mohd Yusof.

“The customers usually have reservations about investing in solar panels and they find the costs high. With GSPARX providing the panels and the installation, there is no cost for them. And they immediately get cheaper electricity,” he said.

The project is also in line with the government’s target of having 20% of electricity generated in the country to be from renewable energy by 2025. For TNB, it is not just about being a sound business venture, but also growing and working with local reputable installers as an installation partner.

“We are looking at building a strong supply chain within the industry as well as contributing towards growing our partners through green and renewable energy projects,” says Yusrizal. By doing so, they also help the adoption of solar power by Malaysians.

“As the country’s top energy provider, we are here to drive the ‘green and renewable energy’ wave in Malaysia,” says Yusrizal.

Malaysia, he said, is ideally placed as a solar powerhouse. “We have sunlight all year long. And we also have rain regularly to wash the panels and keep them clean.”

That’s unlike some countries in the Middle East. They have lots of sun, but plenty of sand too. “They need robotic arms to clean the panels regularly,” said Yusrizal.

Now, imagine that. Gigantic windshield wipers swooshing over rooftops – a strange sight indeed.

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