Thursday, June 10, 2010

The sun is the perfect alternative to power homes

Tuesday May 18, 2010


MALACCA: The effort to promote green technology and encourage the use of alternative energy source got a boost here recently when more than 200 captains of industries and public bodies attended a special briefing on solar energy. The hour-long briefing was presented by US-based solar experts SunPower Corporation who are investing some RM2.3bil to set up their solar cell fabrication plant in Rembia, Alor Gajah.
SunPower Malaysia’s managing director Robert Vinje said the sun was the most constant and readily available energy source that could be tapped to power both homes and industries minus carbon pollution.
With current concerns about global warming and increasing price of energy, solar power is one of the most efficient and affordable energy alternatives available today, he said during the briefing held at Renaissance Hotel Malacca recently.
Go green: Vinje impressing upon the audience that solar power is one of the most efficient and affordable energy alternatives
“People are looking for alternatives to power their lives and the planet for both economic as well as environmental reasons.
“For a tropical country like Malaysia, utilising the frequent sunshine it gets is the right thing to do.
“It is free after all,” he said.
Solar energy, he noted, was non-polluting as solar cells have no moving parts that need to be fixed, hence required very little maintenance.
He also said solar energy was relatively environmental friendly compared to the burning of fossil fuels that releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and carcinogens into the air.
“Compared with the noise from the machines that are used to drill and pump oil, solar cells are totally silent.
“Energy can be extracted from the sun without making a peep,” quipped Vinje.
Later when addressing questions from the floor, he said utilising solar power helped save money in the long run although solar panels or lights may be expensive to buy at the beginning.
“We are aware of the rising cost of oil yet energy from the sun is something one does not have to pay for,” he said, adding that solar-powered lights and other similar products were also very easy to install.
The fabrication plant in Rembia, is expected to create about 7,000 jobs.
To date, Malaysia has attracted several foreign direct investments including SunPower, worth up to RM13.8bil, to set up solar panels manufacturing facilities in Malaysia.
These include US-based companies First Solar Inc at the Kulim Hi Tech Park (KHTP), the China-based ReneSola in Johor Baru, the German company Q-Cells in Selangor Science Park 2, and the Japanese firm Tokuyama Corp in Sarawak.

MEMC of US plans solar wafer plant

Thestar: Thursday May 27, 2010


KUCHING: US-based MEMC Electronic Material Corp will invest RM710mil in a plant in Samajaya Free Industrial Zone here to produce solar wafers. ‘“The plant on 20ha is expected to start operation by next year to cater for the rapid growth and demand for solar cells globally,’’ Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister and Industrial Development Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan Hong Nam said at the state assembly session yesterday.
It is understood that MEMC had awarded the contract to build the plant.
Chan said MEMC, which has nine manufacturing facilities in United States, Europe and the Asia-Pacific, was a pioneer in the design and development of wafer technologies for over 50 years.
One of the plants is located in the Sungei Way Free Industrial Zone in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
He said the company held hundreds of worldwide patents on silicon products and processes, and had hundreds more pending.
“The investment of MEMC will kick-start the development of a new cluster of high value-adding and high-technology industry. It marks the beginning of another new technological leap for Sarawak.
“Solar industry has the potential to create great spin-off benefits for the economy via the production of high-value innovative products, and the creation of potential downstream industries in lighting, green buildings, home applications and solar heating.
“The solar project signifies efforts to reduce carbon footprint,’’ Dr Chan added.
MEMC will recruit some 600 people for the Kuching plant, according to Dr Chan.
Besides MEMC, Sarawak had attracted two other foreign direct investments this year – RM1.12bil from Taiwan Food Park Sdn Bhd and RM360mil from Asia Minerals Ltd.
Dr Chan said 48 manufacturing projects had either been approved by the state industrial coordination committee or supported by it for approval by the international trade and industry ministry in the first five months of this year.

Government initiatives needed to boost green tech

Thestar: Friday May 28, 2010


HIGH installation costs and lack of government initiatives is hampering the design of sustainable buildings and civil works in Malaysia. Malaysian Society for Engineering and Technology chairman Prof Datuk Abang Abdullah Abang Ali said there might be a lot of enthusiasm, but green initiatives were just starting in the country.
Speaking at a press conference to promote the Fourth World Engineering Congress to be held in Kuching, Abang Abdullah said that Government policies should encourage more public participation.
He cited solar energy as an example, saying that Malaysia’s energy sector should adopt buy-back programmes similar to that of Australia’s.
“Houses with solar panels that generate surplus electricity should be able to sell back to the national grid,” he said.
Abang Abdullah said the lack of installation of solar panels was largely due to the difficulty in storing the electricity produced.
“Certainly, it’s difficult to store electricity at home. You wouldn’t want too many batteries at your house, but the Government can come in on this.
“If you can sell back your energy to the national grid, then people will naturally adopt more green technologies.”
In Australia, the buy-back programme has encouraged many homes, schools, community centres and other public buildings to install solar panels as a source of revenue.
He noted that sustainable living awareness was fragmented in Malaysia, adding: “In Kuala Lumpur, there is a lot of enthusiasm, but elsewhere, it’s lower. Through the congress, we hope to rectify this.”
Meanwhile, Infrastructure Development Assistant Minister Datuk Daud Abdul Rahman, who was present at the press conference as guest of honour, said that high cost was another impeding factor.
“Right now, it is too expensive,” said Daud, a trained engineer.
“This is the main problem. In Sarawak, we are trying. If you look at the extension of the Kuching Waterfront, we incorporated green technologies, but more can be done once costs come down,” he added.
The adoption of green technologies has become a talking point globally.
Federation of Engineering Institutions in Islamic Countries deputy president Associate Professor Megat Johari Megat Mohd Noor said that Malaysia could not escape climate change.
“Climate change that is accelerated by human activity anywhere in the world will have an impact on Malaysia as well,” Johari said.
“Just because Malaysia is free from most natural disasters, it doesn’t mean that we won’t be affected in some way.”
Johari said the Government should adopt a carbon-trading programme.
Carbon trading is where high-polluting countries pay towards less-polluting countries to conserve the environment.
Since the early part of this decade, Papau New Guinea has been earning revenue from rich countries by preserving its rainforests.
“Climate-change problems are no longer localised. Malaysia has to play its role in balancing global pollution,” he added.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Significant fuel savings possible for cars

Thestar: Published: Friday June 4, 2010 MYT 9:15:00 AM

WASHINGTON: A prestigious U.S. research panel has concluded that technology already widely available could significantly cut fuel consumption by cars and light trucks without sacrificing safety or performance.
With some technologies, the fuel consumption by passenger cars, sport-utility vehicles, minivans and light trucks can be reduced by nearly half, but at a price - anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars per vehicle, the National Research Council said in a report released Thursday.
Critics of offshore drilling pounced on the findings as further evidence that there is a host of options beyond drilling for solving U.S. energy woes.
Said Trevor Jones, chairman of the panel that wrote the report: "Consumers will need to consider the trade-offs between higher vehicle prices and saving fuel and money at the gas pump."
The report, which looked at three-types of automotive engines, found:
_ The full combination of improved technologies could reduce fuel consumption by 29 percent in medium and large cars and pickup trucks with conventional engines at an added cost to consumers of about $2,200.
_ Switching to diesel engines and components could yield fuel savings of about 37 percent at an added cost of $5,900 per vehicle.
_ Gas-electric hybrid engines and components could reduce fuel as much as 43 percent at an increase of $6,000 per vehicle.
Smaller reductions in fuel savings can be achieved for considerably less money, the report noted.
For example, one available conventional engine technology allows a six- or eight-cylinder engine to run on fewer cylinders when full engine power is not needed, such as on flat roads.
That can reduce fuel consumption as much as 10 percent at a retail price increase of about $350 to $500 per vehicle.
Over two-thirds of total U.S. oil consumption is for transportation, and almost two-thirds of transportation consumption is gasoline used primarily in cars and light trucks.
"Fuel efficiency is a cleaner, cheaper, faster way to go to meet our energy demands than drilling in increasingly risky places - we don't need to be drilling for more oil in the Gulf," said Roland Hwang, the Natural Resources Defense Council's transportation program director.
Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said automakers have doubled the number of models on the market that achieve an average of 30 mpg (13 kpl) or higher on the highway in the past year, from 100 models to 200.
Key to whether consumers will spend more to buy fuel-efficient cars and trucks is the price of gasoline, she said.
When gas was $4 a gallon ($1 a liter) two years ago, consumers were lining up for those models; as the price of gas declined, consumer interest waned.
Automakers are eager to sell more fuel efficient vehicles, "but with relatively inexpensive fuels, it's a challenge to us," Bergquist said.
Jim Kliesch, a senior engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the cost estimates in the report for incorporating fuel-saving technologies are "very conservative" and most likely too high.
The Environmental Protection Agency has a "tear down" study under way that looks part-by-part at the components in vehicles, how much they cost to produce and how much it would cost to reduce fuel consumption, Kliesch said.
The results of that study should provide a more accurate picture of the cost of adding fuel-saving technologies to new cars and light trucks, he said.
Department of Transportation rules require new cars and trucks to achieve a fleetwide average of 34.1 mpg (14.5 kpl) by 2016.
Federal officials announced two weeks ago that they have begun work on new round of fuel efficiency standards to kick in between 2017 and 2025. - AP

Friday, June 4, 2010

Using better alternatives

Thestar: Saturday May 29, 2010


Companies that have been riding on subsidies need to find other means to stay competitive
SHOULD companies ride on Government handouts in the form of subsidies to boost their profit margins?
The answer is a resounding no, although some economists would argue that government subsidies are sometimes needed up to a certain extent to help fledgling domestic industries grow. In such instances, subsidies are seen as incentives to attract industries and new investments to do business and expand in the local economy.
Whether subsidies are the right form of incentives is debatable due to the generic nature of many subsidies that the Government provides, says Stewart Forbes, the executive director of the Malaysian International Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
“Directed incentives are a much better means of attracting investments,” he explains, adding that funds properly targeted are a more cost-effective measure.
“Removing subsidies is necessary not only to reduce national indebtedness, but also to release additional funds as incentives for investments and businesses,” Forbes says.
Over the week, the Prime Minister’s Department’s Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) revealed that of the RM74bil government subsidy bill last year, a hefty RM18bil were channelled to various companies.
Companies operating in Malaysia are said to be benefiting from the government subsidy scheme directly in the form of fuel and energy savings, thanks to the subsidised gas element used in the production of electricity. Other forms of benefit come from the usage of subsidised goods, such as sugar and flour, as inputs in the production processes of some companies.
The lower cost of production resulting from the deployment of subsidised goods and services has somewhat provided “incentives” for companies to invest in Malaysia.
“But subsidies are not a sustainable solution in the long run. Surely, there are other factors that make Malaysia a worthy investment destination,” says the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) vice-president Datuk Paul Selva Raj.
With subsidy rationalisation on the cards, higher costs of operations are expected for companies operating in Malaysia. So, how will that affect the cost-competitiveness of doing business in the country?
“The negative effects of subsidy removal should not be seen as long-term impediments to companies’ performances. Businesses need to come to terms with higher costs of operations by finding other means of productivity gains, such as through the mechanisation and labour efficiency,” Forbes opines.
He also argues the fact that Malaysia is taking a pro-active approach to control its finances before the situation gets out of hand is a positive signal of a stable economy for many foreign investors.
Power impact
While most industry captains in the country are not against the idea of the Government removing subsidies, even though that would mean higher cost of operations, their main concern is how would such initiative unfairly impact their competitiveness.
Pointing to the cost of electricity tariff as an example, Tan Sri Yong Poh Kon, the past president of the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) and co-chairman of Pemandu, argues that there has been a misconception that industries are gaining miles from subsidised gas in the country.
Truth is, he says, the subsidy money is not going to the manufacturers.
According to FMM’s research last year, the electricity tariff rates in Malaysia are almost comparable to that of its neighbouring countries, despite it having a higher level of subsidies on gas to the power sector.
Prices of natural gas in Malaysia to the power sector at present is RM10.70 per mmbtu (million British thermal unit), compared with Singapore’s RM33.65 per mmbtu and Thailand’s RM20 per mmbtu. But despite the lower gas prices, the average electricity tariff for industries in Malaysia is at 29.45 sen per kWh, compared with Singapore’s 33.03 sen and Thailand’s 34.4 sen per kWh.
So, based on the above calculations, Yong argues that any reduction in gas subsidies should not be passed on to manufacturers in the form of higher electricity tariff, as that would have a negative impact on Malaysia’s competitiveness as an exporting nation.
The Subsidy Rationalisation Lab organised by Pemandu has proposed gas prices to the power sector be raised by RM4.65 per mmbtu in mid-year, before further hikes of RM3 per mmbtu every six months for the next five years. This will be accompanied by an initial increase in electricity tariff by 2.4 sen per kWh, and subsequent hikes of 1.6 sen per kWh every six months for the next five years, which translates into a collective rise of 18.4 sen per kWh.
Seeking a better deal
Of the total government subsidies that went to companies last year, it is understood that the bulk of it (as much as 65%) was actually enjoyed by the power sector, with very limited benefits being transferred to end-users.
So, at a forum held in conjunction with the Subsidy Rationalisation Lab open day recently, some fingers were pointed to the high costs that Tenaga Nasional Bhd had to pay to independent power producers (IPPs) as one of the root causes of the problem.
Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua, as one of the panellists that day, argued that some of the deficit problems that the country faced today arose from the expensive deals that the Government had with the private sector, including the IPPs and toll concessionaires. He stressed that the Government should look into renegotiating deals with IPPs and toll concessionaires even before the expiry of those contracts as part of its measures to mitigate the high cost of subsidies it had to bear every year.
Yong, who was also one of the panellists at the forum, concurred, saying: “We cannot continue with what we’ve been doing in the past ... renegotiation of contracts is an essential part of the subsidy rationalisation plan to address ‘unequal treaties’.”

Che Khalib: Accept reality of subsidy, depleting gas

Thestar: Friday June 4, 2010

TANJUNG MALIM: Subsidy reduction for gas is a reality Malaysians must accept in the face of depleting natural gas resources and rising costs, says Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) chief executive officer Datuk Seri Che Khalib Mohamad Noh.
The current subsidy Malaysians were enjoying was not a sustainable structure, he said.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Idris Jala recently said Malaysia would be bankrupt by 2019 if it did not cut subsidies and reduce borrowings.
During the Subsidy Rationalisation Lab Open Day held last Friday, reducing gas subsidy and increasing electricity tariff were among the recommendations laid out to bring the country’s economy on solid grounds.
The move, however, is not expected to affect most households as it will only affect those consuming more than 200kWh of electricity.
The Government is expected to continue to subsidise the groups of people using less than 200kWh, representing about 56% of the population.
Speaking to Bernama after officiating TNB’s RM1.1mil new building for its Tanjung Malim Office yesterday, Che Khalib asked: “Are you telling me 56% of Malaysians belong to the group that you call hard core poor?
“No, I don’t think so. I think the Government is generous enough to come up with subsidy recommendation to maintain that 56% population still enjoy the subsidised tariff.”
Citing Petronas, Che Khalib said the country’s gas volume was expected to go down by 2016 and, despite this, Petronas would have to continue supplying for the industries and TNB. — Bernama
       “Come year 2016, it will have to import more gas into the country to ensure gas volume is sufficient to power up our power plants and also for the industries to use as well as to meet the growing demand,” he added.
At that point, the gas would be bought at market price and not at subsidised price, he said.      
“Petronas has to buy expensive and sell cheap?. (It’s) double jeopardy. I don’t think this is a sustainable structure at all,” he reiterated.
Therefore, people had to appreciate the proposal at the Subsidy Rationalisation Lab Open Day for a gradual increase and not an abrupt increase in prices to a level that would affect the economic structure of the country, he said.
However, people could debate on how much to be increased or when the subsidy could be removed gradually, such as within five or 10 years, he said.
These decisions could be debated but to go on to say that subsidies would remain forever, “I don’t think it is sustainable,” Che Khalib added.