Power up – cleanly

The Feed-in Tar­iff scheme has pro­pelled the gen­er­a­tion of clean en­ergy to new heights, but teething prob­lems per­sist.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By TAN CHENG LI star2­green@thes­tar.com.my

THE cur­rent dry spell may be driv­ing many crazy, but Michael Chou is un­per­turbed. He wel­comes it, in fact, for the so­lar cells atop his house in Shah Alam, Se­lan­gor, are chalk­ing up plenty of kilowatts un­der the sunny, cloud­less sky.

“The so­lar power gen­er­a­tion is at an all­time high, over 40kWh a day. These are the big­gest num­bers I have seen since I in­stalled the sys­tem al­most four months ago,” said Chou.

He is among the 1,900 people gen­er­at­ing so­lar en­ergy in their homes. Af­ter years of slow progress, growth of the so­lar en­ergy sec­tor is fi­nally see­ing a healthy spurt; more roofs are sport­ing so­lar cells while sprawl­ing so­lar farms are tak­ing over idle spa­ces like closed land­fills as well as the roofs of malls and car parks.

It is all due to the Govern­ment’s Feed-in Tar­iff (FiT) scheme to pro­mote gen­er­a­tion of green en­ergy, un­der which com­pa­nies and house-own­ers can pro­duce re­new­able en­ergy for the na­tional grid from four sources (so­lar, biogas, biomass and hy­dro) and get paid favourable rates for it. When the quota of 1.5MW for non-commercial so­lar PV projects (res­i­dences and build­ings) was re­leased last Septem­ber for ap­pli­cants, it was snapped up within an hour.

Grow­ing de­mand has seen the cost of so­lar pan­els drop­ping and be­com­ing more af­ford­able. The small­est sys­tem of 4kWp now costs around RM40,000 com­pared with RM50,000 to RM60,000 two years ago. So, in­stalling so­lar cells to pro­duce en­ergy in your home is now a re­al­ity, as in Chou’s case. He is still await­ing pay­ment for the sale of en­ergy from the 12kWp sys­tem in­stalled in his home in Oc­to­ber, but es­ti­mates that he has earned some RM5,000 so far.

“In­stalling the PV sys­tem is not just for in­vest­ment. Equally im­por­tant is that I’m pro­duc­ing green en­ergy. I would pre­fer to use the so­lar en­ergy my­self as it will re­duce my car­bon foot­print, but un­der the present FiT sys­tem, it has to go to the grid,” says the sim­u­la­tor flight in­struc­tor.

Tap­ping sun­light

An­other so­lar en­ergy pro­ducer is Datuk Dr Abu Bakar Jaa­far, who has a 4.75kWp sys­tem in his home in Bukit Je­lu­tong, Shah Alam. He had in­stalled the sys­tem in 2009 un­der the Suria 1000 project, whereby the Govern­ment sub­sidised the PV sys­tem. The for­mer Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­ment di­rec­tor-gen­eral had paid half of the to­tal cost of RM120,000.

His earn­ings from the so­lar power vary be­tween months depend­ing on the weather and cloud cover; it ranges from RM620 (the rainy sea­son in De­cem­ber and Jan­uary) to RM720 (in the warm months of Fe­bru­ary and March). Most months, he gen­er­ates more than what he uses. He es­ti­mates earn­ings of about RM20,000 to date.

“I’m about one-third of the way to get­ting a re­turn on my in­vest­ment.”

He does not use the green en­ergy him­self as it is fed into the grid. This is a bet­ter sys­tem, he reck­ons, for if he were to be to­tally in­de­pen­dent of the grid, the cost will be higher due to the bat­tery for en­ergy stor­age and other sup­port­ing sys­tems.

Dr Abu Bakar be­lieves small power pro­duc­ers like him­self should be en­cour­aged.

“We’re gen­er­at­ing sur­plus power that’s taken up by oth­ers who need it. So we won’t need big power gen­er­a­tors. If the Govern­ment is se­ri­ous about re­new­able en­ergy, we should ex­pand this pro­gramme. If home-own­ers don’t want to pay for the PV sys­tem, we can have an or­gan­i­sa­tion which in­stalls the sys­tems on their roofs, sort of like rent­ing their roofs for so­lar power gen­er­a­tion.”

Aside from res­i­den­tial roofs, large PV in­stal­la­tions are also boost­ing the lo­cal power sup­ply with so­lar en­ergy. Driv­ing to­wards KL In­ter­na­tional Air­port (KLIA) in Sepang, Se­lan­gor, one will pass by rows of glint­ing so­lar pan­els amidst oil palms. And when your air­craft lands, look out the win­dow and you might catch a glimpse of so­lar pan­els on the roof of the air­port satel­lite build­ing and a nearby car park. All three projects, by Sunedi­son, are the lat­est commercial so­lar en­ergy schemes here.

The 5MW so­lar farm sits on oil palm land leased from Malaysia Air­ports Hold­ings Bhd (MAHB).

“It is a good site as so­lar farms should be away from tall build­ings to avoid shad­ing,” says Sunedi­son busi­ness de­vel­op­ment di­rec­tor Naresh Ku­mar Govin­dan. What makes this project unique, he adds, is the tracker sys­tem which en­ables the pan­els to fol­low the sun’s path in or­der to tap max­i­mum sun­light. So the 17,000 so­lar pan­els in the farm will face ei­ther East or West, depend­ing on the time of the day, and will sit hor­i­zon­tally when the sun is di­rectly over­head.

Naresh says the 4MW sys­tem on the KLIA roof is one of the largest such fa­cil­i­ties in the world and will be a case study for other air­ports. Like­wise, the 10MW in­stal­la­tion on the park­ing canopy is among the world’s big­gest “so­lar car parks” and will sup­ply power to KLIA2, the new low-cost car­rier ter­mi­nal.

“Rooftops, park­ing lots and buf­fer ar­eas at air­ports are tra­di­tion­ally not multi-pur­pose fa­cil­i­ties, but we’ve turned them into a clean en­ergy gen­er­a­tion fa­cil­ity,” says MAHB man-

ag­ing di­rec­tor Tan Sri Bashir Ah­mad dur­ing the launch of the so­lar farms last month.

For the Malaysian Pho­to­voltaic In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion, gen­er­at­ing so­lar en­ergy is a no­brainer.

“So­lar will buf­fer against the im­pact of fu­ture fluc­tu­a­tions in fos­sil fuel prices. It im­proves en­ergy se­cu­rity as it re­duces de­pen­dence on gas and coal. So­lar power will be pro­duced dur­ing peak de­mand hours, thus ben­e­fit­ing TNB, which need not run ex­pen­sive gas-fired power plants to meet the daily max­i­mum de­mand. It will also save on for­eign ex­change on im­ported gas,” says pres­i­dent Ah­mad Shad­zli Ab­dul Wa­hab.

Fu­elling growth

To fur­ther boost the so­lar en­ergy sec­tor, the as­so­ci­a­tion has two sug­ges­tions: im­ple­ment “net me­ter­ing” and es­tab­lish util­ity-scale so­lar farms out­side of the FiT pro­gramme. In the net me­ter­ing ap­proach, the so­lar en­ergy gen­er­a­tor uses the power first and feeds the un­used power to the grid. This dif­fers from the present FiT scheme where all gen­er­ated power goes to the grid.

Ah­mad Sha­zli says with elec­tric­ity prices fore­seen to hike in the fu­ture (the Govern­ment is grad­u­ally with­draw­ing gas sub­sidy un­til 2015), commercial and in­dus­trial premises will want to in­stall PV sys­tems to pro­duce en­ergy for their own use. The sec­tor now con­sumes 70% of our elec­tric­ity sup­ply (40,000GWh by commercial premises and 30,000GWh by in­dus­trial premises in 2010).

The in­dus­try group also sug­gests the in­stal­la­tion of large-scale so­lar util­i­ties of over 30MW as only such size­able fa­cil­i­ties can di­vert the cur­rent de­pen­dence on fos­sil fuel power plants. Cur­rently, the largest so­lar farm in the coun­try is of 10MW ca­pac­ity; Thai­land, on the other hand, al­ready has a 84MW so­lar farm.

The as­so­ci­a­tion urges for fis­cal in­cen­tives to make PV sys­tems cheaper, such as ex­pand­ing the cur­rent ex­emp­tion on im­port duty and sales tax for so­lar mod­ules and in­vert­ers (which con­vert the di­rect cur­rent out­put of a so­lar panel into al­ter­nat­ing cur­rent) to all PV sys­tem equip­ment and com­po­nents.

“This will en­cour­age more people and businesses to in­vest in PV sys­tems. With these in­cen­tives, the in­dus­trial and commercial sec­tor will be able to get a re­turn on their in­vest­ment in un­der 10 years,” says as­so­ci­a­tion vice-pres­i­dent Chin Soo Mau. “The tax ex­emp­tions will also make in­stal­la­tion of PV sys­tems more at­trac­tive for hol­i­day chalets and small-scale food pro­cess­ing in­dus­tries in re­mote ar­eas, many of which now rely on diesel gen­er­a­tors.”

Chin says cur­rent tax in­cen­tives as­sist com­pa­nies, not house-own­ers. For in­stance, the waiver on sales tax for so­lar cells and in­vert­ers ben­e­fits only oper­a­tors of big so­lar in­stal­la­tions. It will be te­dious for home-own­ers to fill nu­mer­ous forms to ob­tain the waiver. There is also fi­nan­cial sup­port for com­pa­nies un­der the Green Tech­nol­ogy Fi­nanc­ing Scheme whereby the Govern­ment sub­sidises 2% of the in­ter­est on loans taken to fi­nance green projects.

Keen to see more houses with PV sys­tems, the as­so­ci­a­tion dis­agrees with Sus­tain­able En­ergy De­vel­op­ment Author­ity’s (SEDA, the statu­tory body that ad­min­is­ters the FiT scheme) cur­rent ap­proach of em­pha­sis­ing commercial projects.

“In Ger­many, 80% of the quota goes to res­i­den­tial but in Malaysia, it goes to commercial set-ups. With a higher quota for res­i­den­tial, more people will get the op­por­tu­nity to pro­duce so­lar power. Since the money is from the people (col­lected from home-own­ers for the Re­new­able En­ergy Fund to pay for the green power), they should be given the chance to in­stall so­lar pan­els. More house­holds will ben­e­fit in­stead of just one com­pany.”

AFP PHOTO

A bright har­vest: The roof of Suria KLCC no longer sits idle. The 685kWp pho­to­voltaic sys­tem in­stalled there can sup­ply 30% of the mall’s en­ergy needs or power 250 typ­i­cal Malaysian house­holds for a month. It saves emis­sion of 360 tonnes of car­bon diox­ide an­nu­ally. — Suria KLCC

a closed land­fill in Pa­jam, negri Sem­bi­lan, gets a new lease of life – as a 8MW so­lar farm by Cy­park re­sources.

The 5MW For­tune 11 so­lar farm in Sepang, Se­lan­gor, sits on oil palm land leased from Malaysia air­ports Hold­ings bhd. The pan­els move with the sun so as to tap max­i­mum so­lar ra­di­a­tion.

res­i­den­tial roofs can be trans­formed

into mini so­lar power plants.

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