Stop global warming, recycle, reuse, reduce there's no shortage of campaigns on environmental issues around us. The question is, how well informed are we on these matters? Are we taking them seriously? Are we even aware how serious things have become? The impact and signs are all around us flash floods, unpredictable weather, haze, thunderstorms, extreme heat
and the list goes on.
Al Gore made an impact with his documentary An Inconvenient Truth, earning himself, among others, the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 and creating awareness of the current state of our environment. While we may point an accusing finger at open burning, too many vehicles on the road and so on for damaging our environment, the building industry is said to have the biggest carbon footprint, accounting for 36% to 40%.
City & Country talks to Ahmad Hadri Haris, Pusat Tenaga Malaysia's (PTM) national leader for the Malaysia Building Integrated Photovoltaic (MBIPV) project, and Lincoln Lee, sustainability revolutionist and executive director of Lucas Works Sdn Bhd, on how our offices and homes can be energy efficient and environmentally friendly.
Ahmad Hadri highlights PTM's zero energy office in Bangi and the Suria 1000 programme to help reduce the cost of electricity, while Lee takes us on a tour of his demo home office (see story on Page 7), which features used tyres and autoclave aerated concrete in its foundation and retaining walls, thus cutting construction cost by 30% and creating numerous other benefits.
First of its kind in Southeast Asia
PTM is a non-profit company under the Ministry of Energy, Water and Communications and functions as a one-stop agency for national energy-related matters. It is an advocate of renewable energy and is implementing the MBIPV project a national renewable energy project under the Ninth Malaysia Plan. The main objective of the project is to reduce the long-term cost of BIPV technology by promoting the use of photovoltaics (PV) in buildings. "Photovoltaic technology" is the term used to describe the hardware that converts solar energy to usable power it generates electricity from sunlight.
PTM's zero energy office, which was completed last year, is the first of its kind in Southeast Asia. It cost RM20 million to build, not including land cost, as most of the technologies and materials were imported. "Although it is designed to be zero energy, it has not fully achieved such a state as we are still fine-tuning. It is a complex building and ahead of its time, but we are definitely moving towards zero energy. Nevertheless, it is still the lowest energy con-suming building in the country," says Ahmad Hadri.
Singapore's zero energy building on Braddell Road will be completed in less than two years, he adds.
My first taste of PTM's zero energy office begins at its main entrance itself. I step into a compartment of the revolving door and wait for the door to revolve... automatically. It doesn't, of course, and noticing the security guard giving me "the look", I realise I have to push the door myself. Zero energy indeed!
During the tour of the office, Ahmad Hadri points out the rooftop of the building. What looks like a normal car park rooftop is actually almost filled with solar PVs, providing shade for the cars while generating electricity. In fact, there are solar PVs all around the rooftop of the building. Ahmad Hadri says solar PVs can be a substitute for conventional building materials and, at the same time, generate electricity. "They bring light into the building (when installed in the rooftop), generate electricity and are as good as double-glazing glass (thermal resistant)," he explains. PTM's zero energy office has a sensor to detect the amount of daylight entering the building. If it is enough, lights will not be switched on.
Generally, households in Malaysia spend about RM6,000 a year (based on five air conditioners of one horsepower each operating for eight hours a day) on electricity. "Malaysia enjoys one of the cheapest electricity tariffs in the world as it is heavily subsidised by the government. The subsidies are expected to be lowered in the future and installing BIPV would be one of the solutions," says Ahmad Hadri. Although our tariffs are cheap (gas, for example, is subsidised by the government at 65%), the cost to the environment is too high and the harm cannot be undone, he adds.
"When the government lowered petrol subsidies in June last year, the public was unprepared. Maybe for the first month, there were fewer cars on the road. Then, it was back to normal. The government should provide solutions such as providing efficient public transport before removing or lowering subsidies," Ahmad Hadri says.
Feed-in tariffs are something he feels strongly about and hopes a Bill to facilitate these will be passed soon. "Once the Bill is passed, it will enable PV-installed users to generate income. Currently, Tenaga practises net-metering and if the solar PV system generates 400kWh of electricity per month while the household utilises 600kWh, Tenaga does a net-metering in which the household only pays for 200kWh," he explains. Under the feed-in tariff system, if the rate is four times that of the normal tariff, the household only has to install a PV system that produces 150kWh of electricity per month to achieve a net billing of zero, Ahmad Hadri says.
When does he expect the Bill for the feed-in tariff to be passed? "Hopefully by 2010, once the Suria 1000 has been concluded," Ahmad Hadri says, adding that solar energy is only one aspect of the solution. When combined with other forms of renewable energy, such as hydro, biomass, solid waste and others, nuclear energy, which could be more hazardous than fossil fuel, can be avoided.
A national MBIPV programme, Suria 1000 was initiated in 2006 to provide financial incentives through capital discounts to the residential and commercial sectors to install BIPV systems. The MBIPV project is for five years (2006-2010) with a target capacity of 1,500kWp.
"Two years ago, more than 30 systems were up and running in the country. Now, around 50 houses and offices have been installed with the BIPV system (the majority in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur)," Ahmad Hadri says.
Applicants had various reasons for installing the BIPV system. "Some were looking to save money while some were getting ready for increased electricity tariffs in the future," Ahmad Hadri explains. Others were just being more conscious about the environment, he adds.
PTM's technical adviser Chen Wei-Nee says the first two calls for the Suria 1000 programme were for the residential sector only; the commercial sector was only invited to participate in the bid from the third call onwards. The Suria 1000 developer's incentive is applicable to those building residential properties only.
Three developers that have successfully participated in the programme are S P Setia Bhd, Amarin Wickham and Senandung Budiman Sdn Bhd. "Senandung Budiman, with houses from RM3 million onwards in D'Heron in Putrajaya, built 19 houses with BIPVs. S P Setia has altogether 26 houses, of which six BIPV homes have been built. The remaining should be ready by end-2009," Chen says.
A mall in Cheras is expected to be the first to install BIPV in the near future, while Amarin Wickham's BIPV in condos will be launched early this year.
"We have other incentives which shopping malls could be eligible for. Having said that, they have all been taken up (demo category), mostly by companies for their office buildings," Chen says.
As to why the malls in Malaysia are slow to embrace solar PVs in their buildings, she says: "My guess is the initial investment cost. Shopping centres have huge electricity bills and putting solar PVs will reduce only a small portion of the bill unless the capacity of the solar PVs is significant. Between energy conservation (via energy efficiency) and solar PVs, energy conservation is still the cost-effective solution to apply first."
Chen says a building needs to be energy efficient before a solar PV system can be incorporated into the rooftop. "Otherwise, premium electricity produced by the solar PV system will go to waste. Another possible reason for the low take-up of solar PVs in malls is the lack of awareness that solar PVs can be a corporate social responsibility statement to the public," she adds.
There are still 127kW of PV capacity with financial incentives valued at RM1.2 million for property developers keen to build a solar township, says Chen.
Ahmad Hadri says the government, in Budget 2009, has exempted import duty on solar PV system equipment and sales tax on locally manufactured solar heating system equipment.
So, how much more efficient can homes get?
It was reported that a household can reduce energy expenditure by 50% by just using equipment such as more efficient heaters, air conditioners, water heaters, appliances and electronics, and by using compact fluorescent lighting. For more information on setting up a PV system, go to PTM's website at www.mbipv.net.my
Nuclear power plants
There have been reports in the local dailies that the government is interested in going nuclear because electricity generation from nuclear energy is important even as petroleum and coal reserves face depletion. It was also reported that although the cost of building nuclear plants is high, the production cost will be cheaper.
Ahmad Hadri believes there are other viable options, stressing that it costs more than RM5 billion to build a nuclear power plant. "The infrastructure will last 30 to 45 years and then the cost of demolishing it, plus getting rid of radioactive waste such as uranium and other components, will be more expensive than building the plant itself," he says. The true cost of a nuclear power plant should be revealed to all, he adds. "The complete life cycle, including plant decommissioning and spent fuel management, not just the planting-up cost," he stresses. Nuclear power plants are dependent on third parties, he says, and just a small leak will be hazardous.
Perhaps, the worst nuclear power reactor accident in history happened in Chernobyl, the Soviet Union, in 1986, resulting in a massive release of radioactivity into the environment. Following the incident, other developed countries such as Germany passed a resolution to abandon nuclear power by 2020.
Germany generates more than half the world's solar electricity, with an installed capacity of around three billion watts and close to half a million German households have solar PVs installed. Ahmad Hadri says fields are filled with rows of panels as farmers find it more profitable than their original produce. This, in return apparently reduces carbon emissions to about 10 million tonnes per annum.
"Solar, on the other hand, does not produce any emissions and we do not need rocket scientists to maintain it. Until we have fully utilised our natural resources (renewable energies) and improved our use of energy, which we have not, we cannot even begin to consider other alternatives," Ahmad Hadri says, adding that "we will destroy more than we benefit".
He cites Germany, which is working on phasing out all nuclear power plants by 2020 and is the leading PV user (in terms of installation) in the world. It is also the biggest solar energy-producing country in the world. Ahmad Hadri says farmers and retirees are generating income from PVs (by generating energy) in the country.