Electricity from solar energy in Malaysia: Clean, renewable, and abundant energy source, so what’s the problem?

In 2010, Malaysia’s electricity generation totaled at 137,909 GWh. Malaysia, being near the equator, receives between 4,000 to 5,000 Wh per sq. m per day. This means, in one day, Malaysia receives enough energy from the Sun to generate 11 years worth of electricity. This is an incredible potential amount of energy into which Malaysia can tap.

Malaysia currently adopts a five-fuel mix (gas, coal, hydro, oil, and other sources) for electricity generation. From 2000 to 2010, electricity generation in Malaysia increased an average of 8% per year from 69,280 GWh in 2000 to 137,909 GWh in 2010. In this period, the contribution from gas for electricity generation declined from 77.0 to 55.9%, hydro from 10.0 to 5.6%, and oil from 4.2 to 0.2%. In contrast, the contribution from coal for electricity generation increased from 8.8 to 36.5% and other sources from 0.0 to 1.8%.

Under the 10-th Malaysia Plan, the Malaysian government wants 5.5% of total electricity to come from renewable energy sources by 2015. However, the current contribution from renewable sources (such as biomass, biogas, wind, and solar) for electricity generation remains very low, of which solar energy only contributes a mere 0.007% of the total generated electricity in Peninsular Malaysia. The negligible contribution by solar energy is due to several reasons. One of them is the lack of awareness among Malaysians about the use of solar energy for electricity generation. However, the largest hurdles to solar energy adoption are the high cost and low efficiency of solar panels or photovoltaic (PV) cells.

Solar irradiance generally declines from the north to the south of Malaysia, so that northern states such as Kedah, Penang, Kelantan, and Sabah receive the most amount of solar radiation, whereas southern states like Johor and Sarawak receive the least (Fig. 1). The mean daily sunshine hours in Malaysia ranges between 4 to 8 hours per day.

Fig. 1. Average daily solar radiation (MJ per sq. m) across Malaysia (Mekhilefa et al., 2012)

On average, Malaysia receives about 17 MJ per sq. m of solar radiation per day (Fig. 2 and 3). From 1989 to 2008, there is no trend that the average daily solar radiation would increase or decrease throughout this period, except for towns such as Kuala Terengganu and Senai where there is a weak linear trend showing a decline in solar radiation received by these two towns. Kota Kinabalu in Sabah also showed declining solar radiation from 1990 to 1999, after which solar radiation would increase and stabilize at around 20 MJ per sq. m per day.

Fig. 2. Average daily solar radiation (MJ per sq. m) for some towns in Malaysia from 1989-2008: part 1 of 2

Fig. 3. Average daily solar radiation (MJ per sq. m) for some towns in Malaysia from 1989-2008: part 2 of 2

In Malaysia, solar energy is used for two purposes: 1) solar thermal applications, and 2) PV technologies. Solar thermal applications are where heat from the solar energy is used for heating purposes, while PV technologies are for electricity generation.

Solar panels for either thermal or electricity purpose can be mounted on rooftops. Although the rooftops of house and buildings are said to be “dead space” because they are unused, not all rooftops are suitable to be mounted. It is estimated that only 2.5 million houses and 45,000 commercial buildings in Malaysia are suitable for solar panel mounting. This is because the design and orientation, as well as the external environment, of the buildings would affect the harvest of solar energy.

PV cells are emerging as one of the attractive alternative to national utility grid power. PV systems was introduced in Malaysia in the 1980s, and from 1998 to 2002, six pilot grid-connected PV systems was setup at high monetary costs. Since then, PV systems have grown steadily so that in 2005, a total of on-grid 470 kW peak was established, with 3 MW peak as off-grid.

Solar panels on a rooftop of a bungalow in Malaysia (photo from mbipv.net.my)

To further encourage the adoption of solar energy, the Malaysian government introduced the MBIPV (Malaysia Building Integrated Photovoltaic) project in 2005. MBIPV was to design the integration of PV cells into buildings or structures; thus, saving costs because the PV systems would be fabricated within the structure of the building. MBIPV aimed to increase PV capacity in buildings by 3.3 times while reducing costs by 20% compared to the baseline. Currently, PV systems with a total of 213.61 kW peak have been installed over 18 locations in Malaysia via the MBIPV project. Moreover, through MBIPV, SURIA 1000 was established, with the aim to install solar panels on 1,000 rooftops in Malaysia (to date, however, only about 100 households have PV systems in Malaysia).

One important progress towards reducing dependency on fossil fuels and mitigating climate change is the establishment of Feed-in-tariff (FiT) scheme in Malaysia last year. FiT encourages the adoption of renewable energy such as solar energy by households by enabling house owners to sell excess electricity generated from their homes to TNB (Tenaga Nasional Berhad), for example. For every 1 kWh, house owners could get between RM1.20 to 1.23. Moreover, homes with solar PV would obtain an additional 26 cents. It is thus possible for house owners to earn as much as RM700 per month if they could generate as much as 4kW peak of electricity from their homes.

Although Malaysia is the world’s fourth largest PV modules producer, solar technology is ironically not adopted widely here. One reason is the cost of installing PV systems in Malaysia is expensive, even though the cost is falling at a rate of more than 10% per year. In 2005, for instance, the cost of PV system per kW peak was RM31,410, falling to RM24,970 in 2007, and to RM20,439 in 2009. Today, the cost has reduced to about RM15,000 per kW peak – a rate still unaffordable or impractical to most Malaysians.

There are four kinds of PV solar panels available in Malaysia: mono-crystalline silicon (Mc-Si), poly-crystalline silicon (Pc-Si), copper-indium-diselenide (CIS), and thin film amorphous silicon (A-Si). A study by UKM showed that none of these solar panel types had more than 10% efficiency in converting solar energy into electricity. The module efficiency for Mc-Si, Pc-Si, CIS, and A-Si were measured at 6.9, 5.1, 4.0, and 2.2%, respectively. In addition, Mc-Si and Pc-Si performed best under clear skies, whereas CIS and A-Si did better under cloudy skies.

The low efficiency of PV panels sold in Malaysia is bad news because a great deal (more than 90%) of solar energy is unused for electricity generation. The implication is serious: a very large area of solar panels, costs notwithstanding, would be required for utilizing solar energy for electricity. How much land area? Let’s calculate.

1 MW of electrical generation is equivalent to:

1,000,000 W x 365 days x 24 hours = 8.76 billion Wh

As stated earlier, Malaysia receives 4,000 to 5,000 Wh per sq. m per day, taking 4,500 Wh per sq. m per day on average. In a year, this daily average is equivalent to:

4,500 Wh per sq. m x 365 days = 1.642 million Wh per sq. m

However, since the highest solar panel efficiency is nearly 7% (for Mc-Si), this means the total amount of solar radiation energy used for electricity generation is only:

1.642 million Wh per sq. m x 0.07 = 114,975 Wh per sq. m

Thus, the total land area needed for solar panels is:

8.76 billion Wh / 114,975 Wh per sq. m = 76,190.48 sq. m

This means for every 1 MW of electricity required, about 76,000 sq. m of land area in Malaysia is required for harvesting solar energy. To meet even 1% of Malaysia’s electricity demand will require a land area of 12 square kilometers for PV panels and at a cost of about RM20 trillion!

Consequently, solar energy, as well as other renewable energy, cannot be a major contributor for electricity generation in Malaysia. This would be true until solar technologies become affordable enough and the technologies become much more efficient in electricity generation from solar energy. At the moment, solar energy, at best, could supplement Malaysia’s energy supply.

Solar technology research at Uni. Putra Malaysia (photo from upm.edu.my)





  1. Hi, is it legal to install my own PV system for my house? I heard from some other people that it is illegal and the only way to do it is using the Feed-in-Tariff system. I am from Sabah by the way.

    • I strongly recommend you consult an approved and certified SEDA installer because there are so many factors to consider, not just on legal reasons. You do not want to be liable for damages because of poor DIY installations. I for one would be very concerned if my DIY neighbor started to install huge solar panels on his roof and start to tinker with his house’s mains.

  2. Hai Boon Sung. i’m currently a student in final semester doing my final year project regarding solar pumping for irrigation purpose. unfortunately i’m facing lots of difficulties due to lack of information. There’s lot of journal that i read but it is in large scale. My lecturer ask me to find more information regarding this system but in small scale. but still i can’t figure it out. if u got some information regarding it, can u email me. thanks for your kindness..

  3. Really thanks a lot for your writing on many fields in which I learnt a lot esp. on unknown tel. calls n latest is this topic. I love environmental friendly as we can find sunshine and water for FREE from heaven.

    Now is it okay to build solar panels in homes in Sarawak? I would be glad to know more of their costs of setting up in homes here and also if it can cut our bills, then why not?

    Gladly look forward to your reply. TQ

    • There’s always the initial cost that we have to bear when we first install solar panels. The good news is solar panels are becoming ever cheaper, and increasingly more homes have these installed. I like to direct you to for more information.

  4. Hi,
    Can I know how the system install to prevent from lightning strike, if let say the lightning strike, what is the losses ,will it damage the whole system or only damage partially.

    • You need to protect your system with grounding and installation of power surges. Direct lighting strikes are rare but damage can be high. Much more common is near strikes which most good power surges can protect.

    • Try a search on the net using terms like “solar panel contractors sarawak” and you wil get a few hits, one of which is for a company named Green electric S/B but they are based in Sabah. However, they may have offices in Sarawak a=or can forward you to one of their contacts there. Good luck.

      • Mr. Wong, you can send an email to *b*r*a*d*o*n*t*a*n*.*a*t*s@gmail.com. He has contacts for solar pv installation in miri.

        (Remove asterisks from email)

  5. Hi Dr.
    I would like to know which PV is best throughput in Northern States. I would like to know based your email it output the best is thin films PV but refer to your article efficiency is more Mc-Si. Which is really better a hybrid pv?

    Thanks, dream

  6. Dr,

    I found this article is very helpful in my project. I am currently doing Msc in Energy Technology in UKM, and previously have been involved in Electrical Engineering Technical Division IEM as secretariat but I heard alot about FIT and etc…Now I really appreciate the info. Thanks Dr. :)

  7. Dear Christopher,

    I need your help in locating a company can install solar pannel in my house in Penang. I want to transform my place in an environmental jewel.
    Thanks for your help


  8. Hi Christopher,
    I have read quite a bit on SEDA reagrding FIT. My question is can I set up a company for harvesting solar energy and selling it to TNB as a business venture?

    • Thanks, Tom, for your visit. I forwarded your question to Ir G. Lalchand, my guest contributor, who is in a much better position to answer your question:

      The answer is a simple “yes”, subject to you getting the FiT approval for your proposed PV Farm from the pre-determined capacity allocations offered from time to time by SEDA. It must be noted that the application process for the FiT approvals for PV Farms incorporate specific pre-conditions (including a PSS – Power System Study) that have to be satisfied before applications can be submitted.

  9. Hi i am from singapore, can i ask why the efficiencies of the solar modules you quoted are so low since the reported typical module values in other parts of the world for c-Si and mc-Si are 18% and 15% respectively? Is the cloud cover so significant in Malaysia or other factors that reduced the efficiencies by so much?

    Another question is how accurate is the assessment of the potential of PV of only
    600kwh/month by KeTTHA’s presentation?

    Sorry for asking a lot of question, do you envision Malaysia ever becoming an electricity exporter to say singapore because when i ask some of the people in the energy fields in singapore about where will singapore gets its electricity once the supply of natural gas get more scare after the 2030s is that we will import electricity from the surrounding countries.

    • I have contacted Ir. G. Lalchand about your query, and here is his reply:

      “PV energy conversion efficiencies range from even below 10% to as high as 21% for currently produced modules for commercial use. Cloud cover has no effect on the efficiency but reduces the yield in kWh/kWp of installed capacity.

      The statement that KeTTHA has assessed the potential of PV at only 600kwh/month is rather meaningless as it doesn’t indicate the capacity of the PV system in kWp that gives such output. In Malaysia the average yield is between about 90 kWh/kWp (crystalline silicon) per month up to about 120 kWh/kWp (for thin film types). Therefore this yield could refer to an installation of between 5 & 7 kWp.

      Electricity import / export between ASEAN countries is a distinct possibility in the future, though no specific timeline has been indicated. This has been discussed in ASEAN Utilities conferences from as early as the late 1970s & is actually happening on a small scale between Singapore, Malaysia & Thailand.”

      I hope this answers your question. Please let me know or if you wish to contact Ir. Lalchand for more details.

  10. Dear Dr. Christopher Teh,

    First of all I must congratulate you for venturing into commenting on the energy scene in Malaysia, which is quite a departure from your field of specialisation, as you’ve indicated above.

    I have to agree with my “PV friend” Lionel regarding the need to verify the figures you’ve quoted for the PV systems, both for the efficiencies & the fact that it is the energy yield in kWh/kWp that matters, not the efficincy or the output in kWh/sq. m.

    Even more important is the fact that PV has a low generation capacity factor (of the order of 15%) while average customer use need (as load factor) is about 70%.

    Thus PV cannot be a viable alternative for conventional utility grid power notwithstanding the high cost that you’ve correctly mentioned. Even SEDA itself has admitted aas much at the National Energy Security Conference 2012 (on 28 Feb. 2012). (BTW, PV system costs are now lower, approx RM 10k to RM 12k per kWp).

    And now to contradict Lionel, PV is not even suitable to meet the peak demand needs for the local utililty demand as has been reported by SEDA itself ;-).

    I also wonder where you got the energy generation (in GWh) figures that you’ve quoted above, because they’re different from the numbers in the ST’s annual statistics reports. Similarly for the average growth rate from 2000 to 2010, which I believe it of the order of about 5%.


  11. Hi,

    A few notes on the article

    You Included 24 hours of sun in your calculations, which seems to indicate that you may need to study how PV generates electricity and how PV plants are implemented

    Efficiency doesn’t reflect yield from pv which is what we are interested in. Again you should spend some time studying how PV farms are implemented

    PV is a used to meet peak loads, the current supply from Tnb is fine for base load supply, but Malaysia has to look beyond fossil and nuclear fuels. This brings up the issue of energy security, not quite discussed here.

    There are a lot of manufacturers out there who would take issue with your efficiencies you have reported as well.

    I would therefore suggest abit more homework before you publish your thoughts

    Thank you

    • Thanks for the time for your visit and your comments. The 24 hours used in calculations is to determine the energy demands. That said, however, I welcome input from you such as the calculations and useful websites. I am an agriculturist in training, and this blog covers topics that interest me. Useful comments from visitors would be most helpful. Energy security is a topic that can be discussed in a separate blog entry…not necessarily always in the same blog entry.

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