Electricity demand and supply in Peninsular Malaysia: Energy efficiency, renewable energy, or nuclear?

I am glad to have Ir. G. Lalchand as my blog’s guest contributor. The following article is the first in his series about Malaysia’s energy challenges.

Adequate, reliable and affordable electricity supply has been the cornerstone of economic development in Malaysia. This is still an important imperative for Malaysia to follow in order to achieve the desired objectives of “Wawasan 2020” and the more recent aim to become a “High Income Economy” by 2020.

From where is Malaysia’s additional electricity going to come? (photo from cdn.theborneopost.com)

Recent statements from the government policy and regulatory bodies have laid out some strategies to ensure that the nation’s energy needs will continue to be assured to power the economic development strategies required to achieve the planned GDP growth rates desired as mentioned in the ETP (Economic Transformation Programme).

The Minister of the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water (KeTTHA), YB Datuk Seri Peter Chin Fah Kui, speaking on the “Future Energy in Malaysia” at the Malaysian International Chamber of Commerce & Industry (MICCI) event on 24 April 2012 assured his audience that “Going forward, we will ensure that the energy supply in Malaysia is sufficient, reliable and cost effective to ensure our regional competitiveness in trade and industry.”

Why can’t we get by with less?

How does Malaysia plan to ensure that these key assurances are guaranteed for the future economic development to achieve the 2020 objectives mentioned above? In his address, the YB Minister touched on a variety of issues which included energy security, fuel supply and pricing (especially on gas pricing), renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation, nuclear option, and the restructuring of the electricity supply industry.

Touching on EE (Energy Efficiency) YB Minister mentioned “The proposed National Energy Efficiency Master Plan has set a target for a period of 10 years from 2012, where the total accumulated energy savings from the three sectors identified which are Industrial, Commercial and Residential is 79.8 TWh. This will enable the reduction of 59.16 million tonnes of CO2 from polluting our environment and warming our mother earth. In terms of energy security, the total energy saved is equivalent to the power generated from a 3.6 GW generation capacity based on current generation load”.

For RE (Renewable Energy), YB Minister indicated that the applications for a total of about 311 MW of various RE power plants have been approved under the RE Act with the grant of FiT (feed-in tariff) rates. The estimated RE capacity that may be developed by 2020 could reach over 2,000 MW and over 3,000 MW by 2030.

With these statements of intent, should we consider nuclear energy as an urgent option for Peninsular Malaysia? The nuclear option has been a contentious issue in Malaysia even before the Fukushima nuclear incident in Japan. So what is the significance of YB Minister’s reference to the nuclear option, especially after the Fukushima incident in March 2011?

The PEMANDU-led EPP 11: Deploying Nuclear Energy for Power Generation under the ETP  in 2010 projected the development of two units of NPP (nuclear power plants) of 1,000 MW each, with the first unit to be commissioned in 2021. These two units are estimated to cost about RM 21.3 billion. The ETP was formulated in 2010 before the serious Fukushima NPP incident.

At an earlier National Energy Security Conference 2012 (on 28 Feb. 2012), a KeTTHA presentation included the slide below to show the electric power demand and supply projection for Peninsular Malaysia up to 2031.

Peninsular Malaysia Power Development Plan

This is an excellent presentation because it clearly shows the demand projection and generating plant development planned to achieve an appropriate “Reserve Margin (%)” of below 20% from the current excessive margin of the order of 40%.

However, the table in the top left hand corner of the chart appears to give incorrect information. The current generating capacity in Peninsular Malaysia is a bit over 22,000 MW without any nuclear (shown as 5,000 MW in the table). As shown in the chart, the required generating capacity by 2030 will need to be a little over 30,000 MW.

This type of “transparent” information was an integral part of statistical data presentations in LLN’s (National Electricity Board) Annual Reports, which also showed the system load profile, until 1990. TNB (Tenaga Nasional Berhad) has however deleted this information from its Annual Reports right from its formation in 1990. Can this information be of such commercial confidentiality that it has to be hidden from the public?

What is perhaps less comforting from the KeTTHA presentation is the absence of any reference to EE and potential RE development in the energy mix especially when the RE Act and its accompanying FiT mechanism has been implemented from Dec. 1, 2011.

Even more disconcerting is the indication that Malaysia plans to install 5,000 MW of nuclear power capacity by 2030. It would appear from the above that the government has “made up its mind to go nuclear”, apparently without taking into account public opinion and acceptance of the nuclear option, even after the Fukushima incident last year.

Notwithstanding the “nuclear disasters” of Chernobyl (said to be a disaster waiting to happen) and Fukushima (where humans had under-estimated the power, or the “wrath”, of nature), NPP are not inherently dangerous. However, post Fukushima, we need to consider very carefully the public acceptance of NPP as a source of low-carbon primary energy in our efforts to ensure indigenous energy security.

The dangers of nuclear radiation hazards have raised fears among the Malaysian population with the “bad” experience of the Asian Rare Earth fiasco in Perak and the ongoing hassle over the LAMP (Lynas Advanced Materials Plant) in Gebeng Pahang. These fears have yet to be resolved and continue to be opposed as demonstrated by the Anti-Lynas protestors.

Anti-Lynas in Malaysia (photo from zorro-zorro-unmasked.blogspot.com)

It is therefore even more critical that public sentiments be adequately addressed on such a critical matter as it affects not only the present population in the country but our descendants over many generations to come.

EE buildings can save over 50% of electricity used by a typical Malaysian building (photo from 1bina.my)

An even more critical question to answer is “Do we really need any nuclear power plants in the next decade”? Successful adoption of EE initiatives and RE development can reduce the need for alternative generating plant capacity. This question needs to be answered before any firm commitments are made to develop any NPP and that too after getting public acceptance of the technology that is to be employed.

It is worth repeating YB Minister’s earlier statement “Going forward, we will ensure that the energy supply in Malaysia is sufficient, reliable and cost effective to ensure our regional competitiveness in trade and industry”.

So are we on the right path to achieving these objectives in an optimally cost-effective manner?



  1. The Five Pillars of the Third Industrial Revolution.

    Jeremy Rifkin describes how the five pillars of the Third Industrial Revolution will create thousands of businesses and millions of jobs, and usher in a fundamental reordering of human relationships, from hierarchical to lateral power, that will impact the way we conduct business, govern society, educate our children, and engage in civic life.

    The five pillars of the Third Industrial Revolution are:
    1) Shifting to renewable energy;

    2) Transforming the building stock of every continent into green micro–power plants to collect renewable energies on-site;

    3) Deploying hydrogen and other storage technologies in every building and throughout the infrastructure to store intermittent energies;

    4) Using Internet technology to transform the power grid of every continent into an energy internet that acts just like the Internet (when millions of buildings are generating a small amount of renewable energy locally, on-site, they can sell surplus green electricity back to the grid & share it with their continental neighbours)

    5) Transitioning the transport fleet to electric plug-in and fuel cell vehicles that can buy and sell green electricity on a smart, continental, interactive power grid.

      • No, thank you for letting me share my views here. I agree with you that solar technologies need to be cheaper and theres a better way to store it. As i can understand from what i read about Elon Musk or more accurately Tesla’s new endeavour of progressing with plans to sell a lithium-ion battery for energy storage in homes and businesses. This is what is needed for the 3 pillar of the Third Industrial Revolution or Industrial Internet as GE puts it. Also Vivek Wadhwa had also mentioned in his blog about that solar prices have dropped about 97% over the past 35 years.

        pls do check out his link here: http://wadhwa.com/2014/12/17/2014-is-ending-but-this-wave-of-technology-disruptions-is-just-beginning/

    • Hi En Ihsan,

      Thanks for posting the reference to the “Five Pillars of the Third Industrial Revolution”.

      Jeremy Rifkin’s description of the desired aspirations and impact of the Third Industrial Revolution is quite valid, but is I believe rather “Utopian” & more as for a very long term perspective. A simple consideration of “doing the maths” can validate this opinion.

      If you look at the Pillars from a pragmatic point of view, & consider the implications of each of the Pillars, I believe you will agree that these aspirations are aimed at time-horizon of something like half-a-century to a century, or even more.

      All of the options mentioned are are still in early stages of scaling up for commercialization to meet global needs, except for RE which is quite well advanced, but still far from being a viable substitute for the current non-RE resources, particularly for base load needs.

      Obviously, nuclear power is touted as a potential source of virtually “unlimited energy” but I don’t believe that it would be welcomed by the vast majority of the population, even though it is not necessarily unsafe (bar the radiation fear).

      Moreover, Jeremy Rifkin’s observation are for a global perspective & certainly not applicable for Malaysia. I am not responding to the points in detail here as it would be rather lengthy, but would be glad to engage with you directly if you desire.

      BTW, Dr. Christopher’s comments on solar energy can be a topic of an extensive separate discussion ;-).

  2. In my humble opinion, it would have been more comforting if the minister is to assure, clean supply of energy, then, perhaps, one could give the benefit of doubt that the intended deployment of nuclear energy is meant to arrive at ‘carbon neutrality’. After all, one could also argue that nuclear energy isn’t all that carbon neutral anyway, similar to biomass.

    There are many low hanging fruits to energy efficiency in Malaysia, which might prove to be more cost-efficient than providing RE (if nuclear energy could be considered as one). I suppose the priorities of EE or RE can be reshuffled, if the ministry sincerely serves the people for the betterment of the nation and the environment in mind.

    I do hope Malaysia will never go down the path of Japan, where ‘nuclear energy appears to be a source of energy Japan cannot do without’.

    • Thank you Christopher & Yvonne for your pertinent comments.

      Excuse me for not giving too detailed a response now, except to say that nuclear power is not considered carbon-neutral, just “low-carbon” when compared with coal, oil or gas. Of course NPP suffers from the “NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard)” syndrome.

      Biomass and biogas are normally considered “carbon-neutral” due the carbon cycle for the plantations absorbing and consuming CO2 during growth.

      And yes, Yvonne, you are absolutely correct as regards energy efficiency (EE) as the “lowest of the low hanging fruits”.

      May I seek your indulgence to wait for the next portion of the series?


  3. Nuclear power plants will often draw very vocal demonstrations any where in the world, including in Malaysia. Some people may be swayed by scientific facts that NPP are inherently safe (due to very strict regulations and enforcements), but the majority will not be swayed by any amount of scientific evidence. As you correctly pointed out, Japan’s tragedy was beyond our expectations and control. But Japan has recently returned to nuclear energy, much to the dismay to some citizens there. Nuclear energy appears to be a source of energy Japan cannot do without.

    For Malaysia, renewable energy and energy efficiency are our two best hope. But these two have their challenges. Some say energy efficiency only leads to more use of energy, negating any savings in energy. Renewables from biomass (such as oil palm) is considered by some as not really a source of renewable energy (or at least, not an environmentally friendly source) because it causes deforestation and loss of biodiversity. Moreover, they may not be carbon neutral.

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