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Solar vs nuclear: Giving solar a chance

(Solar panel by Ayla87; nuclear smoke by caterox / sxc.hu)

(Solar panel by Ayla87; nuclear smoke by caterox / sxc.hu)

WHEN the government announced plans for a 1,000MW nuclear plant, solar power is often dismissed as too costly to implement on a large scale. However, developments in the photovoltaic (PV) industry suggest that with planning, it’s not necessarily prohibitive.

For certain, solar power alone cannot displace fossil fuels as an energy source. But it is possible for a mix of solar and other renewable energy sources like biomass, biogas and hydropower to replace fossil fuels, says Ahmad Hadri Haris. He is the national project leader of the Malaysia Building Integrated Photovoltaic project, and a renewable energy technical adviser to the Malaysian government.

The question for Malaysia is whether it can increase its use of PV and other renewable energy sources before turning to contentious energy sources like nuclear. Can funds and PV technology be made available for Malaysia to explore and harness solar power? If yes, does the government have the political will to give solar a chance?

Solar potential

Shamsudin

Shamsudin

According to Malaysian Photovoltaic Industry Association president Shamsudin Khalid, the cost of PV cells has dropped 40% in the last 10 years. Indeed, the PV industry is growing, and Malaysia is currently the world’s fourth largest PV modules producer. Shamsudin says Malaysia exported 784MW or RM1 billion worth of PV modules in 2009.

Despite such advancements, there isn’t much of a domestic PV market. Currently, only 1MW of electricity is solar-derived, mainly by participants of the Suria 1000 pilot programme. It’s a mere fraction of the total 1% or 30MW of electricity currently generated from renewable energy sources. This is far short of the 9th Malaysia Plan’s target for renewable energy sources to contribute 350MW to total energy supply by 2010. Under the 10th Malaysia Plan (10MP) from 2011 to 2015, the government wants 5.5% of total electricity to come from renewable energy sources.

But what is the government doing to ensure these targets are met?

In 2009, the Malaysian Photovoltaic Industry Association submitted to the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry a five-year plan to increase PV contribution to national energy at 2,600MW per annum. This well exceeds the unmet 2010 target for renewable energy sources to contribute 350MW to total energy supply.

The plan involves installing PV panels on the rooftops of homes, and commercial, industrial and even government buildings. Electricity generated by the PV cells would immediately be fed to the national grid. At the same time, electricity is drawn from the grid for consumption. Through the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) mechanism, home or building owners can sell their green electricity to the grid at a higher price than the electricity they buy, as incentive for using the technology.

“It’s passive income for home and building owners. In countries where FiT is implemented at a preferential rate for green energy producers, the cost of PV installation is recoverable in 10 years,” Shamsudin tells The Nut Graph in an interview in Shah Alam.

PV cells have a warranty of up to 25 years, he adds.

There is potential to generate more electricity using rooftop-mounted PV panels as there are about five million houses nationwide, according to Shamsudin. This doesn’t include commercial and industrial roof space.

Solar panels on the roof of a private residence in Sungai Buloh, Selangor (Source: mbipv.net.my)

Solar panels on the roof of a private residence in Sungai Buloh, Selangor (Source: mbipv.net.my)

The Malaysia Building Integrated Photovoltaic project, meanwhile, is in talks with independent power producers about using PV to complement gas fuel. This combination is already used by US power utilities. “It’s a viable proposition because PV is getting cheaper and is bankable. But only provided gas subsidies for power generation are gradually removed,” Ahmad Hadri says in a phone interview.

Financing

The Malaysian Photovoltaic Industry Association’s five-year plan to produce 2,600MW per year from rooftop PV systems would require an estimated RM5.6 billion on credit through various sources. This would include the FiT scheme and commercial lending, says Shamsudin. A small 3kW rooftop system would cost around RM60,000 to buy and install, he says.

“From [the association]’s talks with the banking industry, there are indications that development and commercial banks are willing to do so, as it is already practised in other countries,” notes Shamsudin.

Energy specialist Asfaazam Kasbani says bank lending for home PV systems is already available for newer housing projects, such as in certain developments in Putrajaya and Shah Alam. Consumers, however, are still wary of the high capital cost.

But in principle, FiT contracts are reliable and bankable, says Asfaazam, who is assistant resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme Malaysia.

The guaranteed funding is drawn from increased electricity tariffs. In other words, the higher price at which a power provider were to buy electricity from green energy producers will be funded through tariff hikes. This makes FiT, developed about 10 years ago in Germany, the most popular of funding mechanisms for green energy because it involves consumer and private sector funding.

Asfaazam

Asfaazam. Pic courtesy of Asfaazam Kasbani.

“FiT quickens the move towards grid parity, whereby the cost of renewable energy-generated electricity will be equivalent to or cheaper than fossil fuel,” Asfaazam says in a phone interview.

The government plans to introduce FiT in 2011 under the Renewable Energy Bill to be tabled in Parliament by the end of 2010. The recently unveiled 10MP also includes the “introduction of the FiT of 1% to be incorporated into the electricity tariffs of consumers to support the development of [renewable energy]”.

What this means is that a gradual increase in electricity rates amounting to 1% over the next five years will fund renewable energy-related activities. This includes Tenaga Nasional Bhd’s purchase of green energy from solar and other sources, Asfaazam explains.

Though consumers may balk at paying more for electricity, Shamsudin says introducing FiT will be good for the overall economy because of job creation and export growth.

“FiT will create a domestic PV market. A local market can drive expansion of other solar component sectors and markets, like the building of larger-scale PV power plants that can help Malaysia achieve a higher output of green energy in a shorter time. We can meet our renewable energy goals faster,” Shamsudin says.

Comparing options

The problem with solar, as with other renewable energy sources, is its low output at high cost compared to fossil fuels. Asfaazam’s estimate of a ringgit-for-output comparison is roughly RM25,000 worth of PV systems for every 1kW capacity. That’s just about enough to power one air-conditioner and four lights. Nuclear is the only alternative that can match the output of fossil fuel or mega hydroelectric projects.

According to Ahmad Hadri, five times the capacity of solar power is required to generate an equivalent amount of energy from nuclear power. Further, a nuclear plant when up and running can generate electricity almost continuously, whereas solar technology is most efficient only during peak daylight hours.

Neither nuclear nor solar is cheap, but Ahmad Hadri says solar has environmental and financing benefits over nuclear in the long run as the price of PV gets cheaper over time.

“In parts of Europe and the US where PV usage has gone commercial and where there is no petrol subsidy, the price of PV will be on par with fossil fuel in the next few years,” he says.

Whereas for nuclear, commercial lending is unavailable, and continued high spending is required for maintenance and uranium imports.

Ahmad Hadri

Ahmad Hadri (Source: mbipv.net.my)

“Malaysia’s long-term goal in energy planning should not just be about energy security but energy independence, where we won’t have to rely on imported fuel sources,” notes Ahmad Hadri.

Environmentally, too, nuclear power is not totally carbon-free as claimed by its proponents, he adds. “It is carbon-free during plant operations, but people forget that emissions are released during the mining and enrichment process of uranium, and in the process of de-commissioning the waste,” he says.

Democratising energy

For Malaysia to maximise its renewable energy potential, electricity tariffs will have to reflect the true cost of production and supply. Fossil fuel subsidies will have to be gradually cut. Consumer habits will have to change by reducing consumption and using energy-efficient appliances.

It sounds like a burden to the public, but Ahmad Hadri says FiT, while providing consumers passive income, is better in the long run by distributing the cost of power production, as well as income among the public. Everyone can generate their own power and contribute to national supply. Whereas building a single nuclear or fossil fuel power plant would concentrate costs and spending in the hands of the state and select contractors.

These issues are some of the things the government must address transparently. Already, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has promised a comprehensive study on the government’s proposed nuclear plant. From what the experts are saying, that comprehensive study must clearly include giving solar a chance.

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21 Responses to “Solar vs nuclear: Giving solar a chance”

  1. Sean says:

    “2,600MW per year”

    Units! My eyes… is this 2600MW average over a year, or 2600MWh in one year?

    I think the photo of the Selangor roof might be leading people into a false sense of how much power solar panels produce. My terraced house has a plan roof area of about 70m^2. According to Wikipedia’s insolation article, I can expect an average power input of about 240W/m^2. At an efficiency of 10%, my roof would be good for 1.6kW (against a monthly average demand of about 1kW) if it was in total shade of the solar array. A pimple-sized installation might look nice, but it’s not going to make your power problems go away.

    I wonder if there’s some kind of house owner/private partnership arrangement possible under which house owners provide their sunny roof space in exchange for free (or greatly reduced price) electricity. The partnership would then build a continuous solar panel shade over the top of the existing roofs. The roof would be completely in the shade, but the solar paneling wouldn’t overhang the roof by much, or people would complain about being unable to dry their clothes!

    If you look at a plan view of a housing estate such as the one I live in, I imagine taking a marker pen and roughly colouring the continuous roof areas with ‘solar panel colour’. That would make a housing development of this size produce about 800kW average, with a max of around 8MW on a clear day, falling to zero (unless some local storage is built in) at night. Such a scheme would make much more sense on terraced housing than it would on detached houses.

    I realise there’s an obvious “NIMBY” objection to a big solar scheme such as this one, but it would supply electricity while being much less of an eyesore than a traditional power station. I can see there’s a problem with housing “character”, but I haven’t yet detected character in housing developments of the kind I live in – do they have one? On a positive note, rather than just complaining about what politicians and their cronies give you for power generation, housing areas could actually do something to take back ownership of the decision. They could be “Not On My Account Thank You” – NOMATY.

    Thanks for posting the link to the Feed-In Tariff article at the Star. The caption under the picture of the Taiwan solar power plant had me rolling on the floor laughing like a demented owl.

    • Ahmad Shadzli Abdul Wahab says:

      I would like to clarify some confusions regarding Megawatts and Megawatthours in relation to solar panel systems and also to touch a bit on government current plan to promote the use of environmentally friendly renewable energy.

      When talking about solar energy, we normally refer to solar water heating systems, that most house owners are familiar with, which converts the thermal components of solar radiation to heat up water in our home. The other aspect of solar energy is the electromagnetic component of solar radiation that we receive daily (such that of ultra-violet and infra red that we are all familiar with and those in between known as visible region), most of which is converted to electrical energy via the use of solar cells or what we normally called solar modules. This conversion process is often referred as PV, an acronym for Photovoltaic, P for photo and V for voltaic.

      Thus, when we say solar PV system can generate 2,600 MW of power per annum, it does not mean that the solar PV system will generate continuously 2,600 MW all day long, all year round, as one would expect from normal conventional power plants (coal, gas, nuclear). It only means and refers to Total Installed Capacity, is DC power and is sometimes suffixed as Peak. Rightfully its should be stated as 2,600 MWp DC (Megawatt Peak DC).

      Because of its fluctuating output, due to daily variation in solar radiation throughout the day, cloudiness of sky, ambient temperature, conversion efficiency from DC power to grid-compatibility AC supply, it is best to describe the capability of solar PV system in terms of energy it produces, and that is what we pay for to TNB. (MWhr is an acronym for Megawatt-hours referring to units of energy. 1 Megawatt-hour is equivalent to 1,000 Kilowatt-hours or 1,000 units of electricity, energy units that are currently used by TNB to charge us all). Only then can we truly compare it with conventional power system. So for a 2,600 MWp DC solar PV power plant, the annual energy production is estimated to be about 2,600 Megawatthours a year i.e 2,600 MWHr or 2.6 Gigawatthours.

      Imagine. If we have a million homes each equipped with 2.6 KWp solar PV system, we could install a combined capacity of 2,600 MWp DC power. During and around noon time, TNB and IPP could actually switch off some of their expensive gas fired powered plants used to meet the day’s high maximum demand and save the country billions of ringgit in terms of gas subsidy that the government provides to these monopolistic electricity providers.

      The saving in gas subsidies, instead could be channeled to finance individual house owners to buy and install small roof top PV systems. For a 1.0 KWp capacity, that requires 10 sq m of roof area, the initial investment cost is around RM16,000 to RM18,000 to install individually depending on the type of roof.

      In order to make the PV system more affordable and pay for itself in a reasonable period of time, as has been adopted in increasing number of countries in Europe, many states in USA, Japan, China, Korea, Australia and even Thailand, the government is to table a ground-breaking new law known as RE Law ( Renewable Energy law), in the parliament this coming October 2010, as announced recently by the Minister of Energy. Under the proposed RE Law, the electricity tariff that would be paid to electricity produced from RE, solar PV systems included, that would enable PV system to recoup its high investment cost within perhaps 10 to 12 years. The consequence of this RE Law will be far reaching as it will bring about mass utilization of green sources of energy throughout the country that will make Malaysia a more environmentally-friendly country to live in.

      Shadzli A Wahab
      Secretary
      Malaysian Photovoltaic Industry Association (MPIA)

      • Ng Ai Soo says:

        Now this is interesting… I can generate 2.6 Gigawatthours by running one small 300kW gas turbine 24/7 for a year. Normally gas turbine generators are sold rated 10MW and more! If I buy one of those instead I could have a lot of spare capacity as well for little extra cost. Why should I put a million solar panels up to do the same thing and then I have to wire them up and meter them and change my accounting and all? In view of the variability of solar electricity, I will not be able to just switch off the coal and gas since I must keep spinning reserve. Will the carbon saving not be realised? Won’t I end up paying a lot more for my electricity. Is there some mistake in the calculation? Please do not make Malaysia uncompetitive by simply raising our electricity cost for little or no benefit.

      • Sean says:

        “So for a 2,600 MWp DC solar PV power plant, the annual energy production is estimated to be about 2,600 Megawatthours a year i.e 2,600 MWHr or 2.6 Gigawatthours.”

        I have to be honest, I don’t get invited to many cocktail parties. MW (MegaWatt) is power. Power is rate of energy use, conversion or transfer. MWh is an amount of energy. A device consuming an average power of 1MW for one hour will consume 1MWh of energy every hour. Power stations are measured in Watts (usually MW or GW, though a small one might be kW). A coal-fired power station might have a capacity of 2.6GW. For every hour the coal station operates at capacity, it will produce 2.6GWh of energy. If it operated at 2.6GW for a year, it would output (2.6GW * 24 hours * 365.25 days) nearly 22,800GWh (nearly 23TWh) of energy.

        I’m not sure what % of capacity a coal-fired power station normally operates at. I suspect it’s probably quite low for a Malaysian power station, because there’s currently massive over-provision. The ‘peak’ figure quoted for solar is calculated under ideal conditions, full sun, panel exactly facing the sun. Near the equator incident solar power (what makes the tope of your head hot when you go outside at lunchtime) is about 1kW/m^2. The insolation map suggests that the average insolation in Malaysia (including night-time, cloudy times and times when the sun is rising or setting) is about 240W/m^2. That means that the long-term average power from solar panels is no more than 24% of the peak figure.

        2,600MWp of solar panels won’t produce 2,600MWh of electricity in a year, they’ll produce that amount – on rough average – every 4 hours. Taken over a year, the peak energy contribution from 2,600MW of solar panels would be about a quarter of that from the coal-fired power station of the same peak power, if both achieved their peak power at all times.

        Thanks for attending to the question. I guess the take-home message is that we’re using the same units to describe both kinds of generation: their peak power. I guess there’ll be some ‘duty%’ for coal-powered power stations that takes into account their down-time for maintenance. It would be interesting to know what that is. At the same time, when we see “2GW solar power station” we should be mentally dividing that by a quarter to get its long average peak output – less than half a GigaWatt.

        • Ng Ai Soo says:

          OK, lets try to get real. Based on the PVMC website, the actual performance of installed solar PV here is around 100kWh/kWp per month… suppose we improve that by one quarter to 125 instead as a margin. Then the yearly performance will be 1500kWh/kWp. So installed solar PV capacity of 2600MWp will yield 3.9TWh on actual (plus improvement) performance figures. This can be supplied by one 450MW nuclear power station at a cost far below the 52 billion Ringgit it would cost for the solar PV (2600000 x 20000). In fact we can buy several power stations at that price. Hence solar PV is just too expensive at the moment.

          • Sean says:

            “100kWh/kWp per month”
            … that’s 3 good (1kW) hours per day. Peak per month (impossible) would be 24 hours x 30 (days) x 1kW = 720kWh. Using the 200W (on closer inspection, the map shows 240W/m^2 off-shore) insolation figure from Wikipedia gives you 24 x 30 x 0.2kW = 144kWh, so it seems like either the insolation figure is optimistic or there’s some loss not factored in. Bad placement / bad conversion from DC to AC might be the causes – or (as neptunian points out) perhaps it’s ‘net metering’ that’s responsible for the 30% loss.

            I can’t help feeling that these sort of features of solar power would make pretty essential projects for local engineering students, and we should be able to see reams of statistical data and empirical observations from current projects. Where are the local engineering schools with this information? Public funding for such projects (they’d be dirt cheap, individually – just a few small panels each and some DIY instrumentation) seems like sound economic sense, as local enterprise could benefit from better understanding of this still fairly new technology. Has anybody spotted such an effort locally?

          • Sean says:

            “such an effort locally”
            I would have seen exactly such an effort locally if I’d read G.Laichand’s comment more carefully – thank you for the tip! UiTM has PV data for several installations around Malaysia available online.

            I’d really like to see information relating to the installation itself – such as 2-axis orientation and an independent measure of solar input. Given that many of the installations seem to be hitting that 100kWh/kWp per month figure quoted by Ng Ai Soo, it would be nice if a one-line explanation for results such as this 70-80kWh/kWp example could be given.

            There is a lot of data on the UiTM PV installation pages – it’s an interesting visit!

          • Ng Ai Soo says:

            Well, Sean, I am glad you agree the figures are reasonable. NASA gives irradiance of 210 W/m^2, but like Wikipedia, I believe these may be calculated figures and not actual measurements, although I could be wrong, of course. The PVMC figures as you know are maintained by UiTM and I agree that further particulars and some explanations as to performance levels, or lack thereof, would be helpful to us.

            By the way, how is your solar PV system performing?

          • Sean says:

            “how is your solar PV system performing?”
            100% to expectations, thanks – for solar panels kept in a box under my desk! I just bought a few small panels 5W-8W from a supplier in Shanghai a few years ago for some little hobby-electronic experiments. It was a lesson in pragmatism!

  2. Hwa Shi-Hsia says:

    Let’s be honest – for an existing homeowners to buy a big solar panel + battery system is not “worth it” even if the FiT system was already up and running. It will take a pretty long time to pay for itself. However, I think developers should be given incentives to include them in houses under planning/construction so that the cost of the system would be included in the cost of the house, so new buyers can get it at less than what it would cost to buy it individually, and it will be less psychologically painful to the buyer. I know a guy in the US who has a solar panel and he said it’s pretty cool to see the reading on his electric meter go backwards on sunny days.

    Let’s not forget that there are many Malaysians who also don’t have electricity in the kampung areas…for the rural poor there should be subsidies or community-based solutions like a big bank of panels + batteries shared by one small kampung.

  3. Radix says:

    The primary reason fossil fuels and nuclear energy appear cheap relative to renewables like solar is that the long term cost of environmental degradation has not been adequately factored in. Here is where the government needs to ensure a pricing mechanism that captures the full impact of all economic activities. This can be done via something like the carbon tax regimes being proposed in some countries… “dirty” energy should pay taxes for its cost to the environment & health of population.

    The issues is not just about removing subsidies, but also imposing taxes where market prices are giving polluters a free-ride (with the tab picked up by general population or future generations).

  4. Lainie says:

    Wondering if Malaysia could implement something like Australia’s government, where homeowners are given tax incentives to build solar panels within a certain timeframe?

  5. Sean says:

    “784MW or RM1 billion worth”

    That price you’ve quoted is less than RM1.30 per Watt. I paid USD5 per Watt (plus shipping from Shanghai) for my small panels, and I thought I was doing well to get close to a figure on which people usually base their calculations. Can you check your figures / currency? A 70m^2 roof at 1kW/M^2 nominal, 10% efficiency would support 7kW of solar panels. That’s normally priced (for the sake of argument) at something like USD5/W, so ‘normally’ a bit over 110,000 Ringgit. That’s the installation that would generate about 1,200kWh per month, about RM360 per month. That’s 25 years just to break even. At the price you’ve quoted, the roof would cost just over RM9,000, covering its own cost in a little over two years, paying back more than ten times its cost over 25 years. That’s an entirely different proposition.

  6. neptunian says:

    The solar power industry – PV-installation industry always looks and sounds like a scam. They are their own worst enemies. Even the MBIPV website does not give a potential user the information required to make an informed decision.

    1. Cost – about RM20,000 per Kw. What does this mean? Is it 1Kw constant throughout the day available or average when the sun shines? Is it 24Kw in a day average, therefore the panels actually generate about 70+ Kw in an 8-hour sunny period?

    2. How big an area for installation is needed to produce the above? Please clear up the above first.

    3. Most homes are terrace homes measuring 22 x 40 (built up roof area) with no garden space to speak of. How much is useable for PV installation?

    4. Why can’t PV promoters come up with a typical terrace house cost together with expectations, etc, so that a potential user can just go through and not get surprises?

    I am so tired.

    • Sean says:

      @neptunian:

      I’m not the PV industry, but I’ll have a go at your questions:

      Cost – about RM20,000 per Kw. What does this mean?
      PV is usually costed by its nominal output. A panel is usually sold as a 5W or 8W (I have some for projects) or 120W or 140W. I paid USD5 (RM16) per Watt for mine, so that would be about RM16,000 per kW just for panels. For a permanent installation, there’s mounting (framework), cabling, power conversion (DC to AC if you want mains-compatible) etc. RM20,000 sounds about right.

      Is it 1Kw constant throughout the day
      No! The ‘nominal output’ is what the panel will theoretically produce under ‘nominal conditions’. Nominal conditions will be full sun, with the panel directly facing the sun. Clouds = less than 1kW. Panel not directly facing the sun = less than 1kW. Night-time = 0kW = 0W = 0mW = nothing at all. The “Insolation” article at Wikipedia that I linked in my first reply has a pretty map showing you how much power you should expect on average in different places in the world. Malaysia looks like 240W per square metre. Max power (mid-day no clouds) per square metre is something like 1kW. If your solar panels are 10% efficient, they’ll put out something like 100W per square metre maximum, or 24W (in Malaysia) per square metre on a long average which includes night-time.

      Is it 24Kw in a day
      kW is kiloWatt, an instantaneous measure of power. It’s like km/j measures the current speed of your car, kW measures the rate at which energy is transferred. Your electricity bill should be in kWh which means 1kW average for one hour. You pay for the amount of energy, not the rate at which it’s transferred. We (in my house) use about 600kWh per month according to our TNB bill, or about 20kWh per day – I suspect we’re high users because we have a home office. To take your 8-hour sunny period as an example, the 20kWh per day could be (ideally) met by solar panels generating 2.5kW for 8 hours.

      How big…?
      Taking your 8 hour, 2.5kW example, and asserting that the hypothetical solar panels will generate at their nominal output for 8 hours: 2.5kW of full equatorial sunlight falls on 2.5m^2 of ground. If your solar panels are 10% efficient (10% of sunlight converted to electricity), you’ll need 10x that area, so 25m^2. If you don’t get 8 hours of nominal full sun, or your solar panel area doesn’t exactly face the sun, you’ll need a larger area.

      How much roof is usable
      Solar panels should produce some electricity from being pointed at a bright sky – it’ll vary from panel to panel. The problem with mounting on roof pitches is that at some times of day the pitches are in shadow, and even when the sun rises above the pitch’s horizon, there’ll be some low angles for which the panel won’t produce usable amounts of electricity. It gets worse if you live on the side of a hill or there are tall buildings or trees nearby which cast a shadow over your house. You save money on framework and mounting by putting solar panels directly on a roof pitch, but lose energy. I would suspect that in Malaysia – given its proximity to the equator – a horizontal mount would be best for fixed panels. We really need lots of experimental data!

      Why can’t PV promoters come up with a typical terrace house cost
      Maybe there isn’t a typical terraced house? Fancy roof designs with bay /dormer windows seems to be popular here, but they do nothing to help someone come up with a typical calculation! Is there a typical direction for roof pitches to face in Malaysia? There doesn’t seem to be around here. Steeply pitched roofs facing ‘the wrong way’ complicate matters.

      I don’t want to wee on anybody’s bonfire, but I can’t help thinking that a few solar panels plonked on a roof that wasn’t designed specifically to accommodate them would be more nuisance than benefit for anybody except consumers of the very lowest amounts of electricity. If you only visit your house one afternoon every week, a small solar panel installation is for you.

      Perhaps what the Malaysian energy industry needs to do is to come up with a few designs, in partnership with housing developers, of workable large-scale domestic solar generation. I suggest that those designs will feature continuous flat, horizontal roofs, possibly reducing the sky line of housing developments. If you’re a fan of brightly tiled pitched roofs, you won’t like it! If the roof were to be separately owned and maintained by a power station operator, then it might actually reduce the price of the house, as it would only need a rain and burglar-proof roof and not a sun-proof roof. If the solar roof were slightly raised to permit maintenance access from below, it would also permit air-flow and potentially result in cooler houses. I suppose it might even permit a nice shady roof-top terrace. Rather than use the generated power directly, I’ve a feeling it might be simpler and more practical for a 3rd party to operate the roof as a power station and pay a small rent to each of the houses beneath, while the houses consume electricity as normal from TNB.

      I hope that helps. I agree – there’s not enough information available. I have a suspicion that in the case of domestic solar, there aren’t many well-publicised facts because the facts are simply not very attractive.

      • G. Lalchand says:

        I must congratulate Sean for his detailed explanation on PV power generation issues in his post dated 8 July 2010.

        I believe that the MBIPV web-site (www.mbipv.net.my) gives a lot of factual details particularly for existing grid connected PV systems in Malaysia. More details are also available on the PV Monitoring centre (by UiTM) on its web-site.

        May I also add that some of the information contained in some of the other posts can be debated (such as contradicting cost figures, electricity generation yield, etc.) but the general gist is substantially in the right “ball-park’ area.

        As to our electricity rates, rather than being “too expensive” as stated by Ng Ai Joo, the current gas price subsidy for power generation keeps the price artificially low and discourages efficient use of electricity. The subsidies are unsustainable as has been mentioned at the PEMANDU Open Day on Subsidy Rationalisation. For residential consumers, why should the rich, who tend to use more electricity than the “average” consumer (with excessive use of A/Cs etc.) be subsidised so much? Sorry if these comments make me sound too much like being a bl***y socialist.

        In addition, we don’t need to reach the per capita elecrtricity use of the “developed” countries to use “clean” electricity without unsustainable subsidies. The present electricity cost regime burdens the nation with excessive subsidies which actually favour the wealthier, heavy electricity consumers, rather than the deserving low income earners.

        On a closing note, I think we need to consider solar & other energy sources (including nuclear) in a rational manner for our future energy security. NIMBY & NOMATY both have a role to play in the best interests of the public in Malaysia.

      • neptunian says:

        Hi Sean,

        Thanks for the reply.I really do not need the answers from you, but thanks anyway. I have been doing alternate energy research since 1980.

        My list of questions is really to probe the solar/wind etc players to come clean with proper non-hype data for the public to evaluate the real potential. It is also a challenge to news media like Nut Graph reporters/writers to ask penetrating questions, instead of simply copying the “spin” writeup of vested interest industry players.

        I have personally met with Ahmad Hadri two years ago, [...]. I asked the same list of questions and he backed off!

        Your last reason for the lack of “typical” installation, cost/maintenance/actual power output etc is most correct. It is actually not attractive in both short and long term.

        Misconceptions –

        Malaysia receives sunshine all year round:
        As you pointed out, sunshine with no clouds for max output. Malaysian skies are cloudy most of the time. We get the “heat” not the full EM for PV.

        Horizontal panel installation:
        Maintenance, mainly cleaning is a problem. If you are in the Klang Valley, it would not take long for the efficiency of your PV panels to be halved due to dirt cover. Just go take a look at any polycarbonate shade covers in K.L. These are all over the place and covered in dirt.

        Feed In Meter:
        As far as I know, the “net metering” is just that. TNB deducts from your bill the “metered” power generated from your PV. There is still no mechanism for power feed in. I thought there was, but I was involved in two 5Kw installation at two bungalows in Country Heights Damansara. Feed in is not available, just “net metering”. This means, if you are not using the power generated, it is simply wasted. Since the house (domestic) uses very little power during the day… it is mainly wasted.

  7. Ng Ai Soo says:

    Solar electricity is too expensive now. The only economic solar usage is through solar water heating, which is often seen here, and which works well because it incorporates storage and backup. The heat is collected and stored in the insulated tank for use as required and, in the event that storage is insufficient, backup is provided in the form of an electric heating element working off the mains.

    Our cloud cover reduces insolation and makes solar energy variable so that the electric power cannot be relied on totally without storage and/or backup. What the solar industry wants is incentives or subsidies. See the German experience in promoting solar electricity with very good feed-in-tariffs and installation subsidies backed by high price for consumer electricity. Going green in this way is an expensive undertaking for everyone!

    Until our per capita electricity consumption is equal to the “developed” countries, we should do what they did to get where they are now… use the cheapest, most economic sources of power. When we are equal, then we talk about all the other issues. Otherwise, ask them to subsidize carbon-free sources for us… after all this is what they are doing in their own countries… do it here as well.

  8. Li-ling says:

    Might it make any sense to give consideration to wind farms? Eyesore that they are, they seem to be gathering a significant amount of support in Europe.

    • Sean says:

      There’s no wind power in Malaysia.

      How wonderful it would be if there was wind power here – there would be less sweating!

    • Sean says:

      I didn’t know why the wind was so slight here, before today. This region (close to the equator) is the dreaded ‘Doldrums‘ of the ancient mariner, a word also used to mean ‘malaise‘. The wind’s movement is less horizontal here and more vertical. The air is heated by solar energy, flowing upwards into the atmosphere to descend much further North and South. I guess the best winds for power generation are those flowing from the descending areas to the rising areas, or perhaps those circulating systems driven partly by rising and falling air. It’s that rapidly rising warm air which also makes the thick storm clouds that reduce the amount of solar energy available for collection with solar panels!

      Intertropical Convergence Zone at Wikipedia


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