Clear net-zero roadmap needed
16 Jan 2023 | The Star

A clear roadmap is required, especially on how to increase the share of solar energy and retire coal-fired power plants earlier than the scheduled dates.

Many foreign investors have committed to achieve net-zero by 2050, and now, they must have a clear idea of how Malaysia is going to deal with its carbon emissions.

Apart from the net-zero target of 2050, the consensus among countries is that they must reduce emissions by 50% by 2030, to limit global warming to near 1.5 degrees Celcius.

A roadmap ties together the strategy, the work that needs to be done to achieve the end goals and the timeline to be taken.

It is a useful tool for communicating to stakeholders and tracking the progress against a set of objectives.

Meanwhile, net-zero means cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to as close to zero as possible, with any remaining emissions re-absorbed from the atmosphere by oceans and forests, for instance.

It is misleading to think that just because Malaysia’s share of GHG emissions is only 0.7%, that it is not worth doing our part to move the needle for climate change.

In fact, Malaysia has a disproportionately high emissions per capita that is double that of most of our neighbours.

In 2021, Malaysia’s carbon emissions per capita was 7.63 tonnes, while that of Thailand was 3.89 tonnes, and Singapore, was at 5.47 tonnes, according to Our World in Data based on the Global Carbon Project (2022).

Our neighbours appear to be a few steps ahead of us and Malaysia is at risk of falling behind if we do not step up our game, said Gamuda Bhd group managing director Datuk Lin Yun Ling.

About 75% of our GHG emissions comes from three sources – electricity generation (40%), road transport (18%) and manufacturing (17%).

Over 85% of our national electricity generation still comes from fossil fuels.

So naturally, to make a big reduction in GHG emissions in Malaysia, the top priority has to be to decarbonise our electricity.

The impact of this decarbonisation is far-reaching across all three main sources of emissions, added Lin.

In the transport sector, the switch to electric vehicles will be meaningless if users are charging their cars with electricity from coal-fired plants.

Both Indonesia and Vietnam have announced energy transition partnership deals which will mobilise over RM150bil in loans, extended over three to five years, by the United States and Japan.

These partnerships will accelerate the transition from coal by doubling the pace of renewable energy (RE) adoption, while retiring coal plants earlier than scheduled.

This puts both countries on a clear pathway to achieving net-zero by 2050.

A clear energy transition roadmap for Malaysia is necessary as most multinational investors have pledged to be net-zero by 2050, or earlier, Lin stressed.

This is in order to attract foreign direct investment in the coming years; it means that they cannot invest here if they do not see a net-zero roadmap for Malaysia.

Hence, what does Malaysia need to do, to decarbonise our electricity between now and 2030?

Malaysia needs to retire its coal-fired plants earlier by getting friendly loans from developed countries, especially the United States and Europe, which were among the biggest historical carbon emitters and would now want to play their role in helping to reduce those emissions.

Globally, RE will become the largest source of electricity generation by 2025; solar power is expected to surpass coal within five years, according to the International Energy Agency.

Malaysia’s current RE targets are not aggressive enough; it will have to quickly increase the installation of RE in the next few years, said Lin.

Malaysia will need to install at least eight gigawatts (GW) of RE, mostly solar, between now and 2030, to achieve 50% in renewables by the end of the decade.

To date, only 1.5GW of solar capacity has been implemented.

As part of this RE ramp-up, massive upgrades to grid infrastructure are also required.

A holistic plan is thus needed that will allow the country to grow renewables in our generation mix at the required pace.

There are enough players in the local market with the capability and commitment to implement this pipeline of RE.

What they urgently need is a clear policy framework and roadmap to enable this, which must be a key priority for the government and the Energy Commission.

Countries are quickly including renewables in their generation mix as seen in, for example, Britain and Spain.

In 2020, renewables accounted for 43.1% of electricity generated in Britain, and in Spain, renewable sources had produced 43.6% of all electricity in the country.

And as renewables contribute to a larger share of the generation mix, energy storage systems will need to be introduced to handle the intermittency issues associated with renewables.

Intermittency refers to an energy source that is not continuously available for conversion into electricity, for example, solar.

Among the forms of energy storage, the pumped hydroelectric scheme (PHS) is an efficient way of balancing supply and demand across a large grid system, and is the biggest form of RE storage worldwide.

A PHS provides storage for surplus solar and wind energy generated during periods of low demand.

This surplus energy is released back to the grid when demand peaks, said Gamuda Engineering Sdn Bhd managing director Justin Chin.

As part of Gamuda Group’s five-year business plan, it has earmarked RM2bil for investment in the RE space.

Upcoming opportunities include a local hydroelectric project; the group is looking to develop pumped hydroelectric projects in Australia which has a very high penetration of renewables, said Chin.

In 2021, countries with the highest capacity in PHS include China (36,390 megawatts); the United States (21,912MW) and Japan (21,894MW), according to Statista.

More than 140 countries have submitted new or updated pledges or nationally determined contributions, on how each country plans to deal with its climate change challenges.

The world is watching; US ambassador Brian D McFeeters, in his recent The Star Letter to the Editor, said the United States is committed to work with the new government to address questions related to how Malaysia would reduce its reliance on coal for electricity and increase its share of RE, particularly solar, by developing the electricity grid and the regulatory framework.

Amidst heightened concerns over climate change and action, we stress the urgent need for Malaysia to have a clear net-zero roadmap, backed by the right policies with science-based calculations, on how we are going to reduce our carbon footprint.

Yap Leng Kuen is a former StarBiz editor. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.