Renewable Energy

Malaysia’s Net-Zero Plan requires Sensitivity Analysis

Malaysia is depending heavily on natural carbon sinks from its forest land to act as a key source of carbon removals from the atmosphere.

Tropical Rainforest
Tropical Rainforest

Based on the Biennial National GHG inventory update (BUR) submitted to the United Nations, Malaysia emitted a total of 335 million tonnes CO2 in 2016. More than three quarters (78%) of these emissions were stated to be offset by the country’s forest carbon sink, which amounted to 260 million tonnes CO2. This leaves a net emissions gap of 75 million tonnes CO2, to be dealt with mainly through displacement of fossil fuel energy with renewable energy. Fossil fuel energy accounted for 79.4% of the total carbon emissions.

Based on the above, a 28% (75÷260) shortfall in the sequestration capacity will require doubling the renewable energy generation to maintain Net-Zero emissions.

Since Malaysia is relying heavily on its natural carbon sinks, it is imperative that a detailed sensitivity analysis should be carried out on all variables in modelling the sequestration capacity of forest land.

If the sensitivity analysis indicates that the risk of loosing the forest land sequestration capacity in future is high, due to any of the variables, then, the required renewable energy generation projection will need to be upscaled to cater for any possible shortfall. The upcoming National Energy Policy needs to take this risk assessment into account.

In this respect, a mere maintaining of more than 50% of its land area as forests will not guarantee the expected sequestration capacity in the years to come. The forest needs to be continuously attended to, to keep it in an invigorated growth state. Sustainable management of forest and conservation of carbon stocks need to be ongoing practices. Afforestation, reforestation, natural  regeneration, forest protection and conservation of forest areas are all necessary to attain a high sequestration capacity.

Even then, when the reforested areas matures, its carbon stock would gradually stabilise at high level but its net yearly sequestration capacity contribution would decline.

Eventually most forms of anthropogenic emissions will need to be halted to meet the Net-Zero emissions targets. Thus, in time to come, a 100% halt on use of fossil fuel would be required without any other forms of sequestration.

There should not be a confusion between conservation of forest carbon stock and the carbon sequestration capacity of the forest land. Sequestration capacity is equal to the rate of increase of carbon stock as a result of forest growth.

For example, a recent publication by a Malaysian university Assessment of Carbon Stock in Forest Biomass and Emission Reduction Potential in Malaysia, has modelled the carbon stock vs sequestration capacity of Malaysian forest land. The expert study reveals that the sequestration capacity of our forest land between the years 2011 and 2016 was only about 47 million tonnes CO2 a year, a far cry from the 260 million tonnes a year stated in the Biennial National GHG inventory.

The study further estimates that under Business as Usual (BAU) practices, between the years 2016 and 2050 Malaysia’s existing forests would net emit, about 18.25 million tonnes of CO2 yearly into the atmosphere, rather than sequester from the atmosphere. Thus, the assumptions used for sequestration capacity in the projections made in the 12th Malaysia Plan to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 need to be carefully scrutinised.

Any error in the GHG inventory on forest land as a result of sequestration capacity change would adversely affect our Net-Zero projections together with the reduction of the intensity of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission across the economy by 45% based on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Serious implications will arise unless we correct the trajectory early.

Because of its importance, a separate chapter on forest management, monitoring and reporting mechanisms and plans could perhaps be included in the 12th Malaysia Plan MTR and annual budgets.

The Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (KeTSA), which is responsible for forest management has a lot on its plate, that is, to balance renewable energy generation on the one hand with managing our forest carbon sink, on the other.

Renewable Energy

Need to tackle the trust deficit

Palm oil industry needs to tackle the trust deficit in the food product marketplace, ensuring environmental sustainability, food safety and transparency.

THE European Commission’s decision to phase out palm oil biofuels is based on the high carbon footprint of palm oil production and as a mechanism for protection against indirect land use change (iLUC) (and indirectly also against food price hikes in developing countries).

Therefore, nothing can be done at this stage against the phasing out. What is coming next is the same issue of high carbon emissions and food safety of palm oil in food products. Remember 3-MCPD? (It is an organic chemical compound which is the most common member of chemical food contaminants and is suspected to be carcinogenic to humans).

This is not the first “fight” on the carbon emissions front. The first was with the United States (US) government (2009-2014) when Malaysia and Indonesia lost the argument. The difference this time is that Europe engages with its partner countries, but still does not deviate from the principles of science.

From the argument with the US, it is demonstrated that developed countries want trade-partner countries to recognise the urgency of climate change and initiate some action against it.

The European directive is to bring about good behavioural change in the palm oil industry.

The severity and urgency of climate change should have been clear through attendance at the 24 meetings of the Conference of the Parties (COP) since the Rio Declaration (1992). In spite of this, the government and the palm oil industry dismiss its relevance to the industry, while the sense of urgency among western countries makes such a posture unacceptable. The industry can contribute new low carbon energy to mitigate its carbon emissions and is expected to act on it particularly seriously.

Sustainability of palm oil production is closely related to its carbon footprint. Apart from conversion of rainforest land and peatland into oil palm plantations, the other major activities are application of fertiliser and treatment of palm oil mill effluents, which release greenhouse gases that leave a large carbon footprint.

The palm oil industry needs to mitigate the present carbon emissions in its production methods to prove that they are environmentally sustainable.

Let’s not forget that between the Conference of the Parties (COP) at Copenhagen in 2009 and the COP21 Paris Accord on Climate Change in 2015 — a span of six years — the planted area of oil palm has increased by a million hectares as government statistics indicate. Information withheld is that a major extent of expansion has involved peatland drainage in the increased planted area.

The Rubber Industry Smallholders Development Authority (Risda)’s statement that almost 45 per cent of land area in Malaysia consists of peat soils for palm tree cultivation and unused or idle peat land was also used for palm oil trees, is the most damaging to date.

The government has tried hard to deny cultivating on peatland but Risda has indicated otherwise.

Cultivating oil palm on peatland compared to planting in mineral soil causes more than 10 times greenhouse gas emission into the atmosphere for many years — i.e. up to 170 tonnes of CO2 per ha per year.

On the concern for the well-being of smallholders, it’s like crying over spilt milk, when attention should have been directed to negotiating the definition of a smallholder to include land size of up to five hectares, which was laid on the table by the EU.

Smallholders’ well-being is our problem, not the EU’s.

To safeguard palm oil as a food source and grow the market share, the primary industries minister must convince the EU that Malaysia is genuinely concerned about climate change, and as proof of action, convey to the EU what Malaysia intends to do next.

Both the US government and the European Commission have suggested that the massive amount of biomass residue generated at palm oil mills be used efficiently for renewable energy generation to reduce carbon emissions and prosper the palm oil industry.

The urgency of climate change will drive every industry to account for the energy, water and chemicals it uses. This is inevitable.

This article first appeared in New Straits Times Online, on April 6, 2019. Kuala Lumpur

Renewable Energy

Réorganiser les moulins à huile de palme dans les centres d’efficacité énergétique

Moulins à huile de palme peuvent libérer les énergies renouvelables à des niveaux d’efficacité énergétique extrêmement élevés découlant des caractéristiques uniques de leurs paramètres de fonctionnement.

Moulins à huile de palme sont dans une position enviable pour exploiter des quantités accrues d’énergie renouvelable à des rendements très élevés, dont le potentiel reste largement inexploité.

À l’heure actuelle, les usines d’huile de palme ont tendance à se concentrer sur les opérations de fraisage. Ils sont principalement concernés par l’activité de base tournant autour du traitement des grappes de fruits frais (FFB) et les taux d’extraction du pétrole. Cependant, une nouvelle hypothèse envisage les usines fonctionnant comme des centres d’énergie renouvelable.

La majeure partie de la masse FFB du champ transporté à l’usine de traitement est déchargé en tant que résidu de biomasse. De ce résidu, la teneur en énergie des fibres de mésocarpe et de palmiste coquilles sont utilisées de manière inefficace pour fournir les besoins énergétiques de l’usine. En fait, les moulins à huile de palme peuvent libérer l’énergie renouvelable à des niveaux extrêmement élevés d’efficacité énergétique découlant des caractéristiques uniques de leurs paramètres de fonctionnement.

Renewable Energy

National Policies on Renewable Energy Utilisation and Abatement of Global Warming

Malaysia’s Policies on Renewable Energy and Global Warming that Went Awry

sustainable energy

The Fifth-Fuel Policy under the Eight Malaysia Plan (2001- 2005) identified renewable energy sources as the fifth-fuel to be included into the national energy mix and more specifically, biomass residue from the palm oil mills as a major renewable energy resource. The policy pushed for optimising the use of renewable energy resources as a way to achieve maximum reduction of carbon emissions in the atmosphere. The fifth-fuel policy delved further to encourage co-generation as a suitable method to extract electricity and usable heat from biomass resources, mainly for in-house consumption. In this respect, the implementation of the policy faulted on two accounts:

  1. Firstly, by narrowly interpreting the policy direction as renewable for electricity generation the other important aspect, i.e. the simultaneous production of usable heat for in-house use was disregarded; and
  2. As a result of (1) above, standalone biomass-based power plants incinerating empty fruit bunches (EFB) remains from palm oil mills were promoted. This led to the second neglect, namely, prime biomass resource in the palm oil mills, which comprises mesocarp fibre and palm kernel shell that has tremendous renewable energy potential. The neglect of this prime biomass resource continues till today resulting in leaving their inherent renewable energy potential largely underutilised.

A downside to the two neglects mentioned above is that the standalone-small-scale-low-efficiency-electricity-only power plants burning empty fruit bunches, as forecast, demonstrated to be financially not viable and this unattractive economics continues to hamper biomass renewable energy development in Malaysia till today.

Renewable Energy

Renewable Energy Bill 2010 Misses the Mark by not setting Efficiency Standards for Harnessing Renewable Energy!

Datuk Peter ChinThe Renewable Energy Bill 2010 was introduced in Parliament by the Hon. Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water on 15 December 2010 for its first reading. This bill was drafted to become the stated regulatory framework to achieve the government’s Renewable Energy (RE) Policy vision, which is stated as “Enhancing the utilisation of indigenous renewable energy resources to contribute towards National electricity supply security and sustainable socio-economic development.”

Renewable Energy

Optimising the Utilisation of Renewable Energy Resources in the Oil Palm Industry

Greenhouse Gas Emission Control is the Need of the Hour

greenhouse gas

Back in the 70’s there was a wave by countries to promote energy savings and energy efficiency driven by economic reasons following a hefty rise in oil prices. Today again there is another wave, and even more vigorous, but this time exerted by environmental considerations. The call is for sustainability, and more specifically to reduce harmful greenhouse gas (GHG) emission urgently to protect the world against climate change. Reducing greenhouse gas emission also goes hand in hand with enhancing our energy security, i.e., reducing dependence on fossil fuel and diversifying energy resources.