Muni-Solar Comes of Age

The argument covered in this article recently convinced a Malaysian state government to present Muni-Wireless type solar facilities as an option to its city and town administrations. I am opening it up here for others to digest believing this to be a practical solution for power generation in Asia and Africa especially along the equatorial belt. If sunny Germany can become the world’s largest PV (photovoltaic cells/panels/arrays) installed base, then Malaysia and India have little excuse to procrastinate. haltonmachining

As in the United States, we see demand for electricity is burgeoning globally, more so in those countries not equipped to meet this growth. Which is why I am convinced with a passion that the same way wireless technologies mitigate tele-density issues globally, rendering them non-issues in India and parts of Africa, so too should PV provide an affordable answer to the problem of power generation in such areas. American PV technology along with innovative financial schemes like Power Purchase Agreements (PPS) successfully address a global problem. Enter Muni-Solar.

Flying into Kuala Lumpur International Airport one sees rows upon rows of palm oil trees like sentinels in plantations that have taken over the countryside. Barely a decade ago this was rain forest. wrdesignprint

Here is a quote from a large palm oil producer. “Malaysia, the world’s second largest producer, expects crude palm oil output to rise to 16.5 million tonnes this year from 15.8 million in 2007, as soaring prices for the commodity have led to conversion of marginal land into plantations”. ‘Marginal land’ being the corporate euphemism for the same rain forests I saw decimated over my decade long relationship with the country. Palm oil for cooking is one thing. Using it for Bio-fuel is alarmingly another. The country tripped over itself in expanding this industry and it’s a shame a reckoning is due someday soon. The only good news from this story is Malaysia’s newly acquired taste for carbon credits. Their generation through solar programs was welcomed over our discussions. Many Malaysians in positions of power fully understand that while carbon credits for solar use is the right thing to do, allocating them for Bio-fuel stinks like deep-fried tofu.

How bad the stink is may be gauged from the fact that replacing our current consumption of fossil fuels with energy from modern biomass would require 22% of terrestrial NPP (Net Primary Productivity), increasing the human appropriation of this source (meaning converting forests into plantations) by another approximate 50% to the damage already wrought. Bio-fuel is one of the most dangerous technologies that President Bush encouraged and President Obama chooses to perpetuate. Its impact on food prices and global hunger is already evident.

In comparison, 254×254 sq kms of desert, less than 1% of global desert area if installed with Concentrated Solar Thermal (CST) panels would produce as much electricity as is currently consumed by the entire world. 110km x 110 km would produce as much electricity as consumed by the European Union in 2004. And now that we’re on a roll, CST in SW American deserts could produce 7000 GW of capacity, or 7 times current total USA electricity generation capacity.

Suchitra Sriram of the Asia Pacific Energy Practice concludes that Malaysia,situated as it is in the equatorial region with an average radiation of 4,500 KWh per square meter, is an ideal location for large-scale solar power installations. Considering that Malaysia gets on an average 4.5 hours to 8 hours of free and bountiful sunshine everyday, the potential for solar power generation is very high. However she says and we know, the real harnessing of this renewable energy source is way below its actual potential. For more info please visit these sites :-

Surging oil prices, increasing environmental awareness, growing imports of oil and un-utilized resources of renewable energy are factors driving the Malaysian Government to vigorously promote renewable energy in the country. In the Eighth Malaysia Plan, a target of five percent was set for renewable energy out of the total electricity production but the target has not been achieved. Several factors contribute to this and these issues are pretty global being as applicable to India, Indonesia, or The Philippines as they are to Malaysia. They include a lack of awareness that’s closely tied to easy availability of fossil fuel and the capital cost of solar coupled with restricted access to finance.

FOSSIL FUELS & AWARENESS ON ALTERNATIVES: Visualize a dollar increase to gasoline prices and see what it does to your awareness on alternatives such as solar. The two are closely tied in a direct proportion. It behooves us however, to uncouple the two and educate ourselves on a topic that will decide our collective fate and surely that of our children and grandchildren. Using coal and oil recklessly is like unemployed family members dipping their hands into the family inheritance.

We begin our education with the understanding that fossil fuels (coal and oil) are not sources of energy like solar, but instead carriers or storehouses of solar energy. This is a key point. Read on.

An average US gallon (3.8L) of gasoline requires approximately 90 metric tons of ancient plant matter as precursor material. Coal is less, at 50 metric tons but the costs in paleo-efficiency to convert ancient solar energy via intermediate agencies such as the above-mentioned precursor material (plankton, algae, biomass) into oil and coal are equally appalling.

In our convenient math, we calculate cost of oil and coal by toting up the cost of bringing it up and the cost of processing, refining, transporting, etc. We conveniently fail to add on the cost of time and energy already employed to create the raised oil/coal from its precursor material. An inconvenient truth, if there is one. The Mayans and the Easter Island inhabitants did not comprehend the nature of their fatal error and kept cutting trees until doomsday. We do not have that excuse.

The experts use “Recovery Factor” (RF) to calculate the true cost of fossil fuels. They use RF to arrive at the amount of ancient photosynthesis product consumed annually in the form of fossil fuels. The global RF for coal is 0.09. Using that RF they figure that 422 times the net amount of carbon fixed (photosynthesized) every year is required to generate the fossil fuels burnt in 1997. This is equivalent to 73 times the global standing stock of carbon in vegetation.

I can go on. Examination of paleo-productivity use over time suggests that societal use of this resource has exceeded the current rate of global carbon fixation (photosynthesis) since 1888. This means we have been living beyond our (energy) means since that year; far more serious that any national debt issue worrying us.

If we think coal and oil are cheap, it’s because our addiction is being subsidized. In 2005, the Malaysian government subsidized petrol (gasoline) to the tune of Ringett 35 Billion (US$11.3 Billion) and forfeited sales tax of Ringett 7.6 Billion (US$2.3 Billion). Such subsidies are not just a Malaysian issue. They plague every country including the United States. Subsidizing the use of fossil fuel must be the dumbest collective action undertaken by Homo sapiens second only to their reckless propagation as a species. Subsidizing renewable solar use is by far the better option than subsidizing an ongoing grab at the family inheritance.


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