By Saiful Bahri Kamaruddin
Pix Shahiddan Saidi and Saiful Bahri Kamaruddin
BANGI, 26 April 2012– Malaysia faces the possibility of becoming a net importer of petroleum within three years and as such it is vital that renewable energy be brought into mainstream use sooner than later.
This is the view of Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI) which was set up by The National University of Malaysia (UKM) in July 2005 to address the issue of fossil fuel consumption.
A SERI researcher, Dr Sohif Mat said Malaysia will be importing more fossil fuel than it exports by 2015 and that should be a cause for concern for all Malaysians.
Fortunately Malaysia has all the advantages of exploiting renewable energy such as solar, wind, wave power and biomass that can mitigate its dependence on fossil fuel.
Speaking to UKM News Portal, Dr Sohif who pioneered the use of renewable energy in enhancing the economic development of the community, especially among the rural poor, said the country have almost 12 hours of sunlight a day which could be fully exploited.
He developed an affordable way of manufacturing plastic based crystalline silicone photovoltaic technology, that is solar-powered cells to produce electricity which has been successfully carried out in a village in Cendering Kuala Terengganu.
The cells are easy and quick to assemble and as proven could be done by villagers with some basic training, thereby providing some much-needed employment to deprived rural areas.
Almost the entire equipment and manufacturing processes were developed by SERI yielding performance comparable to any automated operation.
The product was such a hit that the villagers were able to produce the solar cells for exports to Bangladesh, a country short of energy.
Thus a cottage-industry based business model aimed at manufacturing photovoltaic modules with an estimated capacity of one megawatts per year can easily be carried out in remote areas.
He warned that if local scientists do not act fast, Western nations could take the lead and patent all the renewable energy technologies.
Dr Sohif and other researchers at SERI have also developed solar cells for roofs as an alternative to the very heavy and expensive commercial products available in the market that have been installed on rooftops of many houses in the Klang Valley.
He lamented that the country is not transitioning to solar energy fast enough because Malaysians are slow to adopt the alternative energy source due to lack of encouragement.
The rapid rate at which fossil and residual fuels are releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere has raised international concern and has spurred intensive efforts to develop alternative and renewable sources of primary energy.
The energy stored in chemicals found in plants and animals is among the most precious and most promising alternative fuels not only for power generation but also for other industrial and domestic applications.
The plants and animals provide not only food but also energy, building materials, paper, fabrics, medicines and chemicals and become biomass when dead.
Biomass absorbs the same amount of CO2 against what it releases when burned as a fuel in any form.
This means that biomass contribution to global warming is zero. In addition, biomass fuels contain negligible amount of sulphur, so their contribution to acid rain is also minimal.
SERI’s top-tier projects are the Advanced Solar Cell and PhotoVoltaic System and Solar Thermal System which it hopes will eventually help consumers save electricity and expenses when using the alternative energy sources.
Other studies being undertaken by SERI, one of Malaysia’s foremost research institute on renewable energy, include sustainable material and systems building as well as low energy architecture. These should help homes become more energy-efficient, Dr Sohif said.