Pragmatic voices urge attention to potential risks and unintended consequences especially for the environment
by HIDAYATH HISHAM / pic TMR
THE Malaysian government recently launched the National Energy Transition Roadmap (NETR) to accelerate the country’s shift from a fossil fuel-based economy to a green economy.
For decades, Malaysia has relied heavily on oil and gas (O&G) to power its economic growth. But the NETR lays out a plan to reduce the country’s dependence on these carbon-intensive fuels through flagship projects across six key sectors: Energy efficiency (EE), renewable energy (RE), hydrogen, bioenergy, green mobility and carbon capture.
The roadmap aims to increase RE’s share of installed capacity from 40% in 2035 to 70% by 2050. It also introduces a “willing buyer, willing seller” model for RE development and allows cross-border RE trade through an electricity exchange system.
To reform the power sector, the NETR proposes establishing third-party access to fuel sources and the grid. It also outlines plans to develop an integrated RE zone with industrial parks, a zero-carbon city and more.
Other projects include building large-scale solar parks across five sites, totalling 500 megawatts (MW), and developing up to 2.5 gigawatts (GW) of hybrid hydro-floating solar projects. There are also proposals to increase solar and hydropower in Sabah for energy security and build a hydroegen hub in Sarawak for domestic use and export.
The roadmap aims to facilitate biomass clustering and centralised biomass plants. It also seeks to develop policies and regulations for carbon capture and storage.
The first part of the NETR provides a framework for Malaysia’s energy transition. The second part, expected soon, will outline emission reductions targets and enabling policies to drive the transition.
While the NETR’s goals are ambitious, pragmatic voices urge attention to potential risks and unintended consequences especially for the environment.
Addressing NETR’s Potential Risk
“If we set a very low passing mark, everyone should pass with flying colours,” said S Piarapakaran, the president of the Association of Water and Energy Resources Malaysia (AWER), an NGO providing research and advocacy around water, energy and environmental issues.
He believes that the targets are established based on the project and policy change suggestions provided by specific proponents. Therefore, the government should be able to achieve those targets.
“I think the government is going with the flow and does not see the serious issues with the general global flow. Ironically, failure to understand the path taken by Net-Zero 2050 target will create a more toxic future and estranged middle-and lower-income groups globally. These concerns are silenced globally,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).
Piarapakaran used the example of using Global Warming Potential (GWP) to measure net-zero targets.
He said GWP alone does not constitute environmental sustainability as more components, including radioactivity and toxicity are needed to define it.
He gave an example of the release of radioactive wastewater by Japan which currently aligns with GWP standards, yet clearly violates the radioactivity parameter. Nuclear proponents exploit this as they advocate for nuclear energy, branding it as a “green” and low-carbon solution. Thus, constructing a plan solely based on GWP proves to be a significant misstep.
“If we are going to invest trillions of ringgit to meet the 2050 target, it also makes economic sense to do it right the first time,” he emphasised.
In regards to the flagship projects that would most likely succeed, he noted that it is more of what tangible results these projects offer in measurable terms.
“EE is late by two decades. EE should be optimised before we spend high capital expenditure for RE,” he said.
On the flip side, Piarapakaran said if Malaysia heavily invests in RE development, it could lead to problems where the energy supply becomes unreliable at times, which in turn could raise costs for consumers.
RE sector hasn’t fully solved the issue of inconsistent energy supply and this challenge gets passed onto the overall energy grid.
He noted that Malaysia has the potential to use biomass for energy, but over the past two decades, policies have not given it much priority.
“We objected to carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) almost a decade ago when the government wanted to introduce it. How does storing greenhouse gases (GHG) away solve GHG emission?” he asked.
In regards to improvements on awareness and engagement around NETR, Pairapakaran claimed that if the government were to heed the perspectives voiced by AWER and other vested parties and subsequently fine-tune the NETR to encompass a more scientifically viable net-zero target, it would signify a noteworthy step in the right direction.
Emphasising this point further, Pairapakaran stressed that if the government were to exclusively pursue the viewpoints put forth by project proponents and proceed to enforce the NETR without due consideration to alternative standpoints, the eventual outcome might be shrouded in uncertainty.
He claimed that it’s essential for the government to match resources with sectors in need of support as this calculated alignment would forestall the spread of a policy framework encompassing different sectors but failing to produce significant results.
“As I mentioned, many of them are vague and repetitive. They need to outline a full transition path and segments that will reach the final output in 2050,” he said.
Clear Roadmap Is Essential
Meanwhile, assessing the feasibility of the NETR’s targets and timelines, Klima Action Malaysia (KAMY) programme director Ili Nadiah Dzul-Fakar pointed out that the absence of forthcoming details in its second phase presents a challenge.
She opined that a clear roadmap, integrating fiscal, legal and permitting strategies, is imperative to shed light on the NETR’s objectives.
“In order to ensure transparency and facilitate well-informed adjustments, emphasise the need for comprehensive metrics in reporting and tracking,” she said.
Ili Nadiah questioned how effectively the NETR prepared society for the substantial transition from conventional energy systems to the sustainable alternatives that are vital for the future.
In regards to the shortcomings
of the NETR, she asserted that making definitive judgments is somewhat premature until the unveiling of NETR 2 later this year.
Once in effect, she asserted, it will offer a more comprehensive perspective, enabling a proper assessment of its potential in expe- diting the energy transition.
An essential aspect to consider in this journey is the continuous monitoring and evaluation of the plan’s implementation, offering deeper insights into its functionality and impact
In the context of the country’s energy transition agenda, the KAMY programme director stated that research houses are collectively shifting their focus towards a systemic transition.
She further emphasises the principle of a Just Energy Transition (JET), highlighting the significant potential costs and inequalities, particularly impacting the world’s vulnerable populations if not managed appropriately.
She indicates that a pivotal component of this transition lies in fostering robust social dialogue to minimise adverse impacts on workers and enhance opportunities for inclusive employment.
“Addressing prevailing challenges, such as data gaps, data transparency and disclosure, fossil fuel subsidies, and energy poverty, is essential,” she added.
Furthermore, she stressed the importance of empowering consumers with diverse energy choices and promoting education and awareness.
“Ultimately, for the transition to be genuinely equitable, it necessitates the inclusive engagement of diverse stakeholders, ranging from workers and communities to investors, governments and many other relevant groups,” she noted.
Major Economic Opportunities
Meanwhile, Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) Faculty of Maritime Studies senior lecturer Dr Izyan Munirah Mohd Zaideen said NETR presents major economic opportunities by spurring RE investments and related sectors.
“Businesses that align their offerings with Malaysia’s energy transition goals can prosper and support the country’s economic, environmental and employment aims,” she said.
By tailoring products and services to NETR’s clean energy activities, she said companies will be able to benefit from renewable growth, enabling business expansion and green job creation.
“In essence, the NETR offers commercial prospects for organisations that fit Malaysia’s RE vision,” she said.
Izyan Munirah further reiterated that one of NETR’s major goal is to alter the economy and open up new economic opportunities in the energy industry.
She pointed out that Phase 1 launched 10 initiatives to spur investment, create jobs and cut CO2 emissions by more than 10 million tonnes yearly — though she did raise her concerns on the date of the second phase.
“The set timelines are overly streamlined as the implementation of the second phase of the NTER is planned at a subsequent date within the present calendar year,” she said.
Izyan Munirah emphasised that to accelerate Malaysia’s energy transition, it is crucial to thoroughly execute Phase 1 of the national transition to RE.
She added that Malaysia aims for a 20% RE share, excluding hydropower, by 2025.
As part of this, renewable capacity is projected to increase from six to 14GW, raising renewables’ share of total generation from 18% to 30%.
“The acceleration of the process by NETR can be achieved through the construction of a 1GW integrated RE zone, which presents prospective investment opportunities within the RE sector,” she said.
In her view, future mobility and charging infrastructure may succeed soonest among the 10 initiatives.
She emphasised that constructing charging stations along highways provides opportunities for electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure and service companies.
Izyan Munirah also drew attention to the previously introduced National Energy Policy (NEP) 2022-2040, in which Malaysia aims to “become a low carbon nation in 2040”.
The policy promotes energy security, social equity and affordability, thus ensuring environmental sustainability.
“NETR plays a crucial role in facilitating the implementation of the NEP by effectively managing the challenges associated with transitioning from a conventional fossil fuel-dependent economy to a more sustainable and lucrative green economy,” she said.
Unfortunately, Izyan Munirah identified that while the NETR initiative is good, it falls short in terms of investment and finance.
“If this challenge is not addressed, the transition to clean energy will emerge as a significant obstacle in nation aspirations to combat climate change and achieve the NTER target.
“It is imperative for Malaysia to promptly initiate measures for the transition. The NETR initiative is a remarkable beginning,” she said.
- This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition