Johor’s leap towards sustainable energy dominance

The Sultan Ibrahim Solar PV Park is envisioned to be South-East Asia’s largest solar energy storage system


WITH its proposed location in the Pengerang Industrial Park (PIP), the Sultan Ibrahim Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Park, a 450-megawatt (MW) solar PV power project, is envisioned to be South-East Asia’s largest solar energy storage system.

The project is Johor’s crown jewel into large-scale sustainable energy, which will promote a green economy as well as the state’s first-ever major private investment following Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar’s persistent efforts to bring investment and development to boost the socioeconomic standing of Johoreans.

“We have a suitable plot for the project, robust growth and development, as well as a healthy demand from our neighbour, which makes Johor the most strategic location,” Sultan Ibrahim said in a Facebook post.

The Sultan added that the construction of the project will have a healthy spillover effect by creating jobs for Johor citizens at various levels.

At the time of writing, the project is still in the permitting stage and expected to get commissioned at the cost of RM1.4 billion.

Johor currently relies predominantly on coal and gas as sources of energy for electricity generation.

Potential as Solar Energy Production Hub

Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER) senior research fellow Dr Shankaran Nambiar highlighted the importance of the solar farm project, first suggested by Sultan Ibrahim in 2021, in line with Malaysia’s dedication to sustainability and advancement of alternative energy sources that are not reliant on fossil fuel.

Emphasising the vast potential of unused land in Johor, he also underscored the opportunity for the state to emerge as central hub for solar energy production, with the possibility of exporting surplus energy to neighbouring Singapore.

Apart from that, he anticipated that the development of the solar farm would stimulate job creation and foster the emergence of new technical skills in the region.

Moreover, he envisaged a ripple effect, wherein ancillary industries such as solar panel manufacturing could flourish, further bolstering economic activity within the state.

In terms of the benefit of the solar farm towards South-East Asia, he said the project is poised to have significant economic implications for both Malaysia and the broader South-East Asian region.

With Malaysia positioned as a hub for energy generation, the establishment of the solar farm will enable the country to harness its abundant solar resources to produce clean energy at scale.

This increased capacity for energy generation not only satisfies domestic demand but also positions Malaysia as a potential exporter of clean energy to neighbouring countries within the Asean region.

As a result, the nation gets to benefit from the enhanced economic opportunities from the exportation of clean energy, further solidifying its role as a key player in the regional energy landscape.

Additionally, the development of the solar farm reinforces Malaysia’s commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship, aligning with global efforts to transition towards renewable energy (RE) sources and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Regional Comparison of Solar Farms

To also put it in a global context, the Sultan Ibrahim Solar PV Park is about 60% of the output of India’s Rewa Ultra Mega Solar Park, at 750MW.

The park is the 15th largest in the world and the implementation of the Johor’s solar park would put it on the map upon completion.

The Rewa Ultra Mega Solar Park is located in Madhya Pradesh with a population of over 72.6 million compared to Johor’s approximately four million population.

A solar plant with 60% output would be very high relative to its counterparts, which would bode well for its plans to sell excess energy to Singapore.

Other South-East Asian countries leading in this field are Thailand and the Philippines, encompassing the top 10 highest outputs of solar PV farm power in the region.

The Cadiz Solar Power Plant in the Philippines was commissioned in 2016, generating about 132.5MW of power, or 132,500 kilowatt-peak (kWp), and is the largest in the region.

It is followed by the EA Solar Lampang in Thailand with a power output of 128.4MW.

The third largest is EA Solar Nakornsawan, also in Thailand, and has an output of 126MW.

Meanwhile, there are about five solar farms across Malaysia, all with various installation capacities.

The smallest, located in Sungai Petani, Kedah, has an installed capacity of 1,764kW. (1,000kW = 1MW.)

The construction of the Sultan Ibrahim Solar PV Park will make it the largest by far in South-East Asia. To compare, an output of 450MW would mean more than that of the top three largest solar farms in the region.

According to the data compiled by The Malaysian Reserve (TMR), along with the EA Solar Nakornsawan, located in Nakhon Sawan, Thailand (126MW), the combined output of the top three would yield about 387MW, which means that the Johor solar farm would lead by 63MW more.

As Malaysia’s solar energy industry continues to expand rapidly, it is time to start addressing the growing demand for skilled professionals through targeted initiatives (Pic credit: Bloomberg)

Advancement of Solar Technology

Given the anticipated increase in energy production from the Sultan Ibrahim Solar PV Park, the project is expected to attract significant attention.

Universiti Malaya Power Energy Dedicated Advanced Centre’s Prof Ir Dr Nasrudin Abd Rahim said solar farm industry players are strategically adapting to address Malaysia’s growing demand for clean and RE sources.

To remain responsive to evolving market needs, he said these players must stay informed of both current and future trends in RE technology and its applications.

By remaining vigilant about emerging developments, solar power industry stakeholders can identify new ideas and innovative solutions that offer boundless potential.

The increasing demand for RE presents an investment opportunity for the country, Ili Nadiah says

One such captivating innovation is the integration of solar power into electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, promoting cleaner transportation options.

Additionally, industry players are exploring the potential of green hydrogen, produced through electrolysis powered by solar energy, as another avenue for sustainable energy generation.

Nevertheless, innovations in the solar industry are driving advancements in energy storage and grid integration, leading to a more reliable power supply.

Nasrudin said one notable innovation is the adoption of smart grid technology, which enables more efficient management and distribution of solar energy.

By integrating solar energy into smart grids, grid stability and energy efficiency are enhanced, allowing for bidirectional electricity flow.

This means that surplus solar energy generated can be seamlessly fed back into the grid, optimising utilisation and reducing wastage.

Furthermore, the increasing utilisation and development of RE sources connected to the electric grid underscore the importance of energy storage technologies.

These technologies play a crucial role in mitigating intermittent power disparities by storing excess or unused energy and supplying it when needed, thereby stabilising power production and meeting energy demand more effectively.

As Malaysia’s solar energy industry continues to expand rapidly, he highlighted that there is a concerted effort to address the growing demand for skilled professionals through targeted initiatives aimed at training and upskilling the workforce.

These initiatives encompass a broad spectrum of roles within the solar energy sector, ranging from solar module installers to project managers, design engineers, competent engineers and research scientists.

To meet the diverse needs of the industry, Nasrudin said various educational institutions, including technical colleges, vocational schools, polytechnics and universities, are offering specialised programmes and certifications.

These are commonly available at technical colleges and vocational schools, while polytechnics and universities offer diplomas and degrees.

For professionals seeking advanced specialisation and research opportunities, universities also provide master’s and doctoral degrees tailored to the specific requirements of the solar energy industry.

Looking ahead, Malaysia’s position in the RE sector on the global stage appears promising, particularly with solar power emerging as one of the most reliable and sustainable energy sources.

“The future of solar power looks bright with continual advancements in technology and a growing awareness of environmental concerns driving the demand for clean energy alternatives,” he told TMR.

Nasrudin says the future of solar power looks bright with continual advancements in technology

With the nation’s targets outlined in the National Energy Transition Roadmap (NETR), he believed that Malaysia is poised to establish itself as a significant player in the global RE sector.

By 2050, RE is projected to constitute the majority of installed capacity, with solar PV installations leading the charge.

As part of Malaysia’s goal to achieve a 70% RE share by 2050, an estimated 59 gigawatts (GW) of solar PV capacity is anticipated to be installed, underscoring the country’s commitment to sustain- able energy development and its potential to become a key contributor to the global RE landscape.

Concerns On Nation’s Energy Transition Decisions

Beyond the aim of becoming South-East Asia’s largest solar energy storage system and concurrently promoting a green economy, a concern arises regarding a holistic ecosystem of a just transition.

Ili Nadiah Dzulfakar from Klima Action Malaysia (KAMY) emphasised the importance of fairness in Malaysia’s transition from fossil fuel-dependent projects to low-carbon initiatives.

She underscored the need to prioritise the welfare of workers, especially amid efforts to attract increased investments in RE and associated projects.

The surge in demand for manpower begs the question of where will these workers come from.

Ili Nadiah acknowledged that labour resources will originate from various channels, including newcomers to the RE sector.

However, she highlighted the significance of considering individuals from economies deeply entrenched in fossil fuels, ensuring that they do not lose their competitive edge as they transition to emerging fields.

Consequently, she emphasised the necessity of developing strategies to effectively harness their expertise.
As Malaysia navigates this transition, she stressed the importance of inclusivity within the RE sector, emphasising the need to provide ample job opportunities for all.

Additionally, she urged the government to address the imperative of upskilling workers to adapt to new technologies, particularly within the RE sphere.

Furthermore, she emphasised the urgency of prioritising the creation of new job prospects within the RE sector, including key labour considerations such as competitive salaries and worker protection.

She also urged the government to address systemic issues, ensuring adequate training, incentives and support for the workforce to thrive in this sector.

This includes efforts to bridge the gender pay gap and promote gender diversity within the industry.

Reflecting on Malaysia’s current position in the RE sector, she noted that while discussions surrounding just transition are underway globally, implementation efforts in Malaysia still appear inadequate.

She called for greater alignment with global discussions and the development of indicators to facilitate the transition to low-carbon economies.

“I think these are the issues that the government is not talking about much. Globally, it has been talked about under the banner of just transition,” she told TMR, expressing concerns about the gap between discourse and action within the nation’s RE sector.

On the other hand, the increasing demand for RE presents an investment opportunity for the country.

Ili Nadiah viewed the situation as a positive signal to the world, reflecting confidence in Malaysia’s growth potential and indicating a burgeoning interest in the sector.

She believed that the growing demand not only necessitates financial movements but also underscores the importance of compliance and adherence to the environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria in investments.

She also highlighted a pressing need for capacity building within businesses to ensure transparency and compliance in their invest- ment practices, particularly given Malaysia’s historical shortcomings in transparency and oversight.

Furthermore, she praised the government’s proactive steps to address transparency issues through initiatives like the Procurement Bill and the Freedom of Information Bill.

However, she stressed the need for these measures to be aligned with principles of fiscal responsibility to foster accountability and transparency in climate finance investments.

While progress has been made, Ili Nadiah emphasised the need for continued action and the strengthening of safeguards to maintain transparency and compliance throughout the investment process.

“In that sense, it is moving but we need more,” she added.

Ili Nadiah further highlighted that civil society plays a vital role in monitoring the effective implementation of these measures, while businesses must also receive comprehensive capacity building to navigate various compliance issues and ensure transparency in their investments, from upstream to downstream operations.

TMR had reached out to TPM Technopark to gather additional information about the Sultan Ibrahim Solar PV Park project but the latter was unreachable at press time.

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition