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PUBLISHED: Sep 21, 2014 10:45pm

‘Renewable energy more powerful than a coal-fired power plant’

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SANDRA SOKIAL By:
Sandra Sokial

University of California in Berkeley Professor Daniel M Kammen (picture) says studies found biomass waste projects at large palm oil mills and run-of-the-river micro hydro projects to be competitive with coal.

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KOTA KINABALU, Sept 21, 2014:

Sabah’s call for greater private sector investment in renewable energy technology is reflective of potential in further developing the sector.

This was as recommended by an energy options report for the state prepared in 2010 by the Renewable and Appropriate Technology Laboratory (RAEL) at the University of California in Berkeley.

The university’s Professor in the Energy and Resources Group, Daniel M Kammen, said this in response to Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman’s recent remarks that Sabah had the potential to become a notable destination for investments in producing energy from biomass, mini hydro, geothermal and even micro-algae and tidal technologies.

Kammen said the report titled “Clean Energy Options for Sabah: An Analysis of Resource Availability and Cost” examined alternative energies for the state in the context of a 7% growth in energy demand annually and a plan at that time to build a 300 Megawatt coal-fired power plant, which has since been shelved.

Speaking at the Sustainable Green Energy for a Greener Sabah seminar, Musa was quoted as saying that further efforts were needed to promote renewable energy and that there was a need for more research in developing the sector.

Kammen said Musa’s statement was an important acknowledgement of the role that renewable energy and natural gas can play in more than offsetting the 300 Megawatts that would have come from the controversial and polluting coal-fired power plant once planned for Lahad Datu.

“The coal plant would have threatened the Coral Triangle, which is one of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems, and the Tabin Wildlife Reserve, home to the critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros and other wildlife,” Kammen, who led the research and writing of the report, said in a statement.

The report was commissioned by Green SURF (Sabah Unite to Re-Power the Future), a coalition made up of Land Empowerment Animals People (Leap), WWF Malaysia, Sabah Environmental Protection Association (Sepa), Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Sabah branch and Partners of Community Organisations (Pacos Trust) to halt the construction of a coal plant.

Kammen said the report showed a number of alternative scenarios and became a tool widely used in discussions of Sabah’s options, and was also presented to the federal and state governments, Sabah Electricity Sdn Bhd (SESB) and shared with the public at a forum.

“Our team used data on Sabah’s natural energy resources, weather patterns and cost data from existing energy projects to create cash-flow projections for a set of clean energy projects that can power Sabah.

“The study found biomass waste projects at large palm oil mills and run-of-the-river micro hydro projects to be competitive with coal.

“Solar power, which has become even less expensive today than when the report was first written, remains a strong long-term investment option.

“Renewable energy and natural gas scenarios can meet forecast electricity demand at a cost virtually identical to the coal scenario, without the local damage and greenhouse gas emissions that would have come from the dirty coal plant.”

Leap executive director Cynthia Ong said civil society was keen to continue working with the government to represent civil stakeholder interests and support the development of healthy, sustainable and economic alternatives for Sabah.

Ong said renewable energy was featured strongly in Forever Sabah, a 25-year programme to transition the state to a diversified, equitable, green economy. Forever Sabah involves government, the indigenous community, industry, civil society and research.

“It started from the energy options report, and we expanded that to create the Southeast Asia Renewable Energy People’s Assembly (Searepa). Now, renewable energy is an important part of Forever Sabah.

“For us at Leap, it was important to continue the conversation and to offer solutions following the cancellation of the coal plant,” Ong said.

She shared that Kammen and his team was now completing a similar study in Sarawak where plans to generate over 20,000 Megawatts of hydroelectric power through mega-dams is facing fierce opposition from rural communities whose lands would be flooded.

“A number of the dams are already under construction, impacting thousands of people and thousands of hectares of Borneo’s rainforest.

“Kammen’s students presented preliminary results at the Asean Renewable Energy Week in Kuala Lumpur in April this year.”

She added the situation in Sarawak had received global attention, including from National Geographic and TIME Magazine.

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