Archive for April, 2009

KL and Jakarta plan carbon trading for oil palm industry

Posted on April 29, 2009. Filed under: Climate Change, Forestry/Wetlands |

KOTA KINABALU: Malaysia and Indonesia are exploring the possibility of adopting carbon trading system for its oil palm industry.

Primary Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok said the two countries were establishing a focal point to work out details relating to carbon trading for the industry.

“We are committed to addressing the issues and concerns raised by the international community,” he told reporters at a joint press conference with Indonesian Agriculture Minister Dr Anton Apriyantono at the end of the three-day fourth joint committee meeting on Bilateral Cooperation on Commodities here yesterday.

Carbon credit is a system that allows a company or country which reduces its carbon dioxide emissions below a targeted level to sell the extra reduction as credit to a company or country which has not met the target level.

The meeting also agreed to the establishment of focal points to coordinate work under the Reduced Emission from Deforestation and Degradation.

Both countries would also work together to address barriers to palm oil trade, they said in a joint communique.

The meeting also agreed for more cooperation in research and development initiatives for cocoa; while Indonesia has agreed to assist Malaysia in diversifying the use of pepper to include non-food applications such as in traditional medicine.

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Each Household Will Get Two Bins In KL

Posted on April 29, 2009. Filed under: Waste |

Separate your waste from June 1

By BAVANI M, The Star

STARTING June 1, each household in Kuala Lumpur will be provided with two rubbish bins — one for organic waste and the other for inorganic stuff.

Waste collection concessionaire Alam Flora will provide each household the two bins for them to throw the two categories of waste separately.

It will be compulsory for the people to throw their rubbish correctly into the properly designated bins. Failure to do show will result in their rubbish being left uncollected.

A must: KL households are now required to display two garbage bins. One is for organic and the other for inorganic waste.

The new ruling is part of the steps taken by the federal government to have a more orderly and effective management of waste and to encourage people to recycle.


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Haze Might Get Worse Due To Prolong Dry Spell

Posted on April 29, 2009. Filed under: Environment and Livelihoods, Forestry/Wetlands |

Asean braces for the haze … yet again

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN: Countries in the southern part of South-East Asia are preparing early for the possibility of a transboundary haze due to an anticipated prolonged dry spell.

The ministers in charge of environmental issues from Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei and Thailand met at the Brunei capitol here Wednesday for a sub-regional ministerial committee meeting on the issue.

They warned that a prolonged dry spell may hit the region from June to September.

Malaysia’s Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Douglas Unggah said there will be an anticipated surge of hotspots due to fires during the coming dry season.

“The Asean (Association of South-East Asian Nations) Specialised Meteorological Centre reported that occasional showers interspersed with short dry spells can be expected in May, with brief surges in the number of hotspots during the drier periods.

“The traditional dry season in the southern part of the Asean region is likely to start around June and will last until September.

“Increased hotspots can be expected in the region, with the possibility of transboundary haze during the more persistent dry periods. Vigilance should be stepped up in anticipation of this escalation of hotspots,” he said after the meeting at a resort here.

The ministers agreed that not only should Asean member countries increase their alertness for hotpsots inside their own borders, they must also share more detailed and specific information concerning the air-pollution situation in each others’ countries with the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC).

The ministers decided that Asean member countries should share data about their country’s environmental particulate matters of less than 10 microns and furnish the ASMC with these details so that it can monitor the dispersion of smoke and the impact caused by the transboundary haze in the region.

They must share these data in addition to reporting to the centre on the number of existing hotspots and the prevailing weather outlook in their respective countries.

During the meeting here, Asean member countries expressed their appreciation to Indonesia for “the substantial effort it has put in to implement its action plan to tackle transboundary haze pollution.”

The ministers noted that Indonesia had implemented several new moves to try to prevent and mitigate forest fires and open-burning.

Among other measures, it has enforced a zero-burning campaign that included the enactment of laws that prohibit using fire as a means of land-clearing.

The Indonesian government had also made efforts to provide the appropriate machinery and equipment that would enable land-clearing by farmers to be carried out without resorting to open-burning in southern Sumatra and central Kalimantan.

Indonesia has also developed a fire-danger rating system that enabled more efficient control, the meeting noted.

As for Malaysia and Indonesia’s joint efforts to tackle the haze, the two governments had jointly collaborated to install an air-quality monitoring station in Riau Province in Indonesia.

The station is expected to be fully operational next month and will go a long way in helping to detect fires and haze early, the ministers said.

Indonesia and Malaysia are also aggressively carrying out fire prevention programmes in five selected villages in Rokan Hilir Regency (in Indonesia) by trying to rehabilitate and manage the peatlands there.

During the meeting yesterday, Asean also thanked Thailand for contributing US$50,000 to the Asean Transboundary Haze Pollution Control Fund.

Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and Vietnam had earlier contributed US$50,000 each to the fund.

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Southeast Asia Faces Soaring Economic Costs If Climate Change Action Delayed – New Study

Posted on April 27, 2009. Filed under: Climate Change |

(Asian Development Bank)

Southeast Asia, one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to climate change, faces a poorer future unless global warming is controlled, says a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) study, titled The Economics of Climate Change in Southeast Asia: A Regional Review.

Using reviews of previous studies, impact assessment models and extensive consultations with national and regional climate change experts, the study examines climate change challenges facing Southeast Asian nations, both now and in the future.

The study finds that the benefits to the region of taking early action against climate change far outweigh the costs.


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South-East Asia among ‘most vulnerable’ to climate change

Posted on April 27, 2009. Filed under: Climate Change, International Solidarity |

(Earth Times)Bangkok – With 80 per cent of South-east Asia’s 563 million people living within 100 kilometres of the coastline, the region is among the “most vulnerable” to climate change, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) warned Monday. South-East Asia, responsible for about 12 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions, can expect to see an average temperature rise by 4.8 degrees Celsius and a 70-centimetre increase in sea levels by the year 2100 if no serious measures aretaken to halt global warming,a regional survey on the economic effects of climate change, released in Bangkok, said.

The report, which took 15 months to compile, provides a detailed forecast on the negative economic and social impact of climate change on Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam over the coming decades if the world community fails to act on greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change is already evident in the region, where the average temperature rose 0.1 to 0.3 degrees Celsius between 1951 to 2000, the sea level is rising 1-3 millimetres a year and in the frequency of extreme weather events witnessed in recent decades, the report noted.

The worst is yet to come.

“If the world continues ‘business as usual’ by 2100 the cost of preventing the problems we are looking at will be equivalent of 6.7 per cent of combined gross domestic product, more than twice the global average loss,” ADB assistant chief economist Juzhong Zhuang said.

South-East Asia is deemed particularly vulnerable to climate change because of its long coastlines and high reliance on the agricultural sector which still employs 43 per cent of the labour force.

While climate change is expected to result in declining rainfall in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam over the next three decades, the Philippines will see increased precipitation throughout the century, the ADB report said.

Rice production in the region could decline 50 per cent by 2100, unless adaptation measures are implemented such as switching to drought- and flood-resistant strains of rice, it warned.

“The rice yield decline would range from 34 per cent in Indonesia to 75 per cent in the Philippines, with the decline projected to start in 2020 for most countries,” it said.

“South-East Asian governments need to invest now in adaptation measures such as coastal zones, sea wall and in the agricultural sector in drought and flood resistant crops,” ADB vice president Ursula Shaeffer-Preuss said.

Besides investing in adaptation measures, the region also needs to get serious about reducing it own emissions of greenhouse gases. In 2000, South-East Asia accounted for 5,187 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, or 9.3 tons per annum per capita, compared with the world average of 6.1 tons.

Of that, 75 per cent was accounted for by “land use change and forestry,” a category that covers the mass destruction of forest lands in Indonesian and Malaysia to plant palm oil plantations over the past two decades as the world demand for palm oil has soared.

Indonesia in 2000 accounted for 59 per cent of the region’s greenhouse gas emissions, Thailand 6 per cent, Philippines 4 per cent, Vietnam 2 per cent, Singapore 1 per cent and the rest of South-East Asia 28 per cent.

Malaysia’s data was not included in the ADB report.

Indonesia’s former environmental minister, Emil Salim, a leading economist who helped compile the ADB report, said it will require political will and persuasiveness to alter the region’s past practices. ”

You mist hit hard and say if we don’t do anything on this then you and I will all suffer,” Salim advised his government. “Common language is crucial, not this language we use in this report,” he told a press conference.

Salim advised regional governments to make climate change part of this fiscal stimulus packages being introduced this year to counter the global recession.

“Climate change can be coped with through mitigation and adaptation if we put our political will into it,” Salim said. “That’s the message.”

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India Keen To Sell Nuclear Reactors To Malaysia

Posted on April 27, 2009. Filed under: Energy |

(Bernama) — India has expressed interest in selling small nuclear reactors to Malaysia and other developing countries, if the governments are keen to use it to generate power.

At present, India is the only country in the world that produces the 220-megawatt (MWe) pressurised-heavy-water reactor after Canada, a key producer abandoned the project as production was no longer economical. “We are willing to sell to friendly nations like Malaysia, if there is a genuine interest, as nuclear power production is a long term commitment,” Sudhinder Thakur, executive director (corporate planning) of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) told Bernama.

After India conducted a nuclear test in 1974, the Nuclear Suppliers Group barred it from trading in nuclear technology. But when India signed a controversial nuclear deal with the United States last October, the sanction was lifted.

“From a technical point of view, we can sell these reactors,” said Thakur, adding that India was ready to promote the indigenous reactor to countries, which had adequate regulatory laws and expertise to operate it.

“The ultimate objective is to produce electricity as cheaply, using coal. It is commercially viable with these reactors. It is also 30 to 40 percent cheaper compared to coal,” he said.

At present 17 reactors, ranging from 160 MWe to 540 MWe, are in operation across India, generating 4,120 MWe.

Three other plants under construction are expected to be commissioned by this year and India aims to produce 25 percent of its electricity from nuclear power by 2050.

The government-owned NPCIL is the sole body responsible for constructing and operating India’s commercial nuclear power plants.

India, the third largest economy in Asia, launched its nuclear programme as part of an energy-self-sufficiency strategy and to meet the growing demand from its robust industrial sector.

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Pahang Undertakes Measures To Prevent Forest Encroachment

Posted on April 27, 2009. Filed under: Forestry/Wetlands |

(Bernama) — The Pahang government has taken various steps, including legal measures, to prevent forest encroachment and illegal mining of minerals in the state.

Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob said some of the measures were taken under the Pahang Minerals Enactment 2001, such as carrying out inspections on lorries and other transport vehicles under Section 144 of the enactment and patrolling potential mining areas.

“We also made arrests or seized the equipment used for illegal mining as provided under Section 137 of the enactment,” he added in reply to a question from Syed Mohammed Tuan Lonnik (PAS-Beserah) at the state assembly sitting, here, Monday.

Adnan said that under Section 158 of the enactment, those found guilty of mining without a valid licence or lease document could be fined up to RM500,000 or jailed for up to 10 years or both.

He said the Forestry Department, meanwhile, was intensifying enforcement by setting up enforcement teams and flying squads at the district and state levels to curb forest encroachment and related offences.

The department, he added, also resorted to such technology as remote sensing, hyperspectral imaging and electronic tracking to facilitate monitoring and enforcement. This has been made possible with collaboration between the department at the federal level and the Malaysian Remote Sensing Agency.

Adnan said other measures included mounting roadblocks to monitor log movements, introducing new log transfer approval forms with better security features to prevent usage of fake forms, and the registration of ownership and use of chainsaws for logging.

He said the public were encouraged to report on suspected forest encroachment or illegal logging activities, while awareness campaigns on the problem were also carried out through the media and distribution of pamphlets and posters.

The assembly also heard that 11,800 Form Two and Form Four students from 60 schools in Pahang had been participating in the Pahang State Development Corporation’s (PSDC) Young Entrepreneur Programme since 1996, aimed at developing interest in entrepreneurship from a young age.

State Entrepreneur and Cooperative Development Committee chairman Datuk Ishak Muhammad said the involvement of 60 enterprises run by young entrepreneurs and 1,300 members made the programme one of the most popular co-curricular activities in school.

Replying to Datuk Mohamed Jaafar (BN-Jenderak), Ishak said the then Entrepreneur and Cooperative Development Ministry through the PSDC had also provided trade kiosks to the schools involved in the programme, while the Apprentice Entrepreneur Programme introduced in 2007 at the primary school-level involved 12 schools so far.

State Human Resource and Consumer Affairs Committee chairman Datuk Fong Koong Fuee said 10,113 foreign workers in Pahang were sent back to their countries of origin last year.

“There were 35,603 foreign workers in the state up to 2008, comprising 32,781 males and 2,822 females,” he said in reply to a question from Chang Hong Seong (BN-Teruntum).

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EU, M’sia finalising timber trade talk

Posted on April 27, 2009. Filed under: Forestry/Wetlands |


Deal to ensure sustainability and legality of output

THE European Union (EU) and Malaysian negotiators are finalising the bilateral voluntary partnership agreement (VPA) to promote trade in legally-produced and harvested timber.

The agreement will help ensure the sustainability and legality of timber production while improving the perception of tropical timber in Europe.

“We are approaching the last phase of the negotiations. Right now, we are doing a tremendous amount of technical work to prepare the text of the agreement.

Vincent Piket … if all goes well, there will be a senior negotiators’ meeting in June or July

“If all goes well, there will be a senior negotiators’ meeting in June or July to resolve possible outstanding issues,” said ambassador and head of delegation of the European Commission in Malaysia, Vincent Piket.

“Once that is done, the agreement can be paraphrased and submitted to the (respective) governments,” he told Bernama in Brussels.

He said the EU, a significant consumer of timber products, shared the responsibility of tackling illegal logging and related trade with the producing countries.

To build the commitment and fight against illegally-logged timber, Piket said the European Commission had taken the initiative to develop its own Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) action plan.

The plan, he said, aimed to eliminate imports of illegally-harvested timber and timber products into the EU and support progress towards sustainable forest management.

According to Piket, “there is time pressure because new legislation will come into force in the EU that will require all importers to give proof of the legality of the timber they want to place on the market”.

“The legality requirement will apply to timber and also to timber products such as furniture. And it will be applied ‘diagonally’, which means if a piece is produced in one country with wood sourced from another country, the legality trace will have to go back to the source country,” he said.

Piket said once Malaysia had a FLEGT agreement with the EU, Malaysian timber could be sold in the EU market without further legality requirements.

For this reason, many timber producers in Malaysia had begun to see the FLEGT agreement as a marketing tool that would allow them to boost their sales in the EU market, he said.

“It will also give a quality label to Malaysian timber and raise its reputation in the global market. That is exactly how we see it,” he added.

Malaysia’s annual timber export to the EU currently stands in the region of RM2.8bil (600 million euros).

FLEGT is considered a significant economic move since the EU is the third-most important destination for Malaysian timber.

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For centuries the Penan tribespeople have lived peacefully in Borneo’s rainforests. But they face a struggle for survival

Posted on April 26, 2009. Filed under: Indigenous People |

(Scotland on Sunday)

WHEN Robert Kilroy-Silk was packing for the Australian jungle and his stint in the most recent series of I’m a Celebrity…, the ‘essential’ extra he couldn’t survive without was a pillow.

For disgraced butler Paul Burrell that item was a rubber ring (to sit on, apparently), Carly Zucker brought a yoga belt and Bobby Ball a pair of his signature red braces.

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Closer to home, some of us couldn’t get through the day without a morning blast of espresso, others would rather give up their right arms than surrender their Blackberries and you’d be asking any woman to survive without her mascara at your peril.

The concept of survival has different connotations for different people. But there are some living on this diverse planet we call home for whom the meaning is very literal indeed.

It is not war that is threatening the Penan people of Sarawak in Borneo, nor is it disease. It is trees. Or rather, the lack of them. Traditional hunter-gatherers, the Penan are still semi-nomadic and rely heavily on the forests around them for food and shelter. But a combination of aggressive logging, oil palm plantations and damming is destroying the habitat around them, exposing them to widespread hunger, hardship and displacement, and threatening their very existence.

More recently there have also been allegations by members of the Penan tribe of sexual abuse against women, including young girls, by workers employed by Malaysian logging companies, while peaceful protests by the Penan have led to arrests and allegations of police violence.

“Penan communities have spent more than 20 years trying to keep loggers off their land and to prevent the destruction of the forests they rely on,” says Miriam Ross, 32, a campaigner from Edinburgh working for the charity Survival International. “Their resistance has had some success, and their peaceful blockades of logging roads have sometimes forced the companies to turn back. But many blockades have been dismantled and, according to the Penan, they have been subjected to repeated violence. The companies have the backing of the government so there is really not much the Penan can do.”

Just back from Borneo, where she experienced at first hand what conditions are like for the indigenous people there, Ross adds: “It was terrifying to see the devastation of the Penan’s land, and all the more so to know how quickly it is happening. I went to Penan communities where the loggers have taken so much of the forest the Penan have real difficulty finding food. You drive through vast areas that have very obviously been degraded, rivers are silting up, animals are disappearing and fish are dying.

“The Penan are on the defensive, forced to coexist with more powerful outsiders who are destroying their land, but on whom they must also rely for services such as transport of children to school. It is hardly surprising that women and girls feel vulnerable to sexual abuse by the workers of the invading logging companies.”

The process is a devastating one, she explains. First loggers take the big, valuable trees, then smaller ones, then the area is completely clear-felled to make way for oil palm plantations. “The people say that’s even worse than the logging because, at least when the land is logged there is some forest left and the people can hope that it might regenerate and some animals might come back. But when the plantations come in there are just rows and rows of oil palm trees and there is nothing left for the Penan.

“They are doing everything they can against tremendous odds, but there is no official protection for them and the isolation of these indigenous villages, which can be miles away from the nearest urban centre and only accessible by logging roads, makes them even more vulnerable.”

The state of Sarawak was gifted to one James Brooke, a Briton, by the Sultan of Brunei in 1841, as thanks for his help in suppressing a local rebellion. Until 1946 it was run by three generations of the family, essentially as a private colony, with the Brookes, known as the White Rajahs, fighting piracy and slavery and setting up a secure government. On the centenary of Brooke rule the last rajah, Sir Charles Vyner Brooke, proclaimed a constitution aimed at establishing self-rule in Sarawak. However, not long after this it fell to the Japanese and following the Second World War it became a British colony. Since 1963 it has been part of Malaysia

The Penan people are not completely isolated – they have been in contact with the outside world for many years and some even wear western-style clothing. However, their lifestyle has remained largely unchanged for centuries. “They still go off in the morning with their blow-pipes and poison arrows to go hunting,” says Ross. “Wild boar is their most prized catch. There’re also various types of wild deer, wild cats, fish, frogs, snails. But in areas where the forest had already been logged they were saying they would be lucky to get one wild boar every three months.

“It’s extremely difficult for them. Some of the Penan now farm small gardens where they’ll grow rice or sometimes sago but, again, sago is something they’d usually have found in the forest.”

So far, so bad, but a new threat could force the Penan out of the forest altogether – and into abject poverty on government-run reservations. “It was leaked on the internet last year that the Sarawak government is planning 12 new hydroelectric dams that will submerge the villages of the Penan,” says Ross. “The first one has already been constructed and will affect several communities. They’ve been told they have to leave, which is disastrous for them. And if the other dams go ahead, other Penan communities and other indigenous people will also have to move to a government resettlement area. Here they will have a small area of land to farm that is completely insufficient and there will be absolutely no hunting.

“Also, because they are living in a house provided by the government, for the first time in their lives they will have bills to pay. Obviously the Penan living in their own areas wouldn’t have to pay for their water – they get it from the river – and suddenly they have to earn money to pay for water and electricity.

“The people I spoke to said, ‘We’re not used to money, we don’t know what to do with it. Here on our land everything is free.'”

During her visit, Ross, a history and politics graduate from Sheffield University, asked tribespeople if they wanted Survival International to campaign on their behalf. “They were all really keen for our help and for people in the outside world to know what was going on. They said, ‘Our voices are small compared to the government and the companies.’ They want help to make the Malaysian government listen to them before it is too late.”

The most powerful thing we in the west can do, she says, is write letters to the government of Sarawak and to our own MPs to lobby for change – there are letter-writing forms on the Survival International website. “People could also join Survival, become a supporter and donate to help us continue our campaigning.” It certainly helps put our own small hardships into perspective. As one Penan man told Ross: “The forest is like a bank for us. We’re not like the people in the towns who have money and can buy things. The forest is our life. If we lose it and everything it gives us, we will die.” r

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SCIENCE: In pursuit of sustainable energy

Posted on April 26, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

(NST)THE government has just announced the creation of the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry to spearhead the country’s sustainability agenda. This ministry has been tasked to champion Malaysia’s pursuit of alternative and renewable energy.

Though the world crude oil price, which touched a high of US$130 (RM470) per barrel last year, has come down significantly, there is no guarantee that the price will not revert to the high level experienced earlier.

For Malaysia, the price of crude oil may be uncertain, but what is certain is the country’s declining supply of fossil fuel. Experts predict it is only a matter of time before the country’s oil wells dry up. That is when we will have to turn to imports. Experts predict that by 2014, Malaysia may well be a net importer of fuel.

The creation of the new ministry is timely. Re-evaluating the many renewable energy options has to begin immediately. Among the renewables, hydropower is the one which is most established. There has also been an increase in the investment for wind power, especially in Europe.

Some say biomass may suit the traditional power companies better since it uses similar technology to that used to burn fossils. Supporters of solar, though still an expensive option, are optimistic that the technology will eventually be able to offer competitively-priced electricity.

The global installed capacity for hydropower is estimated at around 700,000MW, responsible for about 18 per cent of the global electricity generated. Europe has the largest installed capacity with 214,400MW. Africa, by comparison, has only 20,100MW.

It has been estimated that by the 1990s, Europe has exploited around 65 per cent of its technically exploitable potential, and North America 55 per cent. In contrast, Asia has only exploited around 18 per cent of its total and Africa six per cent. This means there is scope for more hydropower in Asia.

Hydropower projects are capital intensive. The Three Gorges scheme on China’s Yangtse river is estimated to cost around US$15 billion or US$800/kW. With a capacity of 18,200MW, it is the world’s largest.

Though hydropower plants do not produce carbon dioxide during operation, they have their share of the environmental consequences related to the destruction of forest habitats to make way for their construction.

Modern wind technology dates from the oil crises of the 1970s. It became popular in California in the early 1980s but did not appear to be economically viable without subsidies until the late 1990s. Since then the technology has become well established, particularly in Eutope where the total installed capacity was 40,500MW at the end of 2005.

Malaysia has indicated that it will explore the wind potential more seriously.

In the 80s and 90s, virtually all wind farms were built onshore. However, in recent years, a number of offshore installations have materialised. The advantages of offshore facilities include the fact that the wind blows more strongly, steadily and more frequently. Offshore farms can, therefore, generate more power. They are also more environmentally acceptable.

The main environmental problem with wind turbine is their perceived unsightliness. Other factors, such as noise, have largely been overcome with modern technology.

The capital cost of installation and the cost of servicing any loan needed to purchase the wind turbines has the largest effect on the eventual cost of electricity. Operation and maintenance costs are small and modern wind turbines should have lives of 20-30 years.

Biomass is another major source of renewable energy. It accounts for about 14 per cent of primary energy consumption. Most are consumed in the developing world where wood fuels are used for cooking and heating, but some biomass is used to generate electricity. The global biomass generating capacity is estimated to be around 20,000MW.

The advantage of biomass from a greenhouse perspective is that while the combustion of biomass releases carbon dioxide in exactly the same way as the combustion of fossil fuel, when the fuel is regrown it absorbs the same amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Therefore, the net release is zero.

The cheapest and most popular source of biomass is agricultural wastes, wood and forestry residues and urban waste. Though wastes provide a cheap source, their quantities can sometimes be limited. Attempts are underway to grow energy crops, including prairie grass and fast growing willows. Environmentally, biomass has an advantage over coal. This has to do with their much lower sulphur content and, therefore, almost negligible sulphur emissions.

Solar power can be exploited directly in two ways; solar thermal and solar photovoltaic.

Solar thermal uses the sun as a heat source, whereby the heat is collected, concentrated and used to raise the temperature of a fluid which can be used to drive a thermodynamic engine.

Three solar thermal systems have been developed. The first is called solar tower. This uses a field of mirrors tilted to direct the sun impinging on it towards a central heat receiver. The receiver absorbs the heat and uses it to raise the temperature of a special fluid to around 550 degrees Celsius. The hot fluid is stored in a high temperature reservoir. When needed, it is pumped through a heat exchanger and used to raise steam to drive a steam turbine. Demonstration plants of up to 10MW have been built.

In the second type of solar thermal, the tower is replaced with parabolic troughs with pipes running along their lengths. The hot fluid in the pipes is used directly to raise steam and drive a turbine to produce electricity.

The third solar thermal system is the solar dish. This involves a small parabolic dish of about 10m with a heat engine at its focus. Sunlight striking the dish is directed to the engine’s heat collector where the heat generated drives the engine. Capacities can range from 5kW to 50kW.

The second major group is the solar photovoltaic or the solar cells. The system converts sunlight directly into electricity by capturing individual light photons within the structure of a semiconductor.

Solar cell production has witnessed significant growth in recent years. In 2004, total global production was 1,194MW.

Both solar systems are expensive to build. Solar thermal costs range from US$2,400 to US$2,900/kW, while solar cells are even more exorbitant.

Renewable energy offers a number of options. All demonstrate better environmental performance than fossils. The many years of research and development have improved the cost-benefits of renewables significantly. What is now needed is to provide support for their use commercially. This is where the newly created ministry has an important role to play.

* Dr Ahmad Ibrahim, PhD in Engineering, is adviser to Technology Park Malaysia, Fellow Academy of Sciences Malaysia. He can be contacted at drahmad48

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