Currently, most energy generated worldwise is from burning some sort of fossil fuel. As prices for these raw materials increase over time and with more international awareness of the effects of pollution on our environment, more and more nations are racing towards clean renewable energy.
Traditional Ways Malaysia Generates its Electricity
Traditional coal and natural gas power plants all operate on the same concept of using some sort of fuel to boil water. The steams created turns a turbine that then turns a generator to generate electricity.
So here are the main components of a traditional powerplant:
- Fuel to burn
- Steam turbine
- Electric Generator
What’s a Steam Turbine?
A steam turbine in a powerplant looks similar to jet engines on commercial airplanes.
The concept is to capture energy from steam and convert it into rotational, kinetic energy.
When the steam from boiled water passes through the turbine blade, it will turn the turbine shaft that is then connected to an Electrical Generator.
What’s an Electrical Generator?
Essentially it is a reversed electric motor. A motor converts electrical energy into kinetic energy (rotational motion). But a generator converts kinetic energy (rotational movement from the turbine in our case) to electric energy.
You can think of the generator as the dynamo attached to your grandfather’s bicycle wheel that lights up the lamp as the bicycle moves. The lamp gets brighter the faster the wheels spin.
Fuels used to Generate Electricity?
Alright, now we got the mechanics out of the way, let’s look at the fuel used to spin these devices to generate electricity.
Most electricity generated at powerplants in Malaysia today is still from burning fossil fuels, with coal leading the majority supply:
Several drawbacks from these traditional ways of generating electricity:
- It’s burning something and the produced smoke pollutes the environment.
- It’s mechanically complex and has a lot of physical moving parts.
- The electricity rate will be revised from time to time as the energy company will have to source for raw materials that fluctuate in price from time to time.
- It costs energy to transport raw materials to the plant to be burned.
- Low-efficiency power generation. Less than 40% of the total energy from the coals is successfully converted to electrical energy.
- Radioactive materials from nuclear power plants are extremely hazardous to living organisms and are hard and take a long time to dispose of safely.
What is Renewable Energy?
Renewable Energy is energy generated from natural and easily replenishable sources. Here are some natural energy (flowing wind and water) harnessed to spin a turbine without polluting the environment:
The geothermal powerplant generates electricity by capturing heat energy from the earth’s sub-surface to boil water to spin the turbine. Iceland is the pioneer of such technology as the country’s geological location is perfect being near to volcanoes.
Biofuel is the burning of natural fuel that is easily replenishable (compared to fossil fuels). An example of biofuel is recycled cooking oil and plant by-products used to burn for fuel.
Solar Energy Systems convert sunlight into electricity and are gaining massive popularity in recent years. This technology from all renewable energy options available is the most promising for our future, mostly due to:
- The price of the system is getting cheaper by the year as demand rises.
- It is one of the cleanest forms of Renewable Energy.
- The systems can be installed on top of existing roofs.
- It’s easy for everyone to participate with great government energy schemes such as Net Energy Metering (NEM).
Current Renewable Energies in Malaysia
As of 2017, the majority of renewable energy in Malaysia is dominated by Hydropower.
Hydropower is energy captured from flowing water. Typically by creating a dam on a river and letting the flowing water turn the turbine that is attached to a generator to generate electricity.
Although hydropower is considered renewal energy, it has its a drawback:
- Hydropower dams are typically a large scale project that costs a lot of money to construct.
- The river or lake is altered and this will affect natural wildlife in the area especially fishes.
Government’s Future Plans for Renewable Energy
With the rising cost of fossil fuels and increased awareness of climate change, here is what the Malaysian government’s plan for future Renewable Energy:
Picking solar to be the main Renewable Energy makes a lot of sense as Malaysia is a tropical country with loads of sunlight all year round.
So since the nation is focussing more on Solar, let’s take a closer look at this technology and how it runs.