Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Malaysia's first solar power plant

TNB to call for tender for the project in Putrajaya soon

PETALING JAYA: Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) has completed the pre-qualification tender process for Malaysia's first solar power plant to be located in Putrajaya. The utility will “very soon” call for tenders for the project that is estimated to cost some RM60mil, according to TNB president and chief executive officer Datuk Seri Che Khalib Mohamad Noh.

The plant's generating capacity may be too small to make the profit-minded or renewable energy advocates jump, but it marks a major step forward in the country's drive to harness renewable energy sources to wean itself from an over-reliance on fossil fuels, which will run out one day, and its impact on climate change.

In an interview with StarBiz, Che Khalib said the solar power plant would take 12 months for completion and would be located in the buffer zone of an existing power station in Putrajaya.

“One of the main concerns about solar power is the need for large tracts of land. So, we've decided to build the solar power on the 500m buffer area in the existing power plant,” he said. “The added advantage is that the cost will also be lower as there is already a substation in the location and we can immediately connect to the system.”

Solar power and other renewable energy sources feature prominently in the Economic Transformation Programme

The cost of a solar power plant is estimated at US$4mil per megawatt (MW). For perspective, that makes it roughly six times more costly than putting up an open cycle gas-fired plant, four times more expensive than a combined-cycle gas plant and just under three times higher than a coal-fired plant.

“But that's not exactly an apple-to-apple comparison as coal and combined-cycle plants can go up to 80% load factor whereas a solar plant can only run on peak load,” said an industry analyst.

Che Khalib said: “This is our initiative. We know it's not going to give us an economic return based on the current tariff system but this will be a learning process for us. By doing this, we will have a head-start in terms of knowledge. Also, when we receive proposals for solar power, we will know (what it takes to set up such a plant).”

TNB will implement the project based on three types of solar technology silicon, thin film and polycrystalline. (There are various technologies used in the making of solar panels and they vary in terms of cost, panel surface, durability and longevity.)

“It will be 2:2:1 in any combination to provide our people with the knowledge of how solar projects can be implemented in the country,” he elaborated.

While Malaysia has a rich supply of sunlight and should be aggressively tapping solar power, Che Khalib said one dampener was the clouds which could diminish the efficiency of solar panels. Secondly, he pointed out that unlike some Western nations, Malaysia did not have unproductive land.

“The US has a lot of desert. They can't do anything much with the desert so they put up solar panels there. In Malaysia, there will be a trade-off as its soil is fertile. There will be an economic trade-off. We can still pursue it, but it's a question of cost and economic feasibility.”

Solar power, as well as other renewable energy sources, feature prominently in the Government's Economic Transformation Programme. Under the energy Entry Point Programme, the target is for Malaysia to build solar power capacity up to 1.25 gigawatt by 2020. The plan has also set a renewable energy target of 5.5% of total capacity mix in 2015, from less than 1% of energy mix today.

Globally, major countries have set far more ambitious targets in the race to be leaders in the realm of clean energy, including solar power or photovoltaic power generation. As it stands now, Taiwan boasts of having Asia's largest power plant which sits on a 2ha site and is capable of generating 100MW of clean energy.

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