I have been thinking and reading and coming to understand. That is why I have been quiet for so long. I have also become concerned by the sheer density of car usage I see, in Malaysia. It is not so much the present number of cars that worries me - but what will happen when there is no petrol to fuel them. Unless the entire way of life of this nation changes, dramatically, I foresee many intractable problems ahead.
"Peak Oil" is defined as the point when world oil production peaks and thereafter begins to decline. Peak oil is a problem, not just for Malaysia, but for the whole world. It is not commonly realized but our entire modern civilization, in its present form is founded on cheap oil. Our cars, ships and planes, our food, through petroleum based fertilizers and pesticides, oil powered tractors and the like, plastics, and pharmaceuticals are all derived from oil. However, that is just the beginning of our oil dependence: everything we make, in the modern world - all our goods, our machines, our computers, our telecommunications and so on, use energy derived from oil in their manufacture. Without oil, there is no modern world.
All the world's nations must wean themselves off oil, as soon as possible. There is no other choice. You see, oil is running out. Many observers think that we have already reached the peak of production - indeed, in spite of high prices, in recent years, production has been static at best. This seems to suggest that no more output is possible. Once oil production begins to decline, best estimates suggest that it will do so at between 4 and 8 % per year, every year, from then on. This means that we must replace that lost energy from another source, or else face a variety of economic catastrophe that we have never known before: the complete failure of energy transfer in our society.
Everyone lightly uses the term "renewable energy" as a ready replacement for this energy shortfall. However, what is little appreciated is how much effort needs to be made to put an alternative energy infrastructure into place. Then again, each renewable energy source, rather ironically, requires oil for its manufacture. Thus, we have a dilemma: do we spend our oil on present energy needs or invest it in future renewable energy production? Clearly, if our modern world is to have a future, energy and resources must be redirected towards the manufacture of renewable energy plant, as fast as possible.
Fortunately, there are some positive initiatives in Malaysia that should help. One is the Suria 1000 programme that allows houses and commercial buildings to produce renewable energy through solar power. So, too, the new proposed laws that would require the national electricity company, Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) to buy electricity from private producers, using renewable sources, at preset rates known as "Feed-in-tariffs". Interestingly, these tariffs pay a different amount, for a different source, depending on how much that electricity costs to generate. Thus, it is, that TNB are encouraging renewable energy production - whatever the source.
The government has estimated that renewable energy, under the new feed in tariff initiative would grow from the present 50 MW (shockingly inadequate) to around 2000 MW by 2020, representing 9% of national energy needs. Now that might seem like a lot - but is it? You see world oil production already appears to have peaked, and is now bumping along a plateau. Once it starts to decline it is expected to do so at 4 to 8 % PER YEAR. Thus, it can be seen that expansion of renewable energy could be far too slow to meet demand. If oil production begins its decline before 2020 (which is very likely by most scientific estimates), then that decline would very quickly outpace the expansion in renewable energy.
What is needed, therefore, in Malaysia (and the rest of the world, too) is a national effort on the part of all individuals and families to change the energy balance of their nation for the better. If every home, in the land, and througout the world, were to add solar panels to its roof or a wind turbine to its garden (not appropriate really in Malaysia), then a significant dent could be made in the coming shortfall between energy needs and energy availability. Of course, this means spending by families, now, to ensure greater flows of electricity later. The wisdom in this should be clear, because, in times to come, the world's electricity grids may become unreliable and may not have enough power in them, to maintain modern life as we have come to expect it. Indeed, ultimately, it is inevitable that there will be power shortages throughout the world unless we all, collectively and governmentally, move to ensure that the slack is taken up by renewable, diversified, energy sources.
So, don't sit passively at home saying: "Peak oil? But what can I do about it?" Well, you can do something about it. Two things in fact: you can make your house and life more energy efficient - by putting in insulation, if you are in a cold country, or using fans, instead of aircons, if you are in a hot country and buying an economical car, if you need a car and cannot do without one - otherwise take public transport. Secondly, you can build up your own electricity production base by implementing alternative renewable energy sources in your own home - for instance, wind, solar, geothermal (where possible) and biomass alternatives. ANY amount of energy you can generate in your own home, constitutes a contribution to world energy generation capacities which will, incrementally, reduce the burden on fossil fuels. Note that, in some countries, like Malaysia, your renewable energy source can become a profit centre if you elect to supply your output to the grid.
So, get on with it: become a net supplier of electricity, not a net consumer, by making your own electricity, in your homes. Then, when, the time comes, and others are suffering blackouts...you will have your own electricity, right to hand.
For Malaysians, solar power seems the simplest choice: everyone has an abundance of it - you just have to decide to capture it...so please do so, now. You see, oil won't wait for you to decide and one day there won't be any oil left to make your solar panels...so buy them now.
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Labels: a Green Malaysia, biomass, blackouts, brownouts, energy shortages, geothermal, peak oil, solar power, the end of life as we know it, wind power