Why Clean Energy Isn’t The Silver Bullet For the Climate Crisis

By Chong Jinn Xiung

Three Malaysian entrepreneurs weigh in on the realities of using sustainable energy to fight climate change

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Vinesh Sinha, founder and CEO, FatHopes Energy
Cover  Vinesh Sinha, founder and CEO, FatHopes Energy

The United Nations has issued a stark warning that current global commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions still put the planet on track for an increase in temperature of 2.7 degrees Celsius within this century.  

According to FatHopes Energy founder and CEO Vinesh Sinha, “there needs to be a greater diversification of energy sources,” moving away from fossil fuels and towards alternative energy sources like solar, wind, hydropower and even nuclear.  

In Southeast Asia, the use of renewable energy is slowly expanding, says Plus Xnergy Holding's group CEO Ko Chuan Zhen. The solar market, in particular, has a lot of untapped potential for both businesses and consumers. “Solar is the cheapest form of electricity according to the International Energy Agency. But as many countries are highly dependent on fossil fuels, I expect the transition to renewable energy to take some time.” 

Many of the region's countries, including Malaysia, have announced that they will ensure that at least 20 percent of their energy supply comes from renewable sources by the year 2025, which is not far off from the goal set by ASEAN. But the question remains whether this transition will be enough to tackle the climate crisis.

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Solar farms like these hold great potential to supply power in tropical countries
Above  Solar farms like these hold great potential to supply power in tropical countries. Photo: Plus Xnergy

Making the move to clean energy

Smart grid technology can be used to increase the use of clean energy, as it enables the effective management and distribution of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and hydrogen, and connects a variety of distributed energy resources to the electrical grid. It also allows for two-way communication between the utility and its customers. This high-tech system comes equipped with controls, computers, automation and new technologies that work with the electrical grid to respond digitally to consumers' demand.

Energy storage technologies will be particularly useful as well. Batteries, for example, can help to retain energy that is generated during peak times, such as when there is a lot of sunshine or wind. 

But the main challenge is for governments and the private sector to collaborate and make clean energy more accessible and affordable for everyone. “For Malaysia, this is a critical time considering the increasing role of sustainability, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets and ESG values in securing investments worldwide,” says Ko. “The mutual effort of policymakers, financial institutions and renewable energy industry players will play a big role in determining the success of the country’s renewable energy target.” 

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FatHopes Energy harvests waste oil and turns it into biofuel
Above  FatHopes Energy harvests waste oil and turns it into biofuel. Photo: FatHopes Energy

Fossil fuels still have a role to play—for now

As many governments around the world pledge to be carbon neutral within the coming decades, there is a concerted effort to end the use of fossil fuels. But Sinha believes that fossil fuels should not be phased out entirely. 

“It would be too disruptive to change everything to renewable energy, as the existing infrastructure like power plants are made for non-renewable energy, which means they aren't compatible with sources that provide renewable energy.” 

He adds that part of the reason why fossil fuel, coal and natural gas remain popular today is that they are a reliable source of power. This is unlike clean energy sources like wind or solar, where output depends on natural factors like the weather.    

Remote towns and villages are also likely to continue using fossil fuels, as their populations tend to be spread out into different areas where transmission may be weak. In such cases, energy sources such as diesel, which can be transported easily, are preferred as they provide a more stable source of power.

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Start with educating consumers

Switching to clean energy is not enough to get us to net-zero. There needs to be a multipronged approach towards sustainability, says Aaron Patel, who heads turnkey contractor iHandal Energy Solutions. “Unlike what is understood by many pursuing the adoption of clean energy, there is no quick singular solution [to solving the climate crisis].”

Patel advises organisations not to be too hasty in looking for a clean energy solution. He says they should focus on reducing their current waste and offset that with clean energy. This, in his opinion, is the most economical way for them to combat climate change. 

“We need to focus on educating people about more immediate solutions like better energy efficiency and responsible consumption. These are equally important pieces of the puzzle needing our attention, as most [people] don’t understand how climate change will eventually affect everyone on the planet and future generations. Mitigating [the risks of climate change] is not a job left to others; it starts with ourselves first.” 

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