Sunday, February 22, 2009

'Green' economy

Hillary Clinton stops by China as part of her East Asia trip. Besides the economy, which is the obvious issue (which take centre stage compared to human rights), both countries are talking about the possibility of developing clean energy and energy efficiency in buildings.

This development reminds me of my discussion on sustainable development with some of my course mates early this week. We are discussing on environmental standard imposed on shipping industry. Should be higher as to minimize environmental harm emanates from the shipping business, or should we lower the standard.

The tug of war between economy and environment is always a dilemma. For many, it is a zero sum game where one must prevail at the expense of the other. Should it be that way?

A higher standard in shipping operations means higher start up cost to the shipping operator. Higher cost means the fee of transporting the goods will be higher. As neither the manufacturer nor the shipping owner will absorb the cost, the cost will be passed to the consumer by paying higher price for the goods. This will burn a big hole to consumers' pocket. Prices must be kept low at all cost. Don’t forget that this people will vote. To embark into green initiatives that will raise prices can be considered as political suicide. Alas, developed countries had polluted the world for hundreds of years, so this is our turn to pollute.

As the environment cannot speak for itself, the cost that the ‘environment’ has to pay for the pollution remains below the surface.

The key is to come up with a method and processes that is not only environmentally friendly, but friendly to the consumers’ pocket too.

We often resolved in using the technology which is ‘outdated’ regardless how much pollution it release. The argument is simple; to come up with a new technology requires tones of money for research and development. We need to spur the economy, and it needs it NOW! Our herd mentality justifies our rationale that we are tackling the issue the right way. However, there is a world of different between doing things right compared to do the right thing.

Not so long ago, we criticized the government for raising the fuel price. We demand for more subsidy, we are ready to witch hunt Petronas for making a lot of money but doing little for the…(the overused term right now) the ‘Rakyat’. However, we never want to fail to look at ourselves and see how we can change our life styles. Despite being at the mercy of oil prices, this government fails to seriously looking at renewable energy.

One of my friends brought up the issue on hybrid car. It cost too much he said. He suggested that the government should lower down the price. The cost of a hybrid car is high due to tax; imposed to ‘shield’ the national car industry. Do we come up with our own version of hybrid car…NO! We succeeded in creating a generation hungry for petrol and this generation wants it to come cheap. This sickness can be seen from one of the politician (in his election debate) that our petroleum reserved can be replenished. What we need to do is dig! dig! and keep on digging.

By imposing high tax against this hybrid car, we had deprived our society a choice to change to a more fuel efficient car; all in the name of national interest.

The current US administration had pledged billion of dollars to create ‘green’ employment. Rhetoric? Perhaps. However, consider this facts;

General Electric (GE) had emphasis on ’17 clean-technology businesses’ expected to expand sales of products from $10 billion in 2004 to $20 billion by 2010. Each unit within GE have their own target to reduce emissions of CO2.

Wal Mart is constantly finding ways to reduce its carbon foot print in its operation. By reducing its carbon foot print, Wal Mart has to be very efficient in its operation. Efficient operation means lower operating cost which translated to cheaper price.

Being the ‘first’ in the ‘green revolution’, these companies will have the competitive advantage over their competitors. They are taking competitiveness to the next level…and we still lagging behind by relying to the outdated technology to compete.

The future belongs to ‘green revolutionist’.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

hillside project

It was reported in today’s newspaper that hillside project will go on. The exact quote of the newspaper report;

“…this is because the country population was increasing and land was needed for development…total ban would be a waste of land, and proposed instead an immediate halt on the ‘tip fill’ technique during construction at hillslopes…”

This newspaper report is on the statement made by the works minister. Excuse me for being a skeptic but the country had experienced numerous landslides that had claimed many lives. I am not sure whether it is case of memory lapse or ignorance. We are trapped in this archaic mentality that the land is our birthright to be ‘ransacked’ and ‘brutalized’. Less than five months ago, the deputy prime minister had called for a ban to all hillside development. Don’t tell me the our memory is that bad.

In his statement, there are many engineers with wide experience ‘who are capable of reducing or minimizing landslides’. Those who fall for this, make sure that those engineers are capable in writing a beautiful eulogy for you too.

Perhaps somebody never learn their lesson.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

power issue

The electricity tariff will be lowered starting from 1/3/2009. The reason: lower oil prices from US$140 per barrel to US$43 per barrel. A lower tariff will be translated to lower electricity bills for the consumers, household and industry alike. At present, the consumers are paying 21.8 cents per kilowatt per hour if their consumption does not exceed 200 kwh.

Although I welcome any move to ease the burden of the people, we need to ask the conventional wisdom behind this move. Do we really need cheaper tariff or we need energy efficiency? Or perhaps we can turn to renewable energy. Notice that the tariff fluctuates at the mercy of the oil price. Should we keep on rely on the oil to power up our electrical appliances? Although our politician seems to think that mother earth keep on growing oil so what we need to do is keep on digging, I think we are wiser than that.

Malaysia, like most of the developing countries, is facing an increase of the generation of waste and problems that entails the disposal of this waste. Overall, the local communities generate 16, 000 tons of domestic waste per day and the amounts per capita vary from 0.45 to 1.44 kg per day depending on the economic status of the areas concerned. On average, waste generation is about 1 kg per capita per day.

Waste is grouped into three different categories in respect of disposal;
1. Solid waste
2. Medical waste
3. Hazardous waste

According to study by E. Grant Anderson in five states (Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan) represent 70% of the total amount of waste in the country, the composition of waste is shown in figure 1. We can see that 64% of the waste is domestic waste.
Municipal solid waste in Malaysia is under the responsibility of the public sector, although the government has contracted out part of the municipal solid waste management services to private contractors under the privatization program. The Municipal Solid Waste management (MSWM) services account for a high percentage of the municipal budgets as waste management and planning are under municipal responsibility. On average, 50% of the municipal operating budgets are spent on MSWM and 70% is spent on collection of waste.

In Kuala Lumpur, 80% of all waste is collected. In order to improve collection and transfer services and also to overcome the financial constraints of local municipalities, private companies are being invited to bid for privatization-cum concession agreements for MSWM services. Private companies are allowed to form joint venture companies that have the financial resources and experience to win collection contracts from municipal authorities, and to design and to design and build transfer stations and landfills, or any final disposal systems.

Presently, there are 3 types of waste disposal categories – solid waste disposal and incineration, medical waste incineration and hazardous waste incineration. The disposal of solid waste is done solely through landfill. There are 168 disposal sites throughout the country, of wgich only 7 are sanitary landfills. The rest are open dumps and about 80% of these dumps have been filled up to the maximum and have to closed in 2005. The federal government had spent RM20.9 million to build 9 sanitary landfills and upgrade 27 existing landfills in 34 designated areas. These measures are, however insufficient to overcome the problem of waste disposal as the waste generation rate is increasing rapidly due to high population growth and urbanization.

Why waste-to-energy?
Imagine a machine that can turn anything into fuel by using pollution-free processes like heat and preasure. Imagine wastes from landfills, refuse from poultry farms, sludge and sewage from city sewers are used to generate electric. Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF), a technology adopted from India, enables power generating where the fuel is derived from Municipal solid waste via series of process like separation, shredding and drying

Garbage does not contain as much heat energy as coal. It takes one ton of garbage to equal the heat energy in 500 pounds of coal. USA has 90 waste-to-energy plants. Waste –to-energy plants generate enough electricity to supply almost 3 million households. However, it cost more to generate electricity at a waste-to-energy plant that it does at a coal, nuclear, or hydropower plant.

On the other hand, the major advantage of burning waste is that it reduces the amount of garbage we bury in landfills. Burning waste substantially reduces the amount of trash going to landfills. Waste-to-energy plant disposes of waste of 40 million people.

Similar to fossil fuel power plants, MSW power plants discharge used water. Pollutants build up in the water used in the power plant boiler and cooling system. In addition, the cooling water is considerably warmer when it is discharged than when it was taken. These water pollutants and the higher temperature of the discharged water can upon its release negatively affect water quality and aquatic life. This discharge usually requires a permit and is monitored.
Solid Waste Generation

The combustion of MSW reduces MSW waste streams, reducing the creation of new landfills. MSW combustion creates a solid waste called ash, which can contain any of the elements that were originally present in the waste. MSW power plants reduce the need for landfill capacity because disposal of MSW ash requires less land area than does unprocessed MSW. However, because ash and other residues from MSW operations may contain toxic materials, the power plant wastes must be tested regularly to assure that the wastes are safely disposed to prevent toxic substances from migrating into ground-water supplies. Under current regulations, MSW ash must be sampled and analyzed regularly to determine whether it is hazardous or not. Hazardous ash must be managed and disposed of as hazardous waste. Depending on state and local restrictions, non-hazardous ash may be disposed of in a MSW landfill or recycled for use in roads, parking lots, or daily covering for sanitary landfills.

Land Resource Use
MSW power plants, much like fossil fuel power plants, require land for equipment and fuel storage. The non-hazardous ash residue from the burning of MSW is typically deposited in landfills.

Electricity can be generated by burning Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) as fuel also called waste to energy (WTE) plants, are designed to dispose of MSW and to produce electricity as a byproduct of the incinerator operation.

The term MSW describes the stream of solid waste (“trash” or “garbage”) generated by households and apartments, commercial establishments, industries and institutions. MSW consists of everyday items such as packaging, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, bottles, food scraps, newspapers, appliances, paint and batteries. In does not include medical, commercial and industrial hazardous or radioactive waste, which must be treated separately.
MSW is managed by combination of disposal in landfill sites, recycling, and incineration. MSW incinerators often produce electricity in WTE plants.

Perhaps, apart from changing habit in our electricity consumption, a more proactive effort perhaps is by turning our municipal solid waste into energy.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Federal territory Day 1st of February

In 1850, tin mining industry is booming in the Malay Peninsula, especially in area called Klang valley. The then Malay chief of Klang had expanded his tin mining business at the Gombak River (formerly known as Sungai Lumpur which literally means Muddy River). It was not until 1870s, when Chinese Kapitan Yap Ah Loy took Kuala Lumpur into a next level as a mining town.
With more than 100 years of existence, Kuala Lumpur is a witness to the development of this nation. From a small village in 1800 to a metropolitan city with an iconic KLCC that rule its skyline, Kuala Lumpur really a great city. Every year on the 1st of February, the citizen of Kuala Lumpur will celebrate the Federal Territory day (which consist of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya).

I was born in this great city two years after it was declared as a federal territory. This is where I grew up, studied and earn my living. Traffic jams is part of my life and my lungs is ‘immune’ to the smokes coming from vehicles, factories, open burning, cigarettes etc.

However, this concrete jungle needs a paradigm shift in defining its development. The increase of vehicles translates into higher air pollution. However, the focus is always on reducing traffic jams by constructing wider and better roads. Perhaps we fail to see that wider and better road is an invitation for increase of vehicles on the road. When that happen, we end up widen the existing road and the cycle goes on and on.

There are calls and effort to revamp the public transportation. I read about this effort every year on 1st of February without fail. The plan looks impressive in the newspaper report but come December every year, I see no progress in this department.

Air pollution…we always have our neighboring country to blame. Is there any move to impose the usage of hybrid vehicle? I did not hear any. The recent regulation that imposes the use of rear seat belt was greeted with negative remark from the public. I think if there is regulation on hybrid vehicles, there will be a coup d’etat against the present government.

Solid waste…the city pays RM160 million a year to manage solid waste. How do we manage solid waste? Dump it at a dumping site course. Recycle is only meant for school projects. Adults can throw our refuse anywhere and the word ‘recycle’ is not in our dictionary. How can we recycle our garbage when the garbage collector will dump everything in the garbage truck? Yes, I can go to the recycle center, but it is too far from my house and I do not even know where is the center is. I can give you 1001 reason not to recycle.

Alas…the plastic bottle once thrown away is someone else problem. There are still trees in the jungle somewhere to keep the temperature down. There is always someone else to take up the pieces…always…and always it is not my business.

Hence, in supporting the inspiration to be the world class city, let us increase our carbon footprint by releasing more smoke through our vehicle, cut more trees, choke up our rivers with our refuse, and use more plastics.