Asian Property Review talks to Catherine Ridu, Chief Executive Officer of SEDA (Sustainable Energy Development Authority) on how Malaysia is quietly emerging as a major player in the solar energy sphere.

APR: Will solar energy and other renewables especially wind replace oil and coal one day?

CR: Yes. It is inevitable and the energy transition is unstoppable. Social regulation and international pressure to commit to the climate agenda will sustain the energy transition momentum. The real question is how long will it take for the world to reach carbon neutrality or to reach 100% RE? Will there be sufficient time to transit before the critical two-degree Celsius global temperature increase? There have been many debates and studies on the timeline to two degrees Celsius, some have predicted it to be as little as less than a decade.

APR: Should housing developers be compelled to integrate solar panels into new homes in future or even those currently being developed?

CR: Yes because the solar PV component is perhaps the only component that can help generate income for the household (or reduce electricity bills). This PV installation will help hedge against future price increase in electricity when subsidies are eventually fully rationalized.

In addition, home owners of solar PV are part of the solution towards climate change mitigation and recent surveys have shown that Malaysians are aware of climate change and this reason may compel their conviction to take climate action.

APR: How can we get more financial institutions to finance solar panel installations and investments in solar farms?

CR: All financial institutions are risk-averse; therefore there is a need to lower perceived risk in investing in solar farms. In comparison to other forms of renewable energy (e.g. biogas, biomass, small hydro, geothermal) in Malaysia, solar PV financing has gained the confidence of financial institutions and have gained reasonable track record in terms of construction, achieving commercial operation and on-going operation.

APR: Will we be adopting new solar panel technology such as solar film for windows, solar roof tiles (Tesla), eventually?

CR: Yes, if the economics make sense (or cents). It will help to have a local market that can help reduce the cost but generally, vertical applications (e.g. window, façade) will produce lower yield than on a gentle slope (5 degree). Also, space constraint application will require higher efficiency PV modules so most of the houses will have crystalline rather than thin film technology.

APR: The price of solar panels continues to decline as panel efficiency increases. There is a supply glut of solar panels on global markets due to the price of polysilicone being at an alltime lows. At the same time, battery storage technology has increased by leaps and bounds with a corresponding decline in price. How would this impact the take-up rate of solar panel sales and installations?

CR: In the absence of new feed-in tariff for solar PV given the evolution to Net Energy Metering (NEM) and Large Scale Solar (LSS), the return in investment for solar and energy storage depends on the retail electricity tariff. In countries where electricity tariffs are no longer subsidized, the Return of investment (RoI) for solar and energy storage will be much better than in countries where electricity tariffs are still being subsidized (and typically on fossil fuel). In countries where there is Time of Use (ToU) of electricity tariff, energy arbitraging using the energy storage (e.g. Japan, Germany, Australia). will help with the RoI as the energy storages store electricity when the tariff is low and sell back to the grid when the tariff is high. In situations where the buyback price by the grid is very low but the retail electricity is high, selling of excess solar electricity is unattractive and the excess electricity can be stored in the energy storage until a time of need. In this respect, this will help to improve investment returns.

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