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A National Energy Centre (NEC) for Malaysia’s Energy Transition

Energy is at the centre of the solution to tackling climate change. Yet, it is increasingly clear that cooperation is needed by every industry to get us to the finish line of the energy transition. In Malaysia, government has been leading and enabling the energy revolution with comprehensive plans and policies such as the soon-to-be launched  National Energy Policy 2021 – 2040, supported by programs such as the Sustainable Energy Development Authority (SEDA)’s Net Energy Metering 3.0 scheme.

Giants in the private sector have also stepped into the ring such as Malaysia’s Malayan Banking Bhd (Maybank)’s pledge to cease financing new coal activities and commit RM50 billion in sustainable financing. National utility Tenaga National Berhad (TNB) also joined the fray, setting aspirations for net zero emissions by 2050 while still serving as the country’s largest electricity utility.

Academic institutions are also taking the sustainability challenge head-on, fostering a culture that prioritises sustainable practices among today’s youth. One such example, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), adopted the UTM Campus Sustainability Policy since 2010, ensuring that UTM functions as a Sustainable Campus Community at all levels of resource management. Similarly, Sunway University has long been committed to sustainability on campus, and even established the Jeffrey Sachs Centre on Sustainable Development in collaboration with the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Now, with Universiti Tenaga Nasional (UNITEN)’s recently launched National Energy Centre (NEC), a new player has entered Malaysia’s journey to a sustainable future.

Malaysia’s Newest Hub of Innovation and Collaboration

With their role in educating the next generation of talent and leaders, higher education institutions are without a doubt critical to our energy transition. On top of their educational responsibilities, academic institutions can conduct research on cutting-edge energy technologies, prepare the workforce for the demands of the energy transition, and act as a bridge that mobilises the efforts of various industries into implementable solutions that enable and accelerate the energy transition. Even in guiding a nation’s transition roadmap, academia is invaluable in conducting research to provide science-based policy recommendations to government.

(Image Source: The Star)

Launched in June 2022 and officiated by the Deputy Minister of Energy and Natural Resources (KeTSA) and the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI), the National Energy Centre (NEC) was established as a national centre of excellence to deepen aspects of the energy transition, covering issues of climate change, sustainable development and renewable energy. As Malaysia’s newest addition to its energy transition roadmap the National Energy Centre (NEC), located at UNITEN’s campus, will be a hub of collaboration for experts from renowned foreign and local universities and industry leaders.

Among the topics that will be explored in depth at the NEC are the use of hydrogen, space-based solar power, magma power, algae energy power, solar power, wind power and fusion power for renewable energy, along with the development of the electric vehicle technological ecosystems. These developments will be conducted through 5 centres of excellence that will be placed under the NEC. These include the Institute of Sustainable Energy (ISE), Institute of Power Engineering (IPE), Institute of Energy Infrastructure (IEI), Institute of Energy Policy & Research (IEPRe) and Institute of Informatics & Computing in Energy (IICE).

Opportunity to Transform Malaysia’s Energy Landscape

NEC hopes to provide a science-based guide to transform Malaysia into an established energy hub

UNITEN’s NEC is expected to play a key strategic role in Malaysia’s own carbon neutral roadmap over the next few years. With its plans to develop a Strategic National Energy Framework, the NEC hopes to provide a science-based guide to transform Malaysia into an established energy hub. This could also provide industry players the opportunity to become strategic partners in the transition by opening their own satellite incubator laboratories at the centre. In its wider mission, the NEC’s research is expected to enable a more environmentally friendly future with the development of a low-carbon digital economy.

The opportunities that the National Energy Centre (NEC) will unlock is expected to benefit both Malaysia and the surrounding region. Besides developing the Strategic Energy Framework, the centre will also provide technological solutions for Malaysia’s energy transition. On top of this, work done at the centre will help develop the necessary talent for the country’s future workforce, equipping them with the education, skills and experience needed to lead Malaysia towards its carbon-neutral end goal.

As a hub for collaboration, the NEC will draw on the knowledge and experience of renowned figures across all industries. As a gathering space for inquiring minds, the centre will not only educate a new generation of scientists and leaders, but also help update the knowledge base of existing leaders in science. Leaning into this advantage, there is immense potential for the NEC to create a high-level forum between renowned academics, industry experts and senior government officials, even involving ASEAN member countries and the International Energy Agency, to discuss critical issues in the energy field in-depth.

At the soft launch event, Deputy Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI), Datuk Haji Ahmad Amzad Hashim even challenged researchers at the NEC to study long-term options and measures to ensure electricity supply remains reliable and affordable, as the world faces the issue of rising electricity generation costs. For the ASEAN region, which must transition its energy ecosystem while still serving ever-growing populations and increasingly urban citizens, these contributions could go a long way in ensuring the economic and sustainable success of the region.

Academia Spearheading Energy Research Around the World

Across the world, academia has proven to be invaluable to energy research. In the US, the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) offers some of the largest computing and storage systems in the world, providing a state-of-the-art environment for scientific development. Just last year, NERSC resources helped power advances in solar cell technology that is expected to improve the efficiency of solar cells while lowering manufacturing costs.

In the UK, the Alan Turing Institute for data science and artificial intelligence utilised data-driven methods and models to forecast renewable energy generation output to address the challenge of renewable energy intermittency. In 2017, researchers at the institute contributed to developing a solar energy forecasting system with a 33% increase in forecasting accuracy, allowing utilities to more efficiently balance the supply and demand of energy. For a country that gets around 40% of its power from intermittent renewables, this ultimately contributed to lowered energy costs for consumers.

Japan’s Institute of Energy Economics (IEEJ), one of the world’s leading think tanks in energy and environment, demonstrated the viability of importing ammonia in bulk in the world’s first shipment of blue ammonia. For the supply network demonstration, 40 tonnes of high-grade blue ammonia, which is expected to be critical to Japan’s zero carbon emission ambitions, was produced and shipped from Saudi Arabia for use in zero-power carbon generation. This process included the whole ammonia value chain, including the conversion of hydrocarbons to hydrogen and then to ammonia, as well as the capture of associated carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Across the world, academia has proven to be invaluable to energy research

Closer to home, the Singapore Energy Centre is demonstrating the value of collaboration in exploring innovative ideas and developing sustainable energy solutions for global energy challenges. A consortium founded by the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), the National University of Singapore (NUS), and industry players such as ExxonMobil, the centre is leveraging on the collective research experience of academics from two universities to develop a broad range of low carbon energy solutions for the country. Since its launch in 2019, the centre has awarded six core projects on decarbonisation, which are expected to be completed in 2024, and contribute to Singapore’s energy transition goals.

Research and Collaboration will Drive the Energy Transition

The academic community’s potential for knowledge-building and analysis to fulfill the needs of the energy transition is immense. The technological progress achieved so far that has made the energy transition both physically and fiscally possible are all the result of dedicated, collaborative science, focusing on bringing our sustainable future into reality.

Centres such as UNITEN’s National Energy Centre (NEC) that utilises academia’s collective knowledge and resources have proven to be instrumental in every step towards net zero goals. Collaboration, it seems, is key to realising a sustainable future. With a player such as the NEC entering the fold, new life is injected into the fight against climate change, accelerating Malaysia’s journey to net zero.

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