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Outside Voices: New Perspectives on Energy Mitigation

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19 February 2022

As a newfound initiative, The Energy Geek would like to introduce a diverse range of viewpoints regarding energy mitigation around the globe. This week, we sat down with Abigail Malakun, a Malaysian native currently studying civil and environmental engineering at UC Berkeley. In our rather productive chat with Ms. Malakun, we discussed the commonplace energy mitigation practices that have governed Malaysia’s energy grid for nearly the last two decades. Although our focus here at The Energy Geek has largely been centered upon uncovering ingenuous energy practices within the United States, our chat with Abigail opens the door to a much deeper exploration into how other countries are implementing practices that we have found to be useful in the United States, and moreover, how some practices found in foreign areas may be rather prolific if upheld in the United States. Read along to get a wholesome glance at our interview with Abigail.

“Energy is something that has always been a very mysterious thing for Malaysian locals,” was how Abigail opened her chat with us. The word mysterious seemed rather odd to us-after all how could a concept as transparent as energy be mysterious to an entire nation? However, Abigail contends that it is the actual concept of transparency that seems to strike such a large chasm between progression in clean energy practices between developed countries such as the United States and growing countries such as Malaysia. “I was surprised to see how much people in Berkeley knew about where their water and energy comes from. Here, energy usage is a dependent variable controlled by the people. For us, the government handles everything from how much energy certain communities get, to whether communities should even get sufficient power or not. Our power grids are not as universal as they should be. Some places do not even get proper power because our government manages the power grid according to their monetary benefit. It’s an age-old tactic that allows those who are knowledgeable and financially able to thrive, and those who are not to stagnate socio-economically.”

Why then,” we asked, “do citizens not choose to advocate for energy in areas where its allocation is relatively sparse?” “It’s because people cannot ask for what they do not know. For villagers that do not visit a city often, they have no idea that it is possible to get hot water twenty-four hours a day; they do not know that they can have enough power to work industrial machinery that would reduce their daily labor by over half. Worse, the government does not want to tell them that they could theoretically reap the benefits of better spread energy grids because they know it would be fiscally detrimental for them. Therefore, people have learned to become self-sufficient. Those living under an agrarian economy have had absolutely no growth in their profits, lifestyle, or the infrastructural development of their regions. Similarly, those wealthy enough to control where energy is allocated have only become wealthier.”

After a rather comprehensive discussion around the history of power in her nation, we transitioned to speaking about how environmentalists are addressing pollution and carbon dioxide emissions in Malaysia, [fact about country compared to U.S.], and more importantly how citizens in Malaysia are working to mitigate energy usage in small-scale settings, just as we seek to do here at The Energy Geek.

Energy mitigation is an idea that stems directly from energy usage. You can only enhance energy-conservation if you know where a predominant chunk of your energy goes. For us, it is less from transportation and more from our industrial hub located in Kuala Lumpur. Kuala Lumpur is a very hot and humid city. It is hot throughout the year, unlike the United States. As a result, people use air-conditioners throughout the year. About fifteen years ago, only a specific sector of the population could afford air-conditioning. However, with the advent of portable and wall air-conditioners, almost every person in the city has their air-conditioner on for several hours a day. In office settings, the usage is exponential given that you can’t have people drenched in sweat when they are wearing thousand-dollar suits. In response to this monstrous energy usage, several environmental protection organizations, including non-profits such as [insert name here], have sought methods to improve ventilation in larger buildings. Research institutes around the nation are seeking construction methods to increase ventilation in buildings.”

Interestingly so, Malaysia is not the first country to do so. In 2015, architects in Bengaluru, India began devising plans for buildings with increased ventilation such that they could reduce average energy consumption by nearly 20%. In India, the government lobbied for this idea to meet their carbon sequestration goals for the decade. In Malaysia however, these building plans were frowned upon due to their exorbitant costs, not to mention the city-regulations they would have to get permission for (a rather difficult task in a crowded city like Kuala Lumpur).

When the government rejected repeated proposals for this idea, in its developmental stage of course, research institutes shifted their view away from energy-mitigation and more toward clean-energy sources. The government had money, but they weren’t going to use it to build expensive buildings, let alone tear down existing ones that were energy sharks. So, research institutes proposed that they allocate money into solar power instead. After all, this whole thing started with Malaysia being a hot country.” This set off a solar power storm in Malaysia, to the extent where energy consumption went down over 4% every year in the country since 2017 [citation], the first year of widespread solar-power installation in Kuala Lumpur’s largest industrial and technological hub.

Before we ended our chat, we asked Ms. Malakun if there were anything other interesting facts or experiences, she wanted to share. “I was rather sad to see the nonprofits fail in their advent to introduce energetically efficient construction practices. This was why I wanted to study civil engineering, especially in a place like Berkeley where people are truly concerned with the condition of their environment. I want to be able to introduce energy-mitigation on a large-scale and want to do it from a position of influence. Studying about energy-practices and educating ourselves through inventive sources such as The Energy Geek is one of the most effective ways to learn about how serious the energy crisis is. It was from your website that I began to accept that energy-mitigation starts at home.”

Editor’s note.

In cold regions such as NH, sunny winter days, particularly in late winter, can be very effective solar days. The weather keeps the collectors cool so they run more efficiently, and sunlight is reflected from the snow onto the collectors increasing their production.

 

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