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GOING GREEN AT HOME: The Energy Pyramid Every Malaysian Should Practise for Greater Monetary and Environmental Savings

It is another Earth Day again, as I am penning down this piece amid the water rationing imposed on the majority of Greater Klang Valley population which has been longing for two months due to unexpected prolonged drought [1]. Paradox may be the word to describe the way we live in the world today. Some may agree to the unfolding plots of Climate Destabilization, but only a handful are willing to be the change they want to see, and the others may pass the buck with the opinion that someone else is responsible about it, or even calling it a hoax.

Let the Polluters Pay

This is not surprising, as we, the human race has been living in a concrete built environment that has discounted our intimacy with Mother Nature. This is self-evident by the magical routine we live in every day. From the food that appears on our tables, the waste that disappears after the bin and to the glorifying water taps and electrical sockets supplying our never ending greed. Most of us are not aware or being ignorant to the life cycle of a product to admit our ecological footprint has been increasingly damaging the environment. The only way forward is to factor in the unaccounted external environmental damage costs into the consumer cost. This is in line with the Polluter Pays Principle [2], instead of only encouraging us to consume more for the sake of economic growth. Certainly, the convenience we take for granted today is going to be paid by the future generation with heavy price.

Figure 1 illustration of the comparison of global carbon reserve and carbon reserve that is “safe to burn (Image Credit : CarbonTracker.org)
Figure 1 illustration of the comparison of global carbon reserve and carbon reserve that is “safe to burn (Image Credit : CarbonTracker.org)

Understanding Where We Are Today

We are facing the biggest problem ever since stepping out from the caves. It is high time that environmentalist should stop talking about “Saving the Plant and Environment etc.”, because the truth is that our survival is at stake while the planet will remain as it is for the past 4 billion years despite a slight alternation of climate. The physical evidence is clear, as the cost of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in damage escalates along the ever growing occurrence and intensity of man-made natural disasters. [3] Bill McKibben, the founder of the world’s largest environmental movement, 350.org, quotes that the world can emit only 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide and stay below 2°C of warming, anything more than that risks catastrophe for life on earth [4]. The only problem is? Fossil fuel corporations have reserves potential to emit 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide upon burning, which is five times the safe amount. [5] As you are reading through this passage, the clock is ticking against our optimistic chances in mitigate this issue.

Figure 2 Studies from CETDEM illustrating the breakdown of energy consumption of typical household (Image Credit : CETREE
Figure 2 Studies from CETDEM illustrating the breakdown of energy consumption of typical household (Image Credit : CETDEM)

How Can You Help

As the familiar quote goes, “Be the change you want to see”. Our small roles are collectively significant to ensure our carbon emission is capped. Anyone can start playing their part by understanding and minimizing your household carbon footprint. A study conducted from CETDEM has shown that the largest energy footprint of the household isn’t the house alone, but the transportation usage with a staggering fraction of three quarters of total energy usage. [6] Thus, it is sensible to reconsider your transportation mode and travel duration in addition to the energy usage at home. The research also reveals that half of the energy usage at home is dedicated to cooling and heating alone, while one fifth of the sum is contributed by refrigerator.

Not going green is expensive in the long run, both monetarily and environmentally. However, sadly it is a growing, misleading perception that being environmental friendly needs a heavy up front cost in order to invest into expensive green technology. I would like to differ that, as the holistic approach of going ‘green’ is to only use energy for necessary usages, but not harvesting additional clean energy by putting up expensive solar panels yet. The greenest light bulb is not only measured by efficiency, but rather, it is the one that you will switch off whenever not in used.

Figure 3 Infographic on Malaysia Household Energy Pyramid (Image Credit : Gene-Harn)
Figure 3 Infographic on Malaysia Household Energy Pyramid (Image Credit : Gene-Harn)

Aim to go Carbon Neutral

The energy pyramid above illustrates the roadmap to a carbon neutral household, which also means achieving net zero carbon emission by harvesting sufficient renewable energy that could offset the amount of carbon released by your household. It shows the hierarchy of complexity of application and investment in reducing your household energy usage. Ever since 2008, Malaysia government has announced that all TNB residential customers are entitled to a RM20 subsidy on electricity bill if their bills are found to be lower than RM20. [7] Thus, it makes sense for a self-sufficient energy usage lifestyle, especially when you have a household of 2 people. The rational sequences of action plan when it comes to electricity saving measurements are:

Figure 4 Methodology in establishing energy saving action plan for Domestic (Image Credit : Gene-Harn)
Figure 4 Methodology in establishing energy saving action plan for Domestic (Image Credit : Gene-Harn)

Energy Auditing > Energy Conservation > Energy Efficiency > Renewable Energy.

Energy Auditing: How much energy unit is your household spending monthly? Which energy appliances are the culprits that you need to scrutinize in reducing energy wastage effectively? It is crucial for one to understand thoroughly his household energy usage trend before attempting to reduce it. Each household may vary from each other due to the household’s lifestyle or special needs.

Energy Conservation: The fundamental step in embarking the saving energy action plan and often being underestimated. This aspect covers more than merely switching off electrical appliances that are not in use, rather one should question if his lighting system, fridge, television and others, are unnecessary larger than what he needs. If you do not practise it and continue to embark on Energy Efficiency, the effort may be bounced effect, known as Jevons Paradox [8] . It suggests that the increase in efficiency with which a resource is used tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of the resource. Nevertheless, cheap, dirty and subsidized energy remains as part of the dissuasion to our attempts to live a self-sufficient lifestyle.

Energy Efficiency: Evaluate your payback period against the upfront additional investment cost. This can be seen by the estimated energy savings (kWh) per year and you can work out the payback period of it. Thus, one shall not decide base on the purchasing price, as the inefficient operation cost may be cumulatively more expensive few months or years down the road. Energy efficiency benefits more than the aspect of individual monetary and greater environmental concern, it also secures the nation’s energy security by lowering peak demand that will avoid unnecessary additional power plants.

Renewable Energy: Harvest clean renewable energy and sell it back to the grid! [9] If you have been wondering on the current 1.6% surcharge imposed to your electricity bill (if your monthly electricity bill exceeds more than 300kWh or RM77/month) then this is where you will benefit if you are one of the FIAH Feed In Approval Holders. This money is channelled into the RE Fund and administered by SEDA Malaysia and used to support the Feed-in Tariff programme. However, the feasibility of solar panels is subjected to your roofing typology. An energy efficient household of 4 will need an estimated of 6kWP of solar PV. A simple calculation break down will prove how FiT makes sense in monetary terms.

Figure 5 illustrating the comparison of payback period for the investment of Solar Panel with the assistance of Feed-in Tariff. (Image Credit : Gene-Harn)
Figure 5 illustrating the comparison of payback period for the investment of Solar Panel with the assistance of Feed-in Tariff. (Image Credit : Gene-Harn)

COOLTEK HOUSE – A Testimony of the Malaysia Household Energy Pyramid Application

Figure 6 Plaque of recognition from ASEAN Centre for Energy recognizing COOLTEK House as the first runner up for ASEAN Renewable Energy Project Management Competition On-Grid Category.(Image Credit : Gene Harn)
Figure 6 Plaque of recognition from ASEAN Centre for Energy recognizing COOLTEK House as the first runner up for ASEAN Renewable Energy Project Management Competition On-Grid Category.(Image Credit : Gene Harn)

It is irrefutably true that the energy performance of a building is determined by the end user eventually. A prime example of a user that puts in the holistic aspect of energy saving measurements into good practice is Stephanie Bacon and the late Harry Boswell. The owners behind COOLTEK house, which also won as 1st Runner-Up in ASEAN Energy Awards 2009, exhibit great interest in auditing and analysing the 260 square meter single storey house’s energy consumption. With an astonishing energy savings of 94% in comparison to the conventional dwelling [10], COOLTEK house is an exemplary of architectural passive design combined with optimized active design and attentive end users who pay great detail to energy usage to achieve a high energy performance dwelling.

Figure 7 Stephanie Bacon briefing SEDA staffs and enthusiastic bloggers on the passive design elements of COOLTEK House  (Image Credit to Gene-Harn)
Figure 7 Stephanie Bacon briefing SEDA staffs and enthusiastic bloggers on the passive design elements of COOLTEK House (Image Credit to Gene-Harn)

Passive Design – Keeping the Heat Out

Built in 2005, COOLTEK house was designed to keep the heat out from the building. The building is oriented to have the majority of façade area facing North and South thereby preventing the direct heat radiation entering the habitable spaces such as bedroom and living room. Furthermore, non-mechanical ventilated area such as garage and store room are placed facing the east orientation, thus reducing the heat gain impact to the air conditioned area. Deep roof eaves, at least more than 1 meter, also assisted in preventing direct sun from inducing glare and heating up the internal space. The roof and wall are also painted white, which has higher solar reflectance ability that minimizes the heat absorbed by the materials. Moreover, the site is located in a golf course with ample of soft scape and waterscape which improves the microclimate by reducing the heat island effect.

Figure 8 shows the panorama view of COOLTEK house, located at Tiara Gold Resort, Malacca (Image Credit: Gene Harn).
Figure 8 shows the panorama view of COOLTEK house, located at Tiara Gold Resort, Malacca (Image Credit: Gene Harn).

Insulation – Just like a Fridge

Unlike conventional tropical architecture which promotes cross ventilation, the design analogy of COOLTEK is similar to a fridge. The segment of the house which is equipped with air conditioned is ensured to be air tight, and more importantly, fully insulated. 79% of the façade area is built up with 250mm thick load bearing lightweight autoclaved aerated concrete blocks which has good heat resistivity. All windows are double glazed with low emissivity coating and argon gas filled gap and all doors to the outside have double-seals to ensure air tightness. Additional heat gain from beneath the floor is prevented by laying 50mm thick polyurethane beneath the wood grain floor. Furthermore, heat is resisted from the roof by an insulated ceiling with 50mm dense rock wool blanket.

Figure 9 illustrates the high energy performance feature of COOLTEK House  (Image Credit : Gene-Harn)
Figure 9 illustrates the high energy performance feature of COOLTEK House (Image Credit : Gene-Harn)

Active Design – Energy Efficiency Appliances

Energy efficient equipment and appliances are not only important to conserve energy, as they also emit lesser internal heat gain to the air conditioned room, thus saving cooling energy. It is noted by the law of thermodynamics that any electrical power will be converted into heat in a confined space eventually. COOLTEK House uses energy rated appliances such as fridge, induction cooker and electronic appliances as well as fluorescent lights. An inverter multi split unit with variable refrigerant flow has also ensured high energy efficiency by allowing flexibility in cooling demand between different rooms. It only costs 8 units of electricity, or RM2 for a full 24 hours of operation hours daily with a temperature set point of 24°C, just sufficient for thermal comfort. Cleaning is done by a central house vacuum cleaning system, which does not induce heat into the air conditioned living space.

Passive Ground Cooling Ventilation

What makes COOLTEK distinctive in ventilation design is the usage of ground cooled ventilation system. Having said that the building is air tight, however there shall be a provision of adequate, cool fresh air supply. The darkest outdoor surface of the white coloured house is the red brick chimney functioning as a solar heat retaining sink, so to act as a thermal chimney. The air sucked out of the house by the solar chimney is to be replaced by air from the ground cooled ducts with two floor level inlet openings. Each of the two ground cooled air ducts are connected to a sub-soil chamber containing five concrete filled ceramic pipes. This chamber is again connected with approximately 10 meter sub-soil duct with an air intake opening shaded by a tree. The ventilation is passively induced by stack ventilation due to temperature differences.

Figure 10 shows the DAVIS weather station and thermal chimney located above COOLTEK house.(image credit: Gene-Harn)
Figure 10 shows the DAVIS weather station and thermal chimney located above COOLTEK house.(image credit: Gene-Harn)

Energy from the Sun

The earth receives an incredible supply of solar energy. The fusion reactor that has been burning over 4 billion years could provide enough energy in one minute to supply the world’s energy needs for one year. [11] To put it in context, we only need 495,805 square kilometres of solar panels to power the world, which is almost the size of Thailand. [12] COOLTEK House has done its part in harvesting free clean energy with a solar water heater, and a 4.8kWP solar panel. In October 2007, the photovoltaic system was installed under the SURIA 1000 programme, partially funded by the Malaysian Government and United Nations Development Programme, with the owners of COOLTEK contributing the remaining cost. The system is currently providing an average of around 68% of total electricity demand. It is remarkable to discover that COOLTEK House has its own wireless DAVIS weather station since 2011 and Stephanie has been constantly logging the weather data, particularly solar insolation measurements by daily basis, and also reporting the monthly energy yield to SEDA (Sustainable Energy Development Authority) on a monthly basis.

Understanding Our Surrounding and Appreciating Self Sufficiency

A vivid impression of me on Stephanie as an end user is her deep attentiveness towards her home environmental footprint and the natural environment. This is supported by her observation on the variety of species around her home, ranging from dusky leaf monkeys, stork billed kingfisher, praying mantis, and various butterflies and dragonflies. “The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses.” I always remember this quote from Richard Louv, as his book “Last Child in the Woods” tells us how important it is to save our children from nature-deficit order which is discouraging healthy childhood growth. It is equally significant for us to understand the true value of natural environment we are living with, in order to practice self-sufficiency as the economy is human centric rather emphasizing on the sustainable development we need to adapt eventually. While I am sure that the energy pyramid is nothing new to everyone, but what you need to teach yourself is to overcome your behavioural excuses because your little actions make a huge impact collectively to Mother Nature, which sustains the only planet that is habitable for your future generation. Firstly, understand your household environmental footprint, and then start being the change you want to see.

For more information of COOLTEK House, kindly log on to www.cooltek.org or email cooltek.my@gmail.com

Works Cited

[1] A. F. Cruez, “Why Water Rationing?,” The Sun Daily, [Online]. Available: http://www.thesundaily.my/news/1001710.
[2] V. D. Lucia, “Polluter Pays Principle,” The Encyclopedia of Earth, [Online]. Available: http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/155292/.
[3] C. f. R. o. t. E. o. Disasters, “Annual Disaster Statistical Review 2012: The Numbers and Trends,” [Online]. Available: http://reliefweb.int/report/world/annual-disaster-statistical-review-2012-numbers-and-trends.
[4] B. McKibben, “Do The Math,” 350.org, [Online]. Available: http://math.350.org/.
[5] C. Tracker, “Unburnable Carbon – Are the World’s Financial Markets carrying a Carbon Bubble,” [Online]. Available: http://www.carbontracker.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2011/07/Unburnable-Carbon-Full-rev2.pdf.
[6] CETDEM, “CACCET 2007 Creating Awareness on Issues related to Climate Change,” Centre for Environment, Technology & Development, Malaysia, [Online]. Available: http://cetdem.org.my/wordpress/?page_id=2763.
[7] TNB, “RM20 Electricity Subsidy for Residential,” [Online]. Available: http://www.tnb.com.my/residential/discounts-rebates-and-offers/rm20-government-subsidy.html.
[8] S. Sorrell, “Jevon’s Paradox revisited: The Evidence for Backfire from Improved Energy Efficiency,” Energy Policy, vol. 37, no. 4, pp. 1456-1469, April 2009.
[9] SEDA, “Surcharge on Electricity Bills for Renewable Energy Fund Revised from 1.0% to 1.6%,” [Online]. Available: www.seda.gov.my.
[10] S. Bacon, “ASEAN Award Report,” COOLTEK House Website, [Online]. Available: http://www.cooltek.org/resources/ASEAN_award/COOLTEK%20ASEAN%20report.pdf.
[11] A. Energy, “Solar Energy,” [Online]. Available: http://www.altenergy.org/renewables/solar.html.
[12] Landartgenerator.org, “Total Surface Area Requred to Power The World,” [Online]. Available: http://landartgenerator.org/blagi/archives/127.