Monday, July 30, 2012

What and how are sinkholes formed?

Remember the tropical storm Agatha that hit Central America in 2010? Among the nations in the region, Guatemala was hit hardest, with at least 92 deaths, 54 people missing and 59 injured, as reported by CNN. More than 100,000 people were evacuated.

In May 2010 incident, a vast hole appeared overnight in the heart of Guatemala City, swallowing an entire three-storey building, a neighbouring house apart from human casualties.

Huge sinkhole caused by Tropical Storm Agatha in Guatemala City, May 2010. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

What are sinkholes?

The Guatemala sinkhole measured over 18m across and 100m deep, and the enormous void is a dramatic example of a geological phenomenon known as a sinkhole.

Sinkholes occur across the globe, and although huge, the Guatemalan sinkhole pales in comparison to some others. For example, at up to 352m wide and 314m deep, the four Sarisarinama sinkholes in Venezuela are so large that forests have sprung up within their depths, complete with ecosystems that are very different from the surrounding terrain. It is not known when these holes appeared - they were first spotted, from a plane, in 1961.

One of the four Sarisarinama sinkholes in Venezuela. Photo: Epinoma

How are they formed?

In most cases, for a sinkhole to occur, the geological composition of the earth must be just right. The topsoil must be soluble enough to allow water to drain through it, and the bedrock below porous enough to absorb the liquid. Over time, this water begins to erode the limestone or carbonate bedrock from the bottom up, forming a cave, the roof of which supports the soil above.

As happened in Guatemala City, very heavy rainfall can then saturate the topsoil to the point where the roof of the cave will collapse without warning.

Water erosion acting in this manner causes most sinkholes, but some can also be caused by human interference, or by other geographical factors.

Illustration of how sinkhole forms. Source: Daily Express, July 29 2012

A soluble layer of clay and topsoil enables water to pass through to underlying rock. Eventually the rock is dissolved, forming a cave. Over time, the roof of this cave collapses to form a sinkhole.

Sinkholes can also be caused by man?

Not all sinkholes are natural geological occurrences.

Human activities and practices have also been implicated in sinkholes. For example when natural water drainage patterns are changed or diverted, the upward pressure of water may not keep the surface stable, which can result in sinkholes.

So, in the name of development and hunger for energy, when we go about doing some cracking jobs on mother earth (e.g. mining and oil explorations) do consider about the natural and environmental impacts of those activities.

Sunday, July 29, 2012's for everybody!

You mean 'light'?

Solar is for everyone
"'s for Everybody!" - The US Solar Institute.

Say each panel is a 185W module, the 12-module solar array would give the family total 2.22kWp of sun power. Enough to power up small appliances during the day and quick enough to charge storage battery for night use. Juice should be good to last the night watching their favourite satellite channel.

Wished that was the case. But no.

I got this from The US Solar Institute fb page. Obviously the photo was photoshopped, but I think US Solar Institute got the message through - solar is for everybody. I mean...the sunshine.

Happy weekend, enjoy the London Games. Watched Italy beat the United States by a single point (219 - 218) to take the Gold in archery, Men's Team event.

Friday, July 27, 2012

1Malaysia Pad will struggle to keep up

Touted to be the first Malaysia made 7-inch Android tablet, 1Malaysia Pad, or 1Mpad was announced in May 2012 with an introductory price of RM999 (US$330). However, until today there is no news yet of its release to the market. It would be very interesting to read review of the so-called 5,000 units already sold so far, as reported by Harian Metro.

You will find this at the landing page of Maltech Pro Sdn Bhd's website

During the launching, 1Mpad manufacturer provided only a glimpse of the tablet PC specifications:

Price                        : RM999 (introductory price for the first 5,000 units)
Screen size              : 7-inch
Operating system      : Android 2.3, Gingerbread
Storage capacity       : TBA
Mobile connectivity    : WiFi, 3G
Camera                    : 3 MP
Announced               : May 2012
Availability                : available now for pre-order

Some notable alternatives:

1) MyTec MYTAB T25 - not in the market yet

This Malaysian made tablet PC is scheduled to be released and available in Malaysia market before Hari Raya Aidilfitri and is expected to be retailed much lower than the 1Mpad.

Mytec Mobile's soon to be released MYTAB T25

MYTAB T25 Specifications/features

Price                        : RM699 - RM799 (expected)
Screen size              : 7-inch, Capacitive touch screen
Operating system      : Android 4.0.3, Ice Cream Sandwich
Storage capacity       : 8GB (internal)
Mobile connectivity    : WiFi, (support 3G modem)
Camera                    : Dual camera, (unspecified resolution)
Announced               : July 2012
Availability                : Before Aidilfitri (August 2012)

Other features:-
Google Play Store - up to 450,000 Apps
Quick Office - MS Excel, Word & Powerpoint
Support bluetooth voice call
Support keyboard plug-in

2) Samsung GALAXY Tab 2 (7.0) - improved version.

Samsung's new Galaxy Tab 2, 7.0

Samsung’s first Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)-powered tablet offers a variety of new and improved Android OS features. An upgraded Android Market enables access to more than 400,000 applications which can be enjoyed across phones or tablets.

Key Features of the Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0)

Price                        : RM999 (WiFi only)
                                : RM1,299 (WiFi + 3G)
Screen size              : 7-inch, Multi-touch screen
Processor                 : 1GHz Dual-Core processor, 1GB RAM
Operating system      : Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich
Storage capacity       : 16GB (Internal), microSD expansion up to 32GB
Mobile connectivity    : WiFi, 3G, Bluetooth 3.0
Camera                    : 3.15 MP
Announced               : Feb 2012
Availability                : Now

3) Google Nexus 7 Tablet

Price                        : $199 (RM630) for the 8GB storage &  $249 (RM790) for 16G version
Screen size              : 7-inch, TFT active matrix (LED backlight)
Processor                 : 1.3 GHz Quad-core, Nvidia Tegra 3, 1GB RAM
Operating system      : Android 4.1, Jelly Bean
Storage capacity       : 8GB / 16 GB
Mobile connectivity    : NFC, Bluetooth, WiFi
Camera                    : 1.2 MP
Announced               : 27 June 2012
Availability                : TBA (available on pre-order)
More about              : Google Nexus 7

There are other lesser known brands but similarly specced (with the 1Mpad) in the local market such as CSL, and few China-made tablet PCs. Choices are abundant, some with better features than the 1Mpad, so, we will not be too surprised if it struggle to make an impact. Perhaps it will not even be hitting the ground outside a pre-determined market (students, etc), without government intervention.

The money is yours; it's your choice.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

London Olympic medals the most expensive yet!

The Olympic 2012 starts on Friday, so let's check out the coveted gold medals.

This year's Olympic gold medal weighs about 410g and contains only 6 g of gold or, about 1.34% of its weight. But the doubling in prices of gold and silver since the 2008 Games in Beijing ensure that the medals are the most expensive in Olympic history.

2012 Olympic medals
The gold medal consists of 1.34% gold, 92.5% silver and 6.16% copper.
Image: AFP/

The gold, silver and copper, mined by global mining giant Rio Tinto in Mongolia and the United States are now kept in tight security at the Tower of London. The eight tonnes haul arrive at the tower on July 2.

    No. of medals           : 4,700 for Olympic and Paralympic
    Gold medal weight   : 410 g
    Gold content             : 6 g
    Gold medal diameter: 85 mm
    Thickness       : 7 mm
    Designed by   : British artist David Watkins
    Maker             : Royal Mint (also producer of Britain's currency)
    Front              : Greek goddess of victory, Nike
    Reverse         : London Games logo & star motif

By comparison:-
  • Beijing 2088 gold medal weighs 200 g. As heavy as your typical Blackberry set.
  • Vancouver Winter Games 2010 gold medal was 576 g in weight! (that's like hanging an iPad on your neck)

  • By today's silver and gold prices, the Gold Medal cost about RM2,000. But the actual net worth is priceless.

    Over 750,000 homes in Australia now have rooftop solar

    Australia is seeing a steady growth in the solar market.

    The latest figures released by Sustainable Energy Association of Australia (SEA) shows that more than 750,000 homes now feature solar photovoltaic panels. This brings total capacity, on home rooftops, to about 1.67 gigawatts(GW).

    Small-scale solar PV. File picture:

    The rate of installation slowed from 2011 after most states wound up their FIT schemes, but current trends shows that 600 MW is set to be added in 2012. In the next 12 months, Australia is forecasted to add another million houses with solar PV installed on their rooftops, with a capacity of over 2.3 GW.

    Inspiring Australia

    The State of Queensland remains the biggest in terms of installed capacity with 475 MW (see Table 1 below), followed by New South Wales with 435 MW. Queensland was one of the last states to wind back its FIT tariff, but gave installers and households approximately 12 months for a less troublesome transition to the new system.

    Table 1: Numbers and installed capacity of solar, as at June 2012.
    Figures derived from SEA website

    The average system sizes recorded in June 2012 are around 2.84 kW and are expected to grow.

    Back home, we have the FIT tariff and incentive by SEDA Malaysia that targets around 2,000 houseowners  in solar power investment this year, and 10,000 in 2013, which could earn them an average of RM500 monthly for 21 consecutive years. Of course this figure is a dwarf compared to Australia's three quarters of a million houses.

    Australia's population as at December 2011 is around 22.6 million (ABS) with 1 million houses installed with solar PV this year. In comparison, our total population is around 28.6 million (Dec 2011) with probably less than 2,000 houses with solar PV. The climate and geographical location of Malaysia is better suited for solar power industry compared to a slightly temperate country like Australia, and lesser sun-radiated country like Germany.

    We are very much at infancy stage but with the right approach, there is no stopping us from achieving similar ratio as that of Australia's. Very soon, for every 22 houses in Australia, there will be at least 1 with solar PV installed on its rooftop.

    Do yo think you can see a solar PV system on a single rooftop in a 200-house housing estate anywhere in Malaysia? Take a walk sometime and observe.

    Sustainable Energy Association of Australia (SEA)
    Sustainable Energy Development Authority, Malaysia (SEDA)

    Power outage: SESB vs SEB

    I read with great interest a comment made by one of Daily Express readers published on July 22, 2012. If you still have your weekend copy, you can find it in the forum section.

    A comparison was made on the two separate power outages in Sabah and Sarawak which happened in April 2012 and July 2012 respectively. It stresses the big gap in terms of how the situations were handled and of how much SESB is alleged to be lagging behind SEB. An interesting compilation is summarised as follow:

    Daily Express, July 22

    Just to clarify, SEB is Sarawak Energy Berhad, not as quoted, and it is the holding company that owns SESCO which generate, transmit, distribute and supply electricity throughout Sarawak. In a way, SEB is like TNB while SESB is like SESCO. But, leaving the organisational structure alone, every utility company has the same responsibility, that is to give the utmost care and service to its customers. After all what is quality if the bar on customer satisfaction is never reached.

    I will leave it to you the readers to decipher the above information but to be fair to SESB, they did apologise promptly the next day during the 30 April 2012 massive power outage. The press release to offer the consumers thorough explanation was made much later and I suppose the writer was refering to this one when quoting '24 days after the event'.

    Furthermore, 'Other event' should include a consequential load shedding excersice many hours after the initial 16-hours power outage on April 30. SESB was struggling to stabilise the power supply to a number of bigger consumers in the West Coast, particularly in Tuaran area. In our case there were places (end users) that had their power supply normalised (totally) the next day.

    People can give explanation and choose to disagree, but from the comparison table, we can - without digging further - make some conclusions, or at least perception, among others:

    1. Capacitive Voltage Transformers, CVT, contrary to what SESB mentioned in its press release, can cause little disruption to the supply of power.
    2. We know that SESB is continuously upgrading its transmission/generation capacity, but we perceive here that compared to Sarawak and West Malaysia, it still has a lot to catch up.
    3. Excess in power generated does not guarantee fail-safe operations. SESCO has ample safety margin in its power generation capacity but other factors will still cause outage. Note however, that they will have the luxury of better back up from other sources. Hence, the lesser power disruptions.
    4. I have this nagging feeling that we in Sabah are 'fire fighting' rather than doing Planned Preventive Maintenance. The SEB case showed that we can carry out maintenance (unplanned emergency, or planned parts replacement) without putting the whole power network out of service. In other words, don't put the whole State without power just because of one small equipment failure.

    A copy of the SESB press release pertaining to the massive power outage has been stored in this blog for future reference.

    Let's hope for a blackout-free weekend ahead.

    **UPDATE**: Responses by SESB as well as the general public - in the internet or print media - will be quoted/recorded in the Comment section. Do check it out.

    Tuesday, July 24, 2012

    SEDA targets 2,000 houseowners in Solar Power investment this year

    A fortnight ago SEDA told newsmen in Putrajaya that it is targeting 2,000 house owners to invest in solar power through the feed-in tariff incentive. This is the non-industrial portion of the Solar PV quota for renewable energy sources which consist of four, namely Biomass, Small Hydro, Solar PV and Biogas.

    Solar panels must be tilted to the correct orientation towards the sun. Photo:

    What is home Solar Power investment

    Solar PV system is installed on your rooftop, you pay the initial investment and sign a contract with the utility (TNB, SESB, etc) for 21 years. Power generated from your rooftop would be sold to the utility at a premium rate. There is a feed-in tariff mechanism that governs this. Application is by online balloting and the process is free from human intervention.

    A quick glance at SEDA portal showed that response for the individual FIT application is not very encouraging. This could partly be due to the financial constraint and the ability of the interested individuals to come up with the necessary down payment.

    Interesting thing to note is the statement by the Chairman that the 2,000 quota is also open to house owners in Sabah. Previously Sabah quota has been suspended due to non-participation of the Sabahans in the 1% levy on their electricity bills.

    Read the full article:
    Putrajaya, July 13. 
    The Sustainable Energy Development Authority (SEDA) has targeted 2,000 houseowners this year, and 10,000 the next, to invest in solar power which could earn the latter an average of RM500 monthly for 21 consecutive years.

    Its chairman, Tan Sri Dr Fong Chan Onn said, each house which had to be installed with solar panels could generate four kilowatts of power for sale to Tenaga Nasional Berhad. The biggest encumberance for mega participation in the renewable energy investment was the financial capital involved in the installation of the
    project, he said.

    "One kilowatt would incur a cost of RM10,000, so for four kilowatts, RM40,000.

    "To encourage owners of terraced house, bungalows and low-cost houses, SEDA is in discussion with some commercial banks to ease the loan process," he said in a media conference here today.

    Nevertheless, he said, despite the high investment, homeowners could expect to get back their capital after six years. Dr Fong said the 2,000 quota would be opened next month to houseowners in the peninsula and Sabah.

    Number of the day: 923,300 people in Sabah are non-Malaysians

    I don't know about you but for me this is very disturbing.

    About 923,300 out of 3.12 million of the population is about 30%. Or almost one third of the people walking among us are non-Malaysian. They can be expatriates, valid passport holders, registered workers, or at the worst illegal immigrants. Refer to a comprehensive geographical population distribution in my previous article.

    According to the latest census in 2012, Sabah , with 3.12 million people, is the third most populous state in Malaysia, after Selangor and Johor.

    It is interesting how Sabah quickly overtook Sarawak, the biggest state in Malaysia, in terms of population growth between 1970 and 2010. The following table is a summary of an article published in the Daily Express, July 13, 2012:

      1970   2010        Increase

    The following is the statistics of Sabah population gathered from the Daily Express, DE, publication, July 13, 2012, page 10. I have quoted my source; in case that you disagree, the Department of Statistics is the place to go.

                   1991              2000              2010
      plus Muslim Bumiputera48,36569,014               NA
      Other Bumiputeras246,735                NA448,800
      Other Races180,433133,766148,700

              NA - figures not available

    Compared to National Population Growth

    The annual national population growth is about 2% (The Star Online, July 12, 2012), while Sabah registered a growth rate of about 2.1% in 2010. However, between 1980 and 1991 (DE) Sabah registered a 'population explosion' of 6.54%.

    1991 - 2000 : 2.97%
    1980 - 1991 : 6.54%

    No state in Malaysia ever registered population growth of such magnitude!

    Saturday, July 21, 2012

    What is your Household Electricity Use?

    On average, Malaysia’s per household electricity consumption is 251 kWh per month. In terms of carbon dioxide emission, this is translated to release of 171.68 kg of CO2 per household per month.

    Compare your annual electricity consumption with the world's biggest economy, the United States, and the renewable energy leader, Germany. Illustrated in the following histogram:

    Original chart by I modified it to include Malaysia in the comparison.

    Note that there's little need for air conditioning in Germany compared to the United States, but air conditioning only accounts for about 20% of U.S. household electricity consumption. Leaving the air-con out of the equation makes it 9,200 kWh vs. 3,100 kWh.

    Malaysia electricity consumption is averagely 3,012 kWh per household per year or 251kWh per month. The following following SESB electricity bill shows electricity consumption for that month is 472kWh or 5664 kWh annualised.

    SESB electricity bill: 472 kWh/month is above the national average of 251 kWh

    If you want to calculate how much carbon dioxide you release every month, take your monthly utility bill and look for the kWh figure as shown in the photo above. Multiply that with 0.684 and you get the amount of CO2 emission as a result of your energy consumption.

    In this case about 322 kg of CO2 (472kWh x 0.684) is release to the environment by this household. Every one kilowatt hour (kWh) used releases 0.684 kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) emission, the gas that contributes to the green house effect, blamed for global warming.

    You now know where you stand, and if everyone plays their role by taking steps to ensure that they are using the least amount of energy possible, it will make a big difference.

    Further readings and references: 
    1) Cooling appliances uncool for environment -
     2) Analysis of Residential Electricity Consumption: Is Reform Needed?

    Thursday, July 19, 2012

    EPF withdrawal stays at 55

    I tried not to be overly critical to the people (hence the Government) who manage and run the country. In fact, you can find nothing in my previous 300 plus postings that is slanderous in nature. But the manner in which the current EPF issues is handled is quite ridiculous, or un-assuring if you like. Nobody seem to be assertive enough to give confirmation.

    Let see what the executives responsible for handling it, have to say:
    1. Human Resource Minister Datuk Seri Dr S Subramaniam advised EPF subscribers not to believe in rumours or speculations that those from the private sector could only make their EPF withdrawal after they had reached 60 years old. No decision has been made yet.. (June 18, 2012. Kuala Lumpur).
    2. Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Donald Lim Siang Chai said “It is a consequential move. Once we raise the minimum retirement age, we have to raise the age of EPF withdrawal as well,”. Decision has been made...only a matter of time before the amendment is made.(The Star Online, July 17,2012)

    This is what EPF Public Relations Manager, Nik Effendi Nik Jaafar said in today's local media, Daily Express:- "EPF withdrawal stays at 55 even if the retirement age is extended to 60 years old"

    Image capture is appended herewith, so that you can quote me.

    Daily Express, July 19, 2012

    So, which is which? A little clarification is needed. Thank you.

    Tuesday, July 17, 2012

    Retirement age is raised to 60 - Consequently EPF withdrawal is at age 60

    Because retirement age is raised from 55 to 60, full withdrawal of your EPF can only be made upon attaining age 60. At least that is what I understand from what I read in the local mainstream media today.

    Last month, Human Resources Minister, Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam clarified to the media in Kuala Lumpur that no decision has been made by the government on the age limit for the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) withdrawal for private sector employees yet. He advised EPF subscribers not to believe in rumours or speculations that those from the private sector could only make their EPF withdrawal after they had reached 60 years old.

    Today, The Star Online reported that Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Donald Lim Siang Chai said 'the decision had been made and it was only a matter of time' before the amendment would come into effect.

    If you ask me, I would like to see options. If I retire at age 55 instead of the (would be) mandatory retirement age of 60, I want to be able to withdraw my contributions at that age. Not everyone would want to retire at 60, mind you.

    Leaving us with no option is one thing. Government ministers issuing contradicting statements about the amendment is not less than embarrassing. If you force me to keep my money with EPF for additional 5 years, then I won't stage a war with you. Just do it professionally without making yourselves look like a dis-organised institution.

    Re-cap of The Star Online report:
    Full EPF withdrawal at 60
    July 17, 2012

    PETALING JAYA: The age for full withdrawal from the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) by contributors will be raised to 60 years and partial withdrawal to 55.

    The planned amendment to the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) Act 1991 follows the passing of the Minimum Retirement Age Bill 2012 in Parliament last month which extends the minimum retirement age for private sector employees from 55 to 60.

    “It is a consequential move. Once we raise the minimum retirement age, we have to raise the age of EPF withdrawal as well,” said Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Donald Lim Siang Chai.

    He said the decision had been made and it was only a matter of time before the amendment would come into effect. Currently, contributors can make partial EPF withdrawal at 50 and full withdrawal of their savings upon retirement at 55.

    However, Lim said they were looking at providing a transition period for contributors who have already planned to withdraw their contributions within the next few years.

    “We have not finalised the transition period, but it will be between three and five years,” he said adding that during this period, contributors who reached the age of 55 could still make full withdrawals.EPF contributors had expressed concern about whether the age for full EPF withdrawal would be raised.

    You can read further at:

    Monday, July 16, 2012

    Can BioPro Diesel be the green energy alternative?

    Few days ago Bernama carried an interesting article about BioPro Diesel, claimed to a breakthrough fuel invented by researchers from University of Malaya. If it is true to what the BioPro is billed for, this could probably solve the issues of palm oil wastes and pollution related to wastes disposal.

    BioPro Diesel
    Photo: Faculty of Engineering, News & Events - UM

    The super-clean diesel

    BioPro diesel is derived from palm oil waste through bioprocess, i.e. using enzymes in a low pressure, low temperature process.

    Codename      : Biopro Diesel TM, or BPD100
    Cost               : RM1.50/litre
    Unique feat     : 100% from palm oil waste (compare: biodiesel is 80% diesel and 20% palm oil)
    Compliance    : Euro 2M and Euro 4M emission standards
    Acid content   : 0.2 mg/KOH/g
                          (compare: other EURO 2M/4M compliant diesel have recorded a max. 0.25 mg/KOH/g)

    Comparative studies between BioPro Diesel and conventional diesel

    Vehicle used                     : 10-year-old Mitsubishi pickup
    Method                             : driven to travel 100 km
    Using conventional diesel   : costs RM28 (US$9)
    Using BioPro (BPD100)     : costs RM16 (US$5)
    Saving                              : up to 45%
    Engine RPM                     : lower by 500rpm when using BioPro Diesel

    Others advantages:
          - lesser soot, less polluting
          - will not clog fuel filters
          - can be used in any diesel engines with no modification needed

    Big potential

    Malaysia currently has about 420 palm oil mills mostly located in Johor, Sabah and Selangor, the potential is huge. UM scientists estimated that based on BioPro price of RM1.50/liter, total revenue from these palm oil mills could be up to RM40 billion per year.

    The investment? RM12 million is needed for a palm oil affluent process plant to produce 25 tonnes of BioPro diesel daily. The byproducts created during the extraction process can be used as fertilizer and water, which can then be reused at other industry applications.

    TheGreenMechanics' two cents: If this alternative fuel is super-clean, cheaper and can readily replace the conventional fossil diesel, they should speed it up and let us start using it immediately. Don't limit ourself to just the palm oil effluent, let's use some end-product palm oil as well.

    References: further readings at -
    Bernama -
    Faculty of Engineering, UM -

    China won the 7th Sabah International Folklore Festival (SIFF 2012) competition

    Young Chinese dancers did it again. Emcee, Gan Po Tiau announced that the troupe from China also won the Prime Award last year.

    The dance troupe called Zhu Hai Hansen Dancing Group did enough to convince the jurors that they are the team to beat when they emerged champions in the 18-country folkdance competition. I don't quite get the point of competing a folkdance against another, as every single one is unique, beautiful in its way. But I suppose the organiser has another idea and perhaps it is a way to put some sort of pressure on every competing troupe.

    SIFF winners
    Chinese contingent receiving their trophy

    Day-1: cheeky performance


    Day-2: love story

    Day-2: One of the tricks up their sleeves during the performance


    Many, many congratulation to the victorious team!

    See you again next year.

    Rooftop solar PV

    The picture below is how it looks like for the US Coast Guard rooftop solar arrays in Puerto Rico. They are among 2.89MW of solar, still to be completed, made possible by innovative financing.

    Need one for your home?

    Renovated Coast Guard rooftops with solar arrays. Photo: Energystorageblog

    We too, have an innovative financing on feed-in tariff, FIT, for solar PV installations on our rooftops that works on the principle of forced-purchase by the utility companies for all energy produced and that will go on for 21 years. Good retirement plan if you like.

    Downside is, everyone (big domestic and industrial energy consumer) will be the ones financing this FIT even if you don't necessarily get to install one on your rooftop. Never mind, being the big spender that you are, you'd probably won't need it, so, just give that quota to the needy.

    About the Coast Guard solar PV

    The $50million project is undertaken by Schneider Electric for installation of 2.89 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic panels on renovated Coast Guard rooftops over a 13-month period. The company is constructing 300 solar PV systems on the facilities resulting in guaranteed production of more than 4,000,000 kWH-hours per year.

    The photovoltaic electricity production, combined with new cool roofs that will reduce the annual cooling load of the buildings by 3.9 billion BTU, will result in an overall reduction of utility-purchased electricity by an estimated 40%.

    That's just cool!

    Renewable energy solutions in Puerto Rico helps the Coast Guard meet federal mandates, reduces green house gas emissions, stabilises energy costs, and helps create green collar jobs in Puerto Rico. This project will have a significant impact on the industry there as there will be spin off business activities along with the solar jobs.


    Sunday, July 15, 2012

    Sabah International Folklore competition final is here!

    Today is the final day of the Sabah Internationla Folklore Festival 2012 and the international category of the competition will be announced in about 4 hours' time.

    Siff 2012
    Member of Taiwan's Aboriginal Youth Folk Dance Team of Szu-chen Junior High School

    Watch this space; I'll update the winning troupe as soon as it is announced tonight.

    Till then, happy weekend!

    Friday, July 13, 2012

    The 10 Most Disliked Companies In America

    I adopted this from what was published in the Business Insider last month, with which it quoted a sad but true reflection of what causes a company to perform below expectation:

    "Where companies have little or no competition or where customers encounter barriers to switching among competitors in terms of cost and/or convenience, companies may not need to satisfy their customers to the same degree in order to keep them." - BI

    How true.

    On the same token, utility companies in Malaysia - corporatised and privitised alike - seem to trend in the same manner as those of the United States',  perhaps worst of. It would be very interesting to see results of  study carried out by independent entities on customer satisfaction here.

    Let's look at what Business Insider compiled in its publication and benchmark against your own experience with companies in Malaysia (well, it says 15 but I prefer to share only the top 10). Suddenly our utility company, Sabah Electricity Sdn Bhd, SESB comes into mind:

    #10 Delta
    Rated 65/100.
    Most of the complaints include customer representatives not responding in a professional manner.

    Since acquiring Northwest airlines in 2008, Delta's consumer satisfaction score decreased rapidly and was at its lowest last year. The airline seems to have worked out some of the kinks last year.

    #9 US Airways
    Rated 65/100.
    Regular complaints include inaccurate billing, failing to notify passengers of flight delays and terrible service.

    One customer says he saw a crew member on a Charlotte to Toronto flight bullying a disabled elderly woman for asking to get her belongings out of a carry-on bag.

    In November 2011, the airline was at the center of a PR nightmare after forcing a passenger to stand for seven hours because of an overweight man seated next to him.

    In the same month, the company was attacked for initially denying a ticket refund to a terminally ill cancer patient.

    #8 American Airlines
    Rated 64/100. The second-worst big airline.
    The legacy airline, whose parent company, AMR Corp. filed for bankruptcy in November 2011, has done a worse job of pleasing passengers than small, low-cost airlines such as Spirit or Frontier.

    In a recent study, American ranked last among 10 major airlines at keeping customers informed, leaving them on hold for an average of 1 hour and 32 minutes and failing to respond to to questions on Twitter.

    One traveler explains her frustration: "American Airlines canceled our flight one day before traveling to Mexico. We had to call and wait for over 30 minutes just to find out our refund will take one to two days. We needed our refund quick to make other arrangements to travel over Easter since they just screwed up our Easter travel. I will never use them again. No wonder they filed bankruptcy."

    #7 Cox Communications (Television Service)
    Rated 63/100.
    According to ACSI, "higher rates and fees for many Cox customers are sapping customer satisfaction."

    One customer said the Atlanta-based company demanded money after changing the contract: "I setup 2yr service w/Cox —1st yr @ $29.99, 2nd @ $49.99.

    Now after 6mon they changed it to 1st 6mon @ $29.99, 2nd 6mon @ $49.99, and 1 year @ 79.99."

    #6 Time Warner Cable
    Rated 63/100.
    Although the cable provider improved marginally since 2011, slow internet speeds, cable outages, disastrous customer service and high rates continue to cause frustration among users.

    One customer vented, "TWC has destroyed my business and doesn't give a damn: I first complained five weeks ago about outages and miserable upload speeds. I need to send large files to clients. I've had two technicians visit, who both found it was in the neighborhood. Today, I found the situation has not changed and am told there's no further work order."

    #5 United Airlines
    Rated 62/100. The worst big airline.
    It's no surprise that United Airlines has been dubbed the "the worst airline in America."

    In March, the carrier generated an unusually high amount of aggravation after a computer switchover following the airline's merger with Continental caused widespread flight delays.

    Poor customer service, flight cancellations and lost baggage are other common gripes.

    One customer wrote, "It's unbelievable! I was charged twice, and I had to wait over an hour on the phone to talk about the overcharge on my credit card. This company has a serious problem. I will never fly United Airlines again!"

    #4 Comcast (Television service)
    Rated 61/100. The second-worst TV service.
    Ever-unpopular media conglomerate Comcast has been blasted for early withdrawals, faulty equipment and unprofessional service technicians.

    One customer complained that a repairman lied about arriving 15 minutes late, another said a Comcast employee left equipment, including plastic wires and clips, all over his front lawn.

    #3 Charter Communications
    Rated 59/100. The worst TV company.
    Poor customer service and unfair billing practices are common complaints about the fourth-largest cable company in the country.

    One customer explained, "The sales rep originally promised us a $42.95 a month for services, with an introductory price of $24.95 for the first 3 months (a savings of $18 a month).

    After the introductory period ended, the company started charging me $56.95, when I finally caught on that they were charging me $14 more per month than what is said on the Work Order (could provide at anytime for proof), he never once mentioned that there will be a $10 more per month, and now the company says if you have no other cable service with us (Charter Communications), you are to be charged $10 more per month!!"

    #2 Northeast Utilities
    Rated 59/100.
    The company's reputation was severely damaged after two major storms at the end of 2011 caused massive power outages.

    A destructive snow storm last October left hundreds of thousands of homeowners and businesses sitting in the dark without heat for up to two weeks.

    The extensive outages ultimately led to the resignation of the president of Northeast's subsidiary Connecticut Light & Power in November 2011.

    New England's largest utility company is also at the center of a dispute with federal regulators over complaints by several states that it, along with other utilities, "are making excess profit," the AP reported.

    #1 Long Island Power Authority
    Rated 58/100.
    The Long Island Power Authority is currently ranked the lowest in the energy utilities sector. The score plunged 11 percent in April alone.

    Common complaints include rate hikes and overbilling mistakes linked to listing homes as commercial instead of residential. Hurricane Irene also led to widespread outages last August.

    In January, a bill was passed requiring the utility to "undergo comprehensive and regular management and operations audits" and creating a new way for customers to file complaints.

    Reference and sources:
    a) The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI)
    b) The 15 Most Disliked Companies In America by Business Insider

    FIRST GREEN BUILDING: Art Gallery saves big on power

    The Green Building Index (GBI) is Malaysia’s industry recognised green rating tool for buildings to promote sustainability in the built environment and raise awareness about environmental issues and our responsibility to the future generations.

    Sabah Art Gallery Conservation Centre in Kota Kinabalu. Photo by Oliver Majaham/Insight Sabah

    Sabah’s first Green Building is the Art Gallery Conservation Centre located in Jalan Penampang which can save as much as RM400,000 ($125,000) a year in energy. The followings are the brief details of the environmentally-friendly building:

    Building and energy
    Building                    : Sabah Art Gallery Conservation Centre
    Build-type                 : 4-story
    Cost to build             : RM16 million ($5million)
    Location                   : Jalan Penampang, Kota Kinabalu
    Power supply            : Solar + utility, SESB
    Energy saved            : up to 1MWh
    Energy consumption  : RM107,000 per year. Compared to RM480,000/year without the green setup
    Accreditation            : GBI certificate in 2012

    How is energy saved
    It is designed to use natural light and solar panels for lighting and air-conditioning. Energy saving lights switch off by themself when there are no visitors at the art gallery. While the main power supply (SESB) is triggered on days when natural light is lacking or solar panels are unable to cope with the power requirement.

    Water usage
    Water saved               : 330,000 litre/year, or equivalent to 32% of the building water need
    Saving                        : RM297.00 at RM0.90/m3 water tariff
    Water consumption    : 226 litre/day average per person
    Equivalent                  : water saved is enough for 1,460 people per day.

    Currently, Malaysians use an average of 226 litres of water per person daily, which is way above the rest of our ASEAN neighbours. Singaporeans use 154 litres (and intend to lower it to 147 litres by 2020) while the Thais manage with 90 litres.

    Carbon dioxide emission
    Emission               : reduced by 780 tonnes/year
    Equivalent to         : CO2 emitted by 390 people/year
    Benchmark           : 1.8 trillion tonnes of CO2 release will raise the temperature by 1oC


    The original article from the Government portal, Insight Sabah:
    "First green building in Sabah helps fight global warming" - Nurhafizah Yusof & Oliver Majaham

    Sabah’s first green building is helping to stop the world from getting warmer. The 16m-ringgit ($5m) Sabah Art Gallery Conservation Centre can save the government as much as 400,000 ringgit a year in electricity, 297 ringgit in water and cut carbon dioxide emission down by 780 tonnes that will help keep average global warming below 2oC to prevent an environmental disaster.

    Natural lighting from the sky. Photo by Oliver Majaham/Insight Sabah

    “This building can save up to one megawatt of electricity per year,” said Masidi Manjun, minister of tourism, culture and environment, as he received the Green Building Index certificate from Boon Che Wee, chairman of the GBI accreditation panel on June 29.

    The four-storey building at Jalan Penampang is designed to reduce power consumption by using natural light and solar panels for lighting and air-conditioning. Energy saving lights switch off by themself when there are no visitors at the art gallery. And the main power supply is triggered on days when natural light is lacking or solar panels are unable to power lights and air-conditioners.

    Thus electricity consumption will be greatly reduced to 900 kilowatt-hours a day, according to Jennifer Linggi, the curator of the gallery. Power cost will thus be a relatively low 107,000 ringgit a year against about 480,000 ringgit if the building were to run on supply solely from Sabah Electricity Sendirian Berhad, the state’s power company.

    The art gallery will also save about 330,000 litres of water a year by harvesting rainwater to flush toilets, clean the building and water the garden. This represents a saving of 32% of the water need of the building. That is enough water for about 1,500 people. But 330,000 litres cost only 297 ringgit because water at 90 sen per 1,000 litres is comparatively cheap.

    But making the building environmentally friendly will reduce carbon dioxide emission, blamed for global warming, by 780 tonnes a year. That is the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by 390 people every year.

    The figure may not seem significant considering that it takes 1.8 trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide to raise atmospheric temperature by one degree Celsius. But then there are thousands of buildings, many of them many times bigger than the art gallery in Sabah. And taking all the millions of buildings in the world, carbon reduction of the Sabah art gallery is indeed a significant step in the fight against global warming.

    Buildings use up 40% of energy, 12% of water and send 40% of waste to landfill. And they thus are responsible for much of global warming and pollution.

    For more readings, go to Insight Sabah website

    Thursday, July 12, 2012

    Sabah International Folklore Festival 2012 - Part I

    Prelude to the big international event at Sabah Cultural Centre this weekend.

    The 2012 Sabah International Folklore Festival (SIFF) participanting troupes are now in town. The peak of this most anticipated festival is on 14th - 15th July but for the city folks the international troops did some introductory performances on Tuesday at Lintasan Deasoka, or City Square as some call it.

    I arrived a little late and by that time the Indonesian folkdance troupe were done with theirs.

    Egypt: Elsharkia Folkloric Troupe with their amazing horse dance performance

    'Snow white' - mesmerising piece of artistic movement by the troupe from Kazakhstan

    Indonesia is represented by dancers from Sanggar Bedewa Kabupaten Nunukan

    South Korean dancers from Yaewon-Chumsawee Dance Company

    Fast dance - refreshing and can't-stop-smiling performance from Latvia

    'The balancing act' - Team member of the Philippines dancers, Lahing Batangan Dance Troupe 

    Young performers from Sri Lanka's Ranranga Dance Academy

    For more pictures, check out my photoblog.

    The International Folkdance Competition would be held at the Sabah Cultural Centre from July 14-15. For information on the schedule and tickets & venues, refer here.

    See you there!

    Wednesday, July 11, 2012

    National Carbon Disclosure Programme to be developed

    The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, with the assistance of the United Nations Development Programme, has begun conducting a study to develop a National Carbon Disclosure Programme (NCDP).


    When the NCDP is established, companies in the local manufacturing sector will be encouraged to issue accurate accounts of their green house gas emissions. In other words, there will be standards for reporting greenhouse gas inventories.

    NCDP also aims to encourage companies to set emissions reduction targets and to develop effective emissions reduction action plans. The Programme will allow achievements to be measured and to prepare Malaysia for further carbon emissions reductions in the future.

    Minister Datuk Douglas Embas said: "This will facilitate consistency and transparency in GHG (greenhouse gas) accounting and reporting, and simplify and reduce the costs of preparation and compilation,"

    Prime Minister's Hibiscus Award

    The PM's Hibiscus Award is a private sector environmental award for businesses and industries to recognise best environmental and operational practices by companies.

    It is a bi-ennial award jointly awarded by the Business Council for Sustainability and Responsibility Malaysia, Environmental Management and Research Association of Malaysia, Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers and MICCI.

    TheGreenMechanic's two cents: It is hoped that with the establishment of the NCDP, more companies would achieve best environmental and operational practices, and get awarded with the PM's Hibiscus Award.

    Indirectly these companies would have contributed to the reduction of GHG emissions. How about that - branding your company as 'green', get recognition/award, and at the same time save the nature. Sound good?

    Reference: The Star Online, July 10, 2012

    Monday, July 9, 2012

    7th Sabah International Folklore Festival 2012 : Schedule

    Also known as Festival Kesenian Rakyat Antarabangsa Sabah, the seventh edition of this international event is currently ongoing. Scheduled to kick of on July 8, but as we drive through the main venue, Sabah Cultural Centre yesterday there was nothing much going on yet.

    Hunting with blowpipe is one of the rituals during the local ethnic Murut traditional dance.

    I wrote earlier on the competition schedule during theFestival 2012, highlighting the details of both local folkdance and international folkdance competitions. There will be 18 folk dance troupes from 18 countries showcasing their own unique folk dances and promoting understanding and goodwill through culture. They are from:

    1. Brunei Darussalam
    2. Czech Republic
    3. East Timor
    4. Finland
    5. Latvia
    6. Philippine
    7. Poland
    8. Thailand
    9. South Korea
    10. Sri Lanka
    11. Kuwait
    12. Egypt
    13. Nigeria
    14. China
    15. Indonesia
    16. Taiwan
    17. Papua New Guinea
    18. Kazakhstan

    The following itinerary is the latest information gathered from the local daily, and are not stated initially in the brochure:

    * Cultural Parade, Wisma Budaya to K.K. Community Hall, 10 July 2012

    * Folk Art Exhibition, Ming Garden Hotel, 10 - 15 July 2012

    * Sabah Traditional Food Fair, Sport Complex Penampang, 10 - 15 July 2012

    * Local Folkdance competition, Sabah Cultural Centre Penampang, 11 - 12 July 2012

    * Prime Show, Magellan Sutera Harbour, 13 July 2012

    * International Folkdance Competition, Sabah Cultural Centre Penampang, 14 - 15 July 2012

    KK City Folklore Parade (10 July 2012)

    The cultural parade is jointly organised by Sabah Cultural Board (SCB) and Kota Kinabalu City Hall (DBKK), and is to be flagged off at Wisma Budaya starting at 1.30pm by SCB Chairman, Datuk Wenses Anggang.

    From Wisma Budaya, the parade will proceed to Lintasan Deasoka for 'pocket show' via Jalan Laiman Diki and Jalan Tugu, in front of City Hall. All the participating international troops and local cultural groups are expected to participate in the parade. Only the international troops will perform in Lintasan Deasoka though.

    The parade will then proceed through Gaya Street and will end at Kota Kinabalu Community Centre. As such, roads mentioned above will be closed in stages to make way for the troops.

    This is actually a very good opportunity for the public and especially photographers to make full coverage of the event. I've done one earlier this year during the Universiti Malaysia Sabah annual parade along the streets of Kota Kinabalu.

    Lastly, tickets for the cultural shows are available at:
    1. Wisma Budaya Building (088-268836)
    2. Sabah Cultural Centre, Penampang (088-715464)

    Why do we get electric shocks from static?

    Static builds up on the surface of good electrical insulators like glass, Teflon, paper, plastics, to name a few. Such materials build up charge readily because they don't conduct it away.

    Natural example of static discharge. Shot with Nikkor 24-120 F4 at 120mm | f/7.1 | 30sec | ISO-200 |

    It is called static because accumulated charge gets ever greater until something comes along to conduct it back to earth. We become that conductor when we feel the shock from touching the object. If the accumulated charge become so great, the discharge through the conductor - in the case that it is the human body - can be fatal.

    Sunday, July 8, 2012

    Renewable energy from acacia tree

    The Acacia Manguim is believed to have originated originated from Australia but later distributed to many South East Asian countries, including Malaysia. The plant is highly adaptable and it can invade secondary forests very fast. In some instances this tree species was blamed for erosion of other hardwood specie in Sabah forest.

    If you travel from Tamparuli to Ranau this plant is a common sight along the road and in particular as you start ascending and nearing Pekan Nabalu, the site to get your first close up view of the beautiful Mount Kinabalu.

    Flower of the Acacia Mangium. | 6mm | f/4.5 | 1/250 sec |

    1MW renewable energy

    Recently a local daily carried a special report about Sabah Softwood Berhad's (SSB) effort to generate 1 megawatt (MW) of renewable energy from the burning of acacia mangium woodchips. The 1 MW is enough to power the entire operations of one of the estates belong to SSB.

    The 1 MW renewable  energy Gasification Plant managed by SSB has been in operation since 2010 and the use of acacia woodchips and  other wastes ensure that the company's operation sites, such as Dumpas Estate achieve almost zero waste.

    More than 25,000ha have been planted with tree species, mainly on acacia mangium
    [Source: SSB website]

    SSB's chipmill is the region's most sophisticated and it is the largest integrated woodchip mill in Sabah and Malaysia. The chipmill is the only mill in the country designed to process high volume of man made forest plantation timber at low cost. The woodchips are mainly exported to Japan, China and a few other countries in South East Asia.

    With a well managed operation, SSB's chipmill received the globally recognised Forest Stewardship Council  - "Chain-Of-Custody" (COC) certification for woodchip manufacturing in Accacia Mangium woodchip products. This COC certification provides a guarantee that the production procedures are in place to track raw materials from the source, all stages of processing and eventual distribution.

    Gasification Plant

    Gasification is a process that converts timber - in the SSB case woodchips - into wood gas, a syngas consisting of atmospheric nitrogen, carbon monoxide, hydrogen, traces of methane, and other gases, which can then be used to power an internal combustion engine or for other purposes.

    In the absence of petroleum, gasification plants can be used to run internal-combustion engines, or gas turbines, using wood which is a renewable resource.

    After Fukushima: Japan eyes clean energy revolution

    Last year Japan was devastated by a massive earthquake, followed by tsunami and the failure of nuclear reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. This was the second largest nuclear disaster after Chernobyl in 1986. As what happened during the WW2, Japan quickly get back on its feet and recovered.

    Landscape of energy production has taken a relook and the Japanese government was quick to look at renewables to supplement the reduced amount of energy obtained from nuclear plants.

    Large-scale solar PV plant in Kyoto. AFP photo through

    Like many other countries, including Malaysia, under the new policy utilities in Japan must buy all electricity produced from green sources such as, wind, geothermal, and solar at premium rates for the next twenty years. This should be good news as Japan, as a big economy, could spur the renewable energy industry particularly solar PV. The expected sudden increase demand could bring down the cost to produce renewable energy.

    Look East Policy is still relevant

    The look east policy during Dr Mahathir's premiership is still very much relevant. The work culture that brought Japan to where it is today must be emulated in order for Malaysia to achieve its high-income, developed nation goal.

    Our Feed-in tariff under the Renewable Energy Act 2010 is 'older' than Japan's similar policy. But while we are still crawling in implementation, Japan is already gearing for massive investment in renewables, and in solar PV alone, there is already indication that Japan is poised to quickly overtake Germany and Italy to become the world's second-biggest market for solar power by creating an estimated $9.6 billion market.

    So, don't just watch them. Take action!

    For further readings:

    Japan eyes clean energy revolution
    -as reported by AFP in, 5/7/2012

    TOKYO, July 4, 2012 (AFP) - Even as Japan begins cranking up its nuclear reactors again, Tokyo has launched a scheme it hopes will spark a green-energy revolution and put the country at the leading edge of renewables.

    The scheme comes as Japan debates its future energy policy, and is squarely aimed at forcing change in the way Japan's enormous -- and powerful -- utility companies operate. The tsunami-sparked meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant in March last year led to the shuttering of Japan's entire stable of reactors.

    They forced Tokyo to turn to expensive fossil fuels to replace the third of the country's electricity the atomic plants had produced. Analysts say despite public fears, nuclear is here to stay for the foreseeable future, but resource-poor Japan must rebalance its energy mix and make greater use of renewables.

    The so-called feed-in tariff could spur a whopping 85-percent rise in solar cell demand in Japan this year alone, according to Nomura Securities, and "trigger a full-scale launch of large solar farms in Japan".

    "New solar cell installation could expand further if the uptake of inexpensive, Chinese-made solar cells accelerates," Nomura analyst Kyoichiro Yokoyama said in a research note. The amount of new solar power capacity that Nomura predicts for Japan this year is equal to about two nuclear reactors.

    "I want to use it as a trigger to fuel the use of renewable energy," Industry Minister Yukio Edano said recently.

    "It is clear that additional cost is necessary to promote greater use of renewable energy and to end our reliance on nuclear plants as soon as possible," he added.

    Japan gets less than two percent of its power from renewable sources, rising to about 10 percent including hydroelectric power, but still below other industrialised nations. As of 2010, Japan's solar power output was about one-fifth that of Germany, while Tokyo was in 12th place globally in terms of wind-power generation.

    Some Japanese firms have already made their move, including electronics giant Toshiba, which said it would build a huge solar plant on the country's disaster-struck northeastern coastline.

    Rival Panasonic said it expected a boost in its solar-power system sales on the back of the new programme, which puts Japan on track to leapfrog Italy as the world's fourth-largest solar market by 2014, behind China, the United States and India, according to Nomura.

    Mobile phone operator Softbank opened a plant in Kyoto at the weekend and has plans to build Japan's biggest solar plant -- in the northern island of Hokkaido.

    "If we keep building solar panels and invest in solar energy, within 20 years it will not only become the safest and the cleanest source of electricity but also the cheapest," Softbank chief Masayoshi Son told reporters.

    A group of Japanese firms led by trading house Marubeni plan to build a large floating experimental wind farm that could supply power for over 100,000 households, Jiji Press has reported. Under the scheme, premiums for different forms of renewable energy vary, but utilities must pay 42 yen (53 cents) per kilowatt hour for solar power, over twice the rate paid to operators in Germany, with generation costs in Japan less than 30 yen per kilowatt hour, Nomura said.

    Those costs are at least three times those of nuclear and fossil-fuel energy, according to government estimates. However nuclear power costs are expected to spike amid heavy compensation and clean-up bills after Fukushima, the world's worst atomic accident in a generation. 

    Critics have opinion of their own

    Critics of the scheme, which came into effect Sunday, say it is too expensive, with most of the extra costs heaped on businesses and households. They say the new contracts are too generous and benefit a small number of green power operators, with few guarantees that they can make it a profitable enterprise and usher in a massive shift for Japan's energy mix. 

    "The 20-year guarantee seems a bit too sweet a deal", said Yasuchika Hasegawa, chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives.

    "The initial incentive is necessary. But five to 10 years should suffice... I hope they will review this plan."