As founder of an established regional energy efficiency (EE) consultancy, Dr Lal Jayamaha has witnessed the gradual maturing of this field in markets ranging from Singapore to Sri Lanka. He talks to Stephen Ng about common reasons for slow uptake of EE and the change in mindset needed to carry Asia towards better energy management.
Dr Lal Jayamaha, founder of regional energy service company (ESCO) LJ Energy, believes that implementing energy efficiency initiatives is the first step towards addressing the increasing demand for energy worldwide.
“Improving energy efficiency where the energy use for a particular application can be significantly reduced requires much less capital expenditure per unit of power or energy than producing renewable energy,” he says. “Also, this energy efficiency results in cost savings for the owner or operator.”
Citing the example of a typical building retrofit, Jayamaha says a saving of up to 30% in energy use can be achieved while still maintaining occupant comfort and building requirements. “Similarly, we can apply energy-efficiency initiatives to reduce energy use in the industrial plant,” he adds.
Only after every avenue has been explored on improving energy efficiency does it make sense to look at production of energy to meet increasing demand, says Jayamaha. With energy sources such as fossil fuels depleting fast, it is a matter of time before governments around the world to reevaluate how they manage their energy security.
Jayamaha was in Malaysia earlier this year as a panel speaker at a Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) Institute Sultan Iskandar seminar on retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency in Kuala Lumpur. Originally from Sri Lanka and now based in Singapore, Jayamaha has over 25 years’ experience in the field of energy management and is the author of Energy Efficient Building Systems, published by McGraw-Hill. His company, which provides consultancy for energy efficiency and green building certification projects, has offices in Malaysia, Singapore, India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Some landmark buildings they have worked on include Singapore’s Esplanade Theatres on the Bay and Harbourfront Centre, and The Mines shopping mall in Malaysia.
Singapore’s Esplanade Theatres on the Bay are among the landmark projects that Jayamaha has worked on (photo credit: istockphoto)
Jayamaha believes that energy efficiency alone, however, will not be sufficient without turning to more renewable energy. “A mix of energy efficiency and renewable energy (RE) options would therefore need to be adopted to meet future energy needs,” he says.
“The rise in energy prices is inevitable. Even if there is still enough fossil fuel to last for another century, the price increase has actually helped us in our efforts to combat global warming by curbing the increase in use of fossil fuels. We have to think about cutting down on usage of fossil fuels while focusing on improving efficiency.”
In Jayamaha’s view, industry players in a non-efficient system focus on meeting the increasing demand for power by generating electricity from cheaper fossils fuel without looking at how to plug leakages or sourcing for long-term solutions using renewable energy.
“They are comfortable with what they are doing as power producers but they fail to see the future where the supply of fossil fuels of any kind may be adversely affected due to a worldwide overdemand,” he says.
“In Asia, energy-efficiency projects are undertaken purely for commercial reasons or cost savings, as opposed to, for example, in Europe and the US, where environmental concerns and corporate social responsibility (CSR) are also major drivers.
“This trend in Asia is expected to change over the years due to external influences such as the presence of European manufacturing companies who have large production plants in Singapore. These companies are undertaking energy-efficiency projects as part of their corporate guidelines without thinking of the cost savings aspects. Such practices will gradually influence the market and is expected to have a positive effect,” he says.
What is encouraging, however, is that across the globe, the current high energy costs are a significant incentive to encourage energy conservation and energy efficiency. “The push for improving energy efficiency varies from country to country, but Singapore is ahead of many countries in the region in pushing for energy efficiency.”
Jayamaha says that is because the government has become the major driver of the industry. “For example, in Singapore, the National Environment Agency (NEA) provides up to 50% reimbursement on the cost of an energy audit and that has been a great incentive, judging by the response,” Jayamaha says. “Government incentives, in general, can be in the form of reimbursement of cost and tax rebates to boost energy efficiencies.”
Malaysia, he adds, is following closely behind Singapore. “Currently, it is about five years behind Singapore in the energy-efficiency industry. Many other countries like Sri Lanka are about ten years behind Singapore, but at the rate at which the energy-efficiency industry is moving in those countries, they will catch up with the rest in five to ten years.”
Reasons for resistance
One of the major reasons why energy-efficiency initiatives have not taken off is because owners of buildings and industrial plants say they do not have time for energy-saving initiatives. “It is either considered a low priority or totally not a priority item at all,” Jayamaha says. “While the industry has been growing steadily, the pace is not encouraging.”
A few reasons have been identified. According to Jayamaha, some building and facility managers have been very defensive. “They are worried that the savings opportunities uncovered by energy consultants will reflect badly on their competence or will uncover their faults,” he says.
In some cases, it is also due to incompetence in the energy-efficiency consultancy industry. “Many engineers in the industry work for one or two years in a company that has a reputable or experienced energy consultant, then leave to work elsewhere,” he says. Unfortunately, these brief stints are often not sufficient to produce competent energy consultants. “They are only able to prescribe routine or simple solutions, leading to reduced market confidence.”
A third reason has to do with economics. Jayamaha says a number of energy-efficiency projects are driven purely by short-term commercial interest. “Many look only at projects which have payback periods of less than two years. As such, many major energy-saving opportunities which have long-term impacts are overlooked.”
He believes that education is the key to overcoming these obstacles. “We have to create more awareness of the benefits of energy retrofits and about incentives from the government.”
Dr Lal Jayamaha (photo credit: GPA Photo)
Biodata of Dr Lal Jayamaha
• Founder and director of LJ Energy Pte Ltd
• BSc (First Class Honours) Mechanical Engineering, University of London; MEng and PhD, University of Singapore
• Unilever (5 years of a total of 8 years in the industry)
Post-doctoral specialisation: Energy management. Has been team leader for many major energy audits and energy retrofits in Asia
Other qualifications and memberships:
• SCEM (Certified energy manager)
• LEED AP (Accredited professional – USA)
• Professional engineer (PE)
• Chartered engineer (UK)
• Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, UK
• Member of the American Society for Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)