Saturday, 18 January 2014

Sabotage behind Sabah power blackout?

The recent power blackout in Sabah raises several pertinent questions.

 First of all, this type of power blackout is not uncommon in many parts of the world and is known as the cascading failure of power grids or power cascading.

For example, under certain conditions a large power grid can collapse after the failure of a single transformer.

Cascading failure causes power outages and plunges many cities around the world into darkness from time to time.

Some of the major incidences occurred in:

Northeast America in 1965
Southern Brazil in 1999
Italy in 2003
Northeast America in 2003 (2nd major outage)
London in 2003
Northern India in 2012

So, this is not a problem that happened only in Sabah.

But why is it happening frequently? That’s the question that must be answered.

 On 25 Jan 2012: A massive blackout in Sabah and Labuan when a main substation tripped in Beaufort. More than 100,000 people affected.

On 1 May 2012: Pre-dawn fire by explosion at Penampang power distribution centre. Some 500,000 people affected.

On 5 Dec 2012: Generator Malfunction at power plant in Sepanggar. Factories and industrial outlets affected.

On 25 Sept 2013: A series of incidents at 3 major power stations cripple electricity supply. More than 500,000 people affected.

On 17 Jan 2014: Massive blackout occurs and affects more than 500,000 people. 

The press today quoted Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Dr Maximus Johnity Ongkili as saying that based on preliminary findings by Sabah Electricity Sdn Bhd engineers, the blackout should not have happened.

He has directed Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) and the Energy Commission (EC) to carry out an immediate probe.

Now, could this possibly be an act of sabotage?

Since 2012, the State Government has instructed Sabah Electricity to take all necessary precautionary measures to prevent similar incidences.

There was a SOP that determined ways in which power blackouts could be prevented.

But despite all necessary measures in place, the incident took place, leaving the state authorities and power company executives scratching their heads.

To leave no stones unturned, one must look into the stories of the past concerning the issue of power generation in Sabah.

In 2011, the State Government cancelled a RM1.3 billion coal-fired power plant in Lahad Datu following widespread protests.

The Government did this after listening to various groups, residents, NGOs and all kinds of so-called groups advocating environmental issues but actually backed by Opposition parties.

Now, what is wrong with coal?

Coal has long been the biggest source of electricity in the United States. As of to date, around 35% of electricity is generated in United States using coal.

If coal was a terrible choice for generating power as claimed by Malaysian Opposition-backed NGOs, then why would US, with its stringent environmental policies, use coal?  

TNB generates electricity at its Manjung power plant in Perak and a few other stations using coal. It is also building two more coal-fired 1000MW power plants in Manjung to meet increasing demands.

 On one side, the NGOs linked to Opposition parties are objecting the construction of a coal-power plant and on the other hand, are condemning the authorities for power supply problems.

These NGOs are pushing for natural gas powered power plants but that is also a non-renewable energy source (fossil fuel) and in today’s market condition, gas prices are rising sharply and cost significantly more than coal.

Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Hj Aman was recently quoted as saying that the government was looking into new renewable energy derived from wind, solar and geothermal as future energy sources for Sabah.

The state is already building a RM500 million geothermal power plant in Apas Kiri, Tawau and is the first of its kind in Malaysia.

The State Government, under Musa, has bend backwards to accommodate the requests of the people.

But the world over, coal is still king in power generation.

It advantages include its reliability, affordability, abundance, known technologies, safety, and efficiency.

One of the greatest advantages of coal fired plants is reliability.

Coal’s ability to supply power during peak power demand either as base power or as off-peak power is greatly valued as a power plant fuel.

It is with this fact that advanced pulverized coal fired power plants are designed to support the grid system in avoiding blackouts.

Energy produced from coal fired plants is cheaper and more affordable than other energy sources.

Since coal is abundant, it is definitely cheap to produce power using this fuel. Moreover, it is not expensive to extract and mine from coal deposits.

Consequently, its price remains low compared to other fuel and energy sources.

There are approximately over 300 years of economic coal deposits still accessible.

With this great amount of coal available for use, coal fired plants can be continuously fueled in many years to come.

The production and use of coal as a fuel are well understood, and the technology required in producing it is constantly advancing.

Moreover, coal-mining techniques are continuously enhanced to ensure that there is a constant supply of coal for the production of power and energy.

Generally, coal fired plants are considered safer than nuclear power plants. A coal power plant's failure is certainly not likely to cause catastrophic events such as a nuclear meltdown would.

A coal power plant still remains as a cheaper alternative for Sabah Electricity Sdn Bhd (SESB).

This brings us back to issues of sabotage and ‘sly fox’ tactics deployed by the Opposition to whack the state government in the wake of this power blackout.

First, the Opposition cried foul over the planned Lahad Datu coal power plant.

Then when Sabah is struggling to find a solution for its energy problems, they run down the state government for failing to find a solution to its power woes.


Monday, 13 January 2014

Diversion, trial run or act of mischief by street gangs?

There seems to be a continuous attempt by some groups to create chaos in Sabah.

Beginning with the attack by Sulu gunmen in February last year, things have somewhat never been the same when it comes to security.

Then there was the kidnapping of a Taiwanese tourist and the killing of her husband in Pom Pom island resort end of last year.
Then in the wee hours of Saturday, a group of men which the police identified as 'youths' armed with airguns fired ball bearings, causing damages to glass panels and buildings around KK, Penampang, Luyang and Inanam.
Banks, fast food restaurants, a hotel and other business offices were the target of the youths who shattered glass panels and windows, spooking residents who feared it may be an attack by terrorists.
Police have so far ruled out acts of terrorism.
This begs the question…was Saturday’s incident a plain act of mischief by rowdy youths or was it a diversion (to make security forces look the other way) or some kind of a trial run for a future crime.

Or was it the work of a group of street thugs in a turf war over protection money or illegal

Judging from the effects of the Saturday incident, there was widespread panic among residents in KK and affected areas.
The 'tremors' were felt throughout the state.

So what is it going to be next?