Nonetheless, Ko and other energy experts warned that Malaysia is trailing its Southeast Asian neighbours on clean energy expansion, as a lack of financial incentives and investment, coupled with red-tape, hold back the big projects needed for the country to meet its ambitious climate goals.
“Malaysia is considered quite average in Southeast Asia,” said Ko, adding that its renewables efforts have seen “steady growth but not super fast”.
Like many countries in the region, Malaysia is hit regularly by the impacts of extreme weather and rising temperatures – whether choking haze linked to regional forest fires, water shortages, droughts or severe floods.
Flooding that began in late 2021 caused nearly $1.5 billion in losses and displaced more than 120,000 people, for example.
In that same year, to help tackle climate change, Malaysia – which has pledged to cut its planet-heating emissions to net zero by 2050 – set goals to source 31% of its power capacity from renewables by 2025 and 40% by 2035.
Then last September, the previous government published a policy targeting a 17% share for renewables in the total national energy supply by 2040.
But with renewables today accounting only for about 9% of Malaysia’s electricity generation capacity, the government targets seem “highly unrealistic”, said Attaurrahman Ojindaram Saibasan, a power analyst at data company GlobalData.
Malaysia lacks “strong” renewable energy policies, said Saibasan, whose firm published a report on Malaysia’s power sector last week.
“There are no incentives offered to large-scale renewables,” he said, adding that climate-heating coal and natural gas currently make up about 75% of Malaysia’s power capacity mix.
Despite expensive and deadly climate impacts and lofty clean energy targets, environmental issues did not feature in last year’s election, dominated by the economy and cost of living.
Malaysia trails Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam in renewable power generation, said Saibasan.
The government has struggled to attract investment in large-scale renewable energy projects due to a “sluggish economy” and a lack of “robust policies” to make clean power more attractive than fossil fuels, he added.
Malaysia has previously provided incentives to invest in solar – which has the greatest potential, experts say. Other promising options for Malaysia are bioenergy sourced from the palm oil industry and hydropower.
But while policy encouraged initial take-up of solar, larger investments will be needed towards the end of this decade to modernise the power grid, boost energy storage and support larger-scale renewables, said Joel Kwong, a partner at Boston Consulting Group in Kuala Lumpur.
Those measures are needed because the best areas to generate solar power are in the north, while demand is concentrated further south in the industrial Klang valley, which includes the capital Kuala Lumpur, he added.
Sabah and Sarawak states on Borneo island would also benefit from greater freedom to develop their own renewable power projects, alone or with neighbouring countries, experts said.