Renewable Pathways: A Malaysian's Illuminating Journey from Washington to Portland

Meeting Over Breakfast with Ruchi Sadhir from the Oregon Department of Energy
© Syazwan Rahimy Mochtar 

I joined Malaysia’s Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Climate Change more or less six months ago, and although I have worked on sustainability efforts before, I got my work cut out for me with this mega ministry. One sector that has truly piqued my interest is Energy. In a quest to understand renewable energy (RE) and in a bid to contribute my part towards Malaysia's renewable energy plans, I embarked on an enlightening journey to the United States for an RE study tour courtesy of Friedrich Neumann Foundation.

My trip spanned two contrasting cities, Washington and Portland, where I had the privilege of engaging a diverse range of experts and stakeholders. From passionate staffers at the House of Representatives and Congress, to perceptive academicians, dedicated non-profit organizations, influential industry players, and advocates at legal firms and regulatory councils, my trip allowed me to gain invaluable insights on a broad range of topics and issues with regard to RE.

Washington - The Beating Heart of American Governance

My journey commenced in Washington, D.C., the epicenter of American politics and policymaking. Although we had the privilege of visiting majestic and historical monuments, our sights were set on meeting distinguished individuals from the US House of Representatives and Senate, who played pivotal roles in shaping the nation's renewable energy landscape. Conversations with these influential policymakers revealed the importance of strong political will, bipartisan cooperation, and long-term vision in crafting successful renewable energy policies.

The significance of robust research towards creating progressive policy ideas were not lost on me. There is always give and take, but financial incentives, and supportive regulatory frameworks were key towards a bipartisan bill. The policy experts emphasized the importance of creating an enabling environment that encourages private sector investments in renewable energy projects.

Visit to the Avangrid Office in Portland
© Syazwan Rahimy Mochtar 

Keep Portland ‘Wired’

We also travelled to Portland, a city renowned for its commitment to sustainable practices and renewable energy innovation. Somewhat famous for the slogan ‘Keep Portland Weird’, I found the city’s vibrancy, eccentricity and peculiarity somewhat…electrifying.

Engagements with local policymakers and sustainable development organizations shed light on the significance of holistic approaches to urban design, the integration of renewable energy into infrastructure, and the importance of community involvement.

The academic community emphasized the significance of investing in research and development to advance renewable energy technologies. Their cutting-edge research, coupled with collaborative partnerships between academia and industry, showcased the potential for ground breaking innovations that could revolutionize the renewable energy sector.

Mobilizing Change – A Balancing Act

Personally, the highlight of my trip was engaging with passionate representatives from non-profit organizations committed to advancing renewable energy and combating climate change. Having come from a non-governmental organisation background in Malaysia, I believe wholeheartedly that civil society organisations have a pivotal role to play to ensure a holistic and supportive ecosystem. From environmental advocacy groups to community-based initiatives, these organizations play a crucial role in shaping public opinion, driving policy change, and fostering community resilience.

Of course, we also delved in the complex realm of energy lobbyists and industry players. Through candid discussions with representatives from a renewable energy company I gained insights into the challenges and opportunities associated with the energy transition. Understanding their perspectives will enable government to strike a delicate balance between promoting renewable energy growth and ensuring energy security during the transition phase.

Key Takeaways

My transformative journey from Washington to Portland has left an indelible mark on my understanding of renewable energy policies and its implementation.

First and foremost, strong political will, bipartisan collaboration, and long-term vision in policymaking is highly pertinent, and the US is probably prime example for this. The importance of research and education in driving innovation, the power of public awareness and stakeholder engagement, and the delicate balance between supporting renewable energy growth and ensuring energy security are all necessary towards comprehensive policy planning.

Renewable energy adoption in Malaysia is not at a bad state, however we could be a lot more ruthless. Ambitious, yet achievable targets should be set taking into account available resources such as solar, hydro, biomass and geothermal. It is therefore crucial to establish clear legal and regulatory frameworks that provide certainty, transparency, and investor confidence, supported by financial incentives, and regulatory mechanisms to drive investment and ensure progress towards our climate goals.

The US has faced challenges in integrating renewable energy into its grid infrastructure due to intermittency, federal-state regulatory jurisdictions and geographic constraints. Malaysia can learn from these experiences and invest in grid upgrades, including smart grid technologies, energy storage solutions, and interconnection infrastructure. Now that Malaysia has opened up its policy towards RE export, it is more crucial than ever that we get this right. Our strategic location in the middle of ASEAN suggests we have great potential as a hub for the ASEAN power grid.

The US' success in renewable energy transition can be attributed, in part, to substantial investments in research and development which spanned decades. Malaysia should allocate resources to fund R&D initiatives, fostering innovation and the development of advanced technologies in renewable energy. Collaborations between research institutions, industry players, and government agencies can accelerate the adoption of cost-effective and efficient renewable energy solutions tailored to Malaysia's climate and resource conditions.

The US also does public-private partnerships well, which have played a vital role in driving renewable energy growth. We can also leverage on PPPs for knowledge sharing, technology transfer as well as support capacity building, and create favourable conditions for investment and innovation in renewable energy. Understanding each stakeholder and how they can work together (as opposed to against one another) will allow energy transition to happen seamlessly.

Energy efficiency and demand-side management strategies are also critical for a sustainable energy transition. During the trip I saw how valuable certain initiatives can be including building retrofits, appliance standards, and consumer awareness campaigns. Malaysia can emulate these initiatives to reduce energy consumption, optimize resource utilization, and complement renewable energy deployment. As Malaysia embark on a new journey to reduce energy subsidies, these efforts are all the more crucial.

An Energizing Journey

All and all, this study tour has not only broadened my knowledge but has also ignited a sense of urgency and motivation to contribute actively to the renewable energy sector. Armed with newfound knowledge, inspiration, and a network of like-minded individuals, I am definitely eager to contribute policy ideas and advocate for renewable energy on a broader scale.

I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to all the individuals and organizations who generously shared their expertise and experiences with us throughout the tour. Although energy is one sector within the larger climate change landscape, but I believe that it is one of the most important aspects. The passion and dedication I saw during this renewable energy tour have inspired me significantly as I continue in my work to affect positive change towards a greener and more sustainable future.

The RE Tour Delegation tour of Washington monuments
© Syazwan Rahimy Mochtar 

Written by Syazwan Rahimy Mochtar - Political Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change