Forget the deep and meaningful sub-titled movies. After a long week, action films generally get my vote. Although Bruce Willis usually makes a good action movie (which you usually don’t have to think about too much), his film the “Fifth Element” was not the most memorable. I vaguely recall something about a girl saving the planet from destruction.

The title of this film came back to me when Malaysia announced its Eighth Plan (2001-2005) in April. In the section on energy (although this may not have been the place for it) I was half expecting to see something on plans for market restructuring. But it was not to be.

Instead, the Plan outlined that one of the key focuses would be on the utilization of renewable energy as the “fifth fuel” to supplement supply from conventional sources. This five-fuel policy (energy efficiency was also included) would replace the previous four-fuel policy i.e natural gas, hydro, coal and oil. The inclusion of renewable energy would in particular see greater use of the biomass residues of palm oil which is in abundance in Malaysia.

To promote renewable energy, in May this year the government launched the Small Renewable Energy Programme. This is aimed at providing an avenue for small power producers (up to 10 MW) who use sources such as biomass, wind and landfill gas for generation to sell their power to the utilities.

To promote greater use of renewables, initiatives that will be considered include demonstration projects and commercialization of research findings. There will also be financial incentives for renewable related activities.

Under the budget for 2001, biomass-based generating companies that apply for incentives by December 31, 2002 will be granted income tax exemptions or tax allowances. There will also be exemptions on import duty and sales tax on machinery and equipment which is not produced locally.

Malaysia’s policy toward a ‘fifth fuel’ is definitely a global trend. Not so far away in Australia there was a recent announcement by Queensland’s state-owned power company, Stanwell Corp., that it would be aiming to have 450 MW of wind generation capacity in five years. The company has 12.5 MW of wind power generation at Windy Hill in Queensland and said it was looking at a number of sites in South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia, New South Wales and Queensland.

Stanwell’s main asset is a large coal fired plant in Rockhampton in central Queensland. However, like a number of companies, due to recent legislation it is looking to expand into wind power. The federal government ruled earlier this year that by 2010 wholesale electricity buyers must source an extra two per cent of electricity from renewable energy sources in the form of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). This would see the national consumption from renewable sources rise from 300 GWh annually in 2001 to 9500 GWh.

Meanwhile, in Europe the EU is soon to propose a directive aimed at increasing the targets for electricity generated from renewables. This directive would be the main tool with respect to energy supply for the reduction of greenhouse gases.

Already countries like Germany, Denmark and the UK have taken big strides. Notably, there has been a flurry of recent activity in the UK. On August 3, the UK government confirmed plans to make electricity suppliers treble the use of renewable energy by 2010. Shortly after, UK utility ScottishPower announced a £70 million ($98m) plan to build a large wind farm on the site of an abandoned open cast mine. If approved, the 120 MW project could be operational by 2003. This announcement follows another by ScottishPower at the end of July for a 240 MW wind farm – the biggest in the UK – just 16 km from Glasgow, Scotland.

Projects such as these will benefit from government support which said it would allocate £1 billion ($1.4bn) to support green energy over the next decade. This support would remain in place until 2027. After this, who knows what will happen to the green drive; maybe the windmills will stop spinning.

Only time will tell if this fifth element to countries’ fuel strategies will be workable over the long term. The plan is to save the planet. Bruce Willis and the girl managed to succeed; let’s hope we can do the same.