Malaysia has been heralded by the United Nations for encouraging women to participate in the workforce with the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) seeing an encouraging show of intelligent, successful Malaysian women. The Peak sits down with some of our STEM stars to talk to them about their achievements, challenges and what more needs to be done to further champion women in Science.
Chow Pui Hee
Co-Founder and Director, Samaiden Sdn. Bhd
Tell us a bit about your early life.
I actually graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering from Universiti Putra Malaysia in 2001. When I tell people that I studied chemical engineering, they always assume that I found employment in the oil & gas or petrochemicals industry. But as I was doing my internship at a petrochemical company right after graduating, I found that I didn’t quite enjoy the work. It’s a very confined environment and work is pretty much routine – there were no discoveries to be made at all really. The excitement only came when a problem arises, and you have to solve it. All the processes for this field have already been developed so it just requires monitoring.
When did solar energy become an important agenda for you?
Fortunately, in my field of study, there is a branch that involves environmental studies and design. I actually found myself getting more and more involved in planning the environmental characteristics of chemical plants, and that sort of work. This led me to become a registered Environmental Impact Assessment subject consultant with the Department of Environment (DOE). Then in 2009, I worked as a consultant at the National Landfill Restoration Project. This was actually a government funded project and my part of the work involved designing solutions to make dumpsites across the country safer and less of a hazard to the environment. I would draft out plans and recommendations for contractors to deal with the smell, and more importantly, to prevent waste from contaminating groundwater in the surrounding areas. In three years, I was involved in the closure and restoration of some 16 landfills across the country. However, even though these dumpsites have been closed and made as safe as they can be, the land cannot be developed for obvious reasons. It dawned to me, why not use these huge areas as solar farms where solar panels can be set up to harvest energy from the sun?
Tell us about those early years for harvesting solar energy in Malaysia.
Just about a decade ago, the technology for harvesting solar tech was still at its infancy and its components were very expensive. Then, in 2011, the government introduced the Renewable Energy Act. This saw such items as the Feed-In Tariffs – a program designed to increase investments in renewable energy sources, as well as funding schemes like the Green Technology Funding and Green Investment Tax Allowance set up to jump start the green industry in Malaysia. I decided to attend as many certified courses as I could to become a renewable energy entrepreneur and in fact, became a bit of a pioneer in this field here. Back then, you could attend certified courses conducted by the Australian Power Quality & Reliability Centre in collaboration with UiTM, but I must say, the passing marks were very, very high! What they teach you revolved around generating electricity from the sun to power a home. Whatever knowledge that I gained here was scaled up to suit the bigger scale of the solar projects that my company does now.