Smart Cities in Malaysia: Part One

Malaysia is home to 29.72 million people and also the host country for Smart Cities Asia 2016. It’s capital city Kuala Lumpur is amongst the densest city in East Asia and has largely become the focal point of Malaysia’s massive urban sprawl.

Much like other cities in the world and cities that we’ve covered in the previous articles, Malaysia is not immune to the issues and woes that comes with rapid urbanisation. 74.5% of Malaysians are living in cities now and 90% will be living within cities in 2050. To help to contextualize these large numbers, every hour  21 people will either migrate to Kuala Lumpur or be born into it, which adds up to 504 people per day and 183,960 per year.

“We’re not using a picture of KLCC, because we’re cool and un-cliche that way”

Source: Flickr | Photographer: Unknown

The important thing to consider is, as it stands the city’s infrastructure is struggling to keep up with the current state of the population in about 30 years time when 9 out of 10 people will be living in cities – will we be able to keep up? Is the time frame sufficient for city planners to implement the necessary strategies and technologies? At this point it is clear that in order for Malaysia to thrive, Smart Cities in Malaysia will be a key subject for city planners to consider.

In this article we will explore some of the perennial issues faced by Malaysian cities and what some of the initiatives carried out to alleviate the situation.

Issues Faced by Malaysian Cities

Traffic Congestion

Traffic Jam - Via Malay Mail
Via: The Malaysia Insider

Speak to any denizens of Kuala Lumpur and ask them what is the biggest pain point of the city and I’ll guarantee you that 9 out of 10 people will highlight traffic congestion as the main issue. Daily commutes of 1-2 hours for the distance of 20-30 kilometres has become the norm for the denizens of Kuala Lumpur.

In 2015 the denizens of Kuala Lumpur spends between 270 million to 500 million hours being stuck in traffic annually which translates to RM 5.51 billion in productivity lost per annum. This is not an issue that’s unique to Kuala Lumpur, cities within Penang and Johor has also been undergoing rapid development and traffic congestion is increasingly becoming a big issue in these cities. In order for Malaysia to be a smart city, traffic congestion is one of the key issues that requires immediate attention.


Of course, Malaysia is not sitting idly by (except for when they’re in traffic) in respect to this situation. There are many initiatives from both the public and private sector in efforts to alleviate the situation

  • Public Transportation
    • The Malaysian government in course of these past few years have invested heavily into a more robust public transportation system. With investments being made into extensions of LRT lines, construction of new MRT lines and the recently completed BRT system. Though these efforts are commendable, the effectiveness of these massive infrastructures remains to be seen.
  • Cycling
    • Interestingly, cycling culture is rapidly picking up in Malaysia. Despite the fact that cycling infrastructure in Malaysia is still largely lacking, we’ve observed strong public interest from the cycling community so much so that they have created an entire map of Kuala Lumpur as guide for the cyclist to navigate how to get from Point A to Point B safely. Another interesting development is that Malacca city will soon be launching a public bike sharing system around the end of July 2016 or early August 2016
  • Smart Traffic Light
    • Cyberjaya secured a Smart City Catalyst funding from the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDeC) to implement a Smart Traffic Management System,  the LTE enabled traffic lights communicate between the intersections and are linked across the eight intersections to the command centre in Cyberjaya. Serving as a test bed this system analyses the traffic situation, and will intelligently direct traffic at the intersection to reduce waiting time at the lights. According to reliable sources, the system is currently still gathering data to optimise traffic so the results are not visible at the moment


Leaking Pipe
Source: Deviant Art | Photographer Gayru

While Malaysia is a country that boasts a 98.2% access to improved water sources, it is not a country absent issues within the water sector. Climate change has brought about levels of heatwaves never before experienced coupled with an aging infrastructure has led to a recurring water shortage despite the fact that Malaysia is a country with a decent amount of rain fall per year. The almost annual water rationing has become an issue of great frustration for the citizens.

While there are arguments that we require more water plants to proccess water it is interesting to note that 35.6% of treated water produced does not reach it intended end user. Imagine every time you buy 10 bottles of water and only receive roughly 7 bottles of water, you might just punch the storekeeper in the face. Clearly this is an area that needs to be addressed.

This seems obvious! Why aren’t we doing anything about this? – Confused and Possibly Thirsty Citizen

To be fair with over 127,275 kilometres pipes spread throughout Malaysia it is difficult to imagine replacing the entire infrastructure. The estimated cost of manpower to replace these pipes is estimated to be approximately RM49,792,320. It is no paltry sum, and it is not difficult to imagine why coming up with a massive budget as such might be a challenge for the agencies.

As it stands, the cities are struggling to keep up with water demand, just imagine how cities would cope when in 2050, 90% of population will live in cities. In order for Malaysian cities to be considered smart, these fundamental issues definitely needs to be addressed

From a policy standpoint another challenging question we need to ask ourselves is the pricing of water. States within Malaysia such as Selangor, has a policy whereby the first 20 cubic meters of water is free of charge. While from the standpoint of water being a universal basic human right it is a commendable policy another vantage point to look at the matter is the fact that prices of commodities often shape consumer behaviour. The fact that the cost of water is so cheap, the consumers sometimes do not realize the true environmental and commercial cost the entire water management cycle, thus leading to some consumers being unfortunately wasteful towards this precious resource of ours.

The Malaysian government bodies need to do a deep soul-searching and strike the delicate balance between basic human rights and sustainability. As it stands, there’s no announcement related to Smart Water Management networks that enables consumers to compare their usage against their neighbours, perhaps this approach may put a dent in the wastefulness seeing as how Malaysia’s average water usage per person is over 200 litres per day which is amongst one of the highest in the region.


9090732482_58bf9349a8_o (1)
Source: Flickr |Adam Levine

Over the past decade, Malaysia’s municipal waste generation has increased by 91% , a large portion of the waste generated is food waste with 15,000 tonnes of food daily and 20% of it is completely avoidable. With 15,000 tonnes 11 million people can be fed daily. Beyond the wastefulness, a reality that Malaysia is facing is that in a matter of time the landfills will no longer be able to keep up with this spike in waste generated. In efforts to curb this problem Malaysia has started looking into harnessing the waste through Waste to Energy plants, currently there are four plants with several more being proposed. Though this direction was not without opposition from the public with concerns about whether the plant will pollute the air.


On one hand it is good that Malaysia is looking at alternatives to landfills, on the other hand regardless of the way we go about getting rid of our waste without stemming the total waste generated Malaysia simply continue with this unsustainable path. Fortunately, Malaysia has recently enforced a recycling scheme in which it aims to recycle at least 22% of the waste. While the number is not grand, we believe that it is a good start. Perhaps some lesson can be learnt from the town of Kamikatsu in Japan which we’ve mentioned in our earlier article. Without proper strategies to deal with this increasingly alarming issue of waste, Malaysia will not be taken seriously if it were to label itself as a smart city.


Source: Unknown

What a bigger population also spells for the city is the increased rate of ultility services consumption. The larger the consumption, the more crucial it is for cities to be sustainable in the way in which is goes about consuming these resources. All smart cities must look into the issues of energy consumption and generation and Malaysia is no exception. It is interesting to note that the electricity consumption per capita of Malaysia is higher than China, despite China being a more industrialised nation.One of the major roadblocks towards this goal is the fact Malaysia has one of the lowest energy costs in the region and it is by no accident. This policy was put in place in order to spur the growth of the manufacturing sector within Malaysia. Though there’s been a steady increase in energy tariffs, the question of price still remains a subject of debate in Malaysian society.

An area that’s even more urgent that requires attention is the awareness of general public, if you take a quick walk on the street to ask about peak and non-peak hours you’ll be faced with blank stares, consumers purchase decision is also largely still driven by price rather that the energy efficiency, concepts like energy vampires are something foreign to many of the lay men

In addition to that, because many of the meters are still analogue TNB, which is the national electricity provider has estimated losses of up to RM 1.5 billion due to electricity theft over the past decade. Which is why the pilot project of smart meters in Putrajaya and Malacca is welcomed news

With the implementation of smart meters, the general public will access to information that will help them to be more aware of their energy consumption compared to their neigbhours and offer recommendations on how they can be more sustainable in the way the go about consuming energy in hopes that this can change consumer patterns. The chief executive office was quoted saying that they hope to install quoted 8.5 million smart meters within 10 years. TNB has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Trilliant to provide a collaboration framework to explore the implementation of Smart Grid within Malaysia

Other interesting initiatives that’s happening in Malaysia is the push for Mandatory Energy Labelling for Buildings in committee in which I am a part of. This push is done in hopes to provide consumers with more information about how much energy would a property potentially consume when they purchase a new property. We’re hoping that this initiative will spur developers to develop properties that are more energy efficient. While this is still happening in the background we’re hopeful that initiative will kick off within the next 1-2 years.


We spoke extensively about some of the burning issues faced by Malaysian cities but of course what is mentioned above is by no means the full extent of all the issues faced but in the interest of not turning this article into a long winded novel which helps set the tone of what key areas needs to be addressed in order for Smart Cities in Malaysia to be a reality

In the next article we will be exploring which cities are being earmarked for smart city projects in Malaysia.

Stay tuned!

Did you enjoy this article about Smart Cities in Malaysia, let us know in the comments below!

(This article was first published at Smart Cities Asia



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