NEWS & UPDATES
Greening The Grid: Accelerating Renewable Energy Development In Sarawak
2 JANUARY 2024
Sarawak Energy, Malaysia's largest renewable energy developer and provider, takes a holistic view of energy development – addressing the energy trilemma by balancing energy security, sustainability, and affordability to drive socio-economic transformation and power the state’s growth via renewable hydropower development.
Under the regulatory purview of the Ministry of Utility and Telecommunication Sarawak, and the Ministry of Energy and Environmental Sustainability Sarawak (MEESty), the wholly State-government owned group and fully integrated power utility provides customers with predominantly renewable energy at the lowest tariffs in Malaysia and among the most competitive and lowest in Southeast Asia in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal No. 7 ‘Affordable and Clean Energy for All’ ahead of its target of 2030.
Sarawak’s generation mix is primarily renewable hydropower complemented by indigenous coal and gas generation for security of supply. Sarawak Energy generates electricity mainly from hydroelectric plants (HEP), supported by thermal plants with available generation capacity of 5,675MW. To ensure power is delivered to customers reliably and continuously, Sarawak Energy has invested significantly in transmission and distribution projects, including one of the most important state Grid infrastructures – the RM2.7 billion 500kV backbone (currently energised at 275kV), which provides Sarawak with a second transmission grid. The massive state infrastructure stretches over 500km from Similajau to Kuching Division. The second backbone has doubled the network’s capacity and enhanced reliability particularly in the more densely populated southern region. Additionally, the company is building the Northern Grid transmission lines linking Limbang and Lawas to Simalajau, expected to be completed in mid-2024.
This further strengthens the reliability of Sarawak’s overall power system by enhancing transmission security and capacity for current and future load growth, in particular for bulk power customers located in the Samalaju Industrial Park, under the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE).
Sustainable hydropower is an essential foundation for Sarawak’s continued development through the provision of clean, green, modern, and affordable energy, to meet its climate goals. Sarawak Energy’s Batang Ai, Bakun and Murum hydropower plants provide reliable, competitively tariffed and clean electricity to Sarawak, supporting domestic, commercial and industrial customers. These projects have also driven socio-economic growth for local communities; improving infrastructure, healthcare, education, and providing employment opportunities.
Initial studies indicated Sarawak had 20,000MW of hydropower potential over 52 sites, of which 3,452MW has already been harnessed through the three aforementioned hydropower plants. If fully developed, the associated reservoirs would occupy less than 2% of Sarawak’s landmass while offering many new economic opportunities including lakeside tourism and rural development. Besides large reservoir hydropower potentials, recent studies have indicated that there are opportunities to develop basin-wide cascade schemes of smaller run-of-river hydropower with less social and environmental impacts, especially downstream, anchored by these sites.
Sarawak’s hydropower potential is harnessed to meet forecasted demand. To cater to the expected domestic and export growth, the Baleh Hydroelectric Project (1,285MW) which is expected to be operational by the end of the decade, will further increase Sarawak’s total hydropower capacity to 4,737MW and power Sarawak’s ambition to achieve high income status by 2030 as outlined in the Sarawak Post COVID19 Development Strategy (PCDS) 2030.
There is also a potential for micro-hydro (the small-scale harnessing of energy from falling water such as steep mountain rivers) in Sarawak especially for the many scattered communities who have no access to the power grid. Sarawak Energy is always looking for opportunities to supply rural villages that have micro-hydro potential, such as the Long Banga micro-hydro station, which was built in 2014 and supplies 138 households. A project to fit the station with two more 160 kW turbines and to supply two adjacent villages are currently in progress and once the expansion is completed, Long Banga will be able to supply to an estimated 77 new households.
Sarawak Energy also recently commissioned its mini hydro plant Kota 2, a run-of-river scheme which has an installed capacity of 10.5MW, reducing the dependence on diesel for power generation in northern Sarawak. This project is part of a fleet of eight minihydro across Sarawak totalling 18.4MW.
A long-term advocate for sustainable hydropower development, Sarawak Energy embeds international best practices in its projects and operations; addressing the various aspects of technical, economic, social and environmental sustainability.
Development of Alternative Renewable Energy
Sarawak is at the forefront of the energy transition in Malaysia as well as Southeast Asia, capitalising on other renewable energy sources besides hydropower such as solar and wind. Floating solar, in particular, has synergies with hydropower and Sarawak Energy is expanding its solar capabilities with the aim to install 300MW of large scale solar by 2030. A pilot 50MW floating solar farm at Batang Ai HEP’s reservoir is currently underway – expected to be commissioned in 2024, it is projected to offset around 52 kilo tonnes of carbon emissions annually.
Premier of Sarawak, The Right Honourable Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri (Dr) Abang Haji Abdul Rahman Zohari Bin Tun Datuk Abang Haji Openg has also announced plans for the integration of solar energy into housing projects, propelling Sarawak towards green energy adoption. This move aligns with the state’s goal to reduce carbon emissions by 800,000 tonnes by 2030 with Sarawak Energy exploring the potential for solar-powered smart homes, further underscoring its commitment to sustainable energy.
The rollout of the Net Energy Metering (NEM) scheme by the Sarawak Government promotes the use of renewable energy at the consumer level. A billing mechanism that credits solar photovoltaic system owners for the electricity they add to the grid, the initiative is indicative of the state government’s broader strategy towards incorporating renewable energy sources, including solar panels, in government buildings and other sectors.
Despite these ambitious plans, solar power is only expected to contribute 1% of electricity by 2030 as the State’s social and economic development shall continue to be powered by sustainable large hydropower, supported by gas-powered generation of higher efficiency. With only 4-5 effective sun hours on a good day, the average efficiency of solar power is approximately only 15%. In addition, solar irradiance is highly affected by weather conditions and the resultant intermittent characteristics prevents solar power from being reliable in meeting customer demands especially for large industrial loads that require 24/7 reliable electricity. Large amounts of battery storage would be needed to overcome this intermittency issue, but the high costs make such undertakings prohibitive. As a result, large hydropower with reservoir storage is the only economically viable renewable energy for meeting the needs of commercial and industrial development.
A Green Energy Future
The Group is also exploring other renewable energy sources, such as green hydrogen and solar enabled by renewable hydropower. As technology advances, it is hoped that wind and biomass can also be made into more mainstream sources of energy.
Sarawak Energy is committed to harnessing renewable resources for a sustainable energy future, contributing to regional and global net-zero targets. This dedication not only advances Sarawak’s energy sector but sets a benchmark for sustainable energy development in Southeast Asia.
Sustainable hydropower is an essential foundation for Sarawak’s continued development through the provision of clean, green, modern, and affordable energy, to meet its climate goals.
To ensure power is delivered to customers reliably and continuously, Sarawak Energy has invested significantly in transmission and distribution projects, including one of the most important state Grid infrastructures – the RM2.7 billion 500kV backbone (currently energised at 275kV), which provides Sarawak with a second transmission grid.