Blog: Hydropower and Sarawak’s journey in renewable energy development

With Sarawak being unique and blessed with an abundance of natural resources, it is only logical to explore and harness renewables from these resources, writes Chief Minister Yab Datuk Patinggi Dr Abang Haji Abdul Rahman Zohari Bin Tun Datuk Abang Haji Openg.

Energy is what drives development and underpins economic growth. Global energy demand is forecasted to grow by 58 per cent between now and 2040 and we hear of countries racing to secure energy. Sarawak is no different.    

Photo: Murum Hydroelectric Project. Credit: Sarawak Energy

We are aware that we need to detach from being reliant on non-renewable resources if Sarawak is to achieve energy security for sustainable economic growth.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that by 2022, global renewables electricity generation is expected to grow by over one-third to over 8,000 terawatt hours, equal to the total power consumption of China, India and Germany combined. As a result, the share of renewables in power generation will reach 30 per cent in 2022, up from 24 per cent in 2016.

The report also states that in the next five years, growth in renewable generation will be twice as large as that of gas and coal combined. While coal remains the largest source of electricity generation in 2022, renewables halve their gap with coal, down to 17 per cent in 2022.

Despite slower capacity growth, hydropower will remain the largest source of renewable electricity generation in IEA’s forecast, followed by wind, solar PV and bioenergy.

With Sarawak being unique and blessed with an abundance of natural resources, it is only logical to explore and harness renewables from these resources to further boost our generation figures and secure a stable supply of energy in the state.

Our many rivers, plentiful rainfall and mountainous terrain have enabled Sarawak to embark and focus on hydropower development which at present represents 75 per cent of the state’s generation mix. Fossil fuel, coal and alternative renewables like solar and mini-hydro make up the rest of the mix.

Hydropower, being a sustainable source has since reaped benefits as it allowed the State Government to develop the state’s development strategy - the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy, or SCORE, attracting energy intensive industries and investors to our shores by offering security of supply at a globally competitive price.

With SCORE, the state’s energy demand took a quantum leap as it triggered a number of downstream businesses and opening up the state’s rural areas giving rural towns a boom effect. In addition, hydropower also allowed the State government to lower electricity tariffs for domestic, commercial and industrial consumers making Sarawak the state with the lowest tariffs in Malaysia and one of the lowest in the region, and reducing carbon emission from supply generation by 72 per cent.

Other than being a natural resource, hydropower development makes for good business sense as hydropower projects do have a high upfront outlay during the construction phase, but they have very low running costs and can operate for many decades – up to a hundred years in certain cases, making it a viable option that works for Sarawak.

Sarawak now has three hydroelectric power plants under its belt – Batang Ai, Murum and the recently acquired Bakun with another, Baleh, currently under construction and expected to be completed by 2026.

As we continue to be on track in our efforts in energy security which will also establish our reputation as the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Powerhouse, Sarawak continues to explore on developing new energy supply options through research and adopting new technologies. Advances in technology promote energy efficiency and has opened up many new energy supply options making this sector more competitive.

This piece was originally featured in the 2018 Hydropower Status Report.

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