Hydropower is poised to play an increasingly important role in meeting Malaysia’s energy and climate goals. The share of hydropower in the country’s electricity generation is around 11 per cent, but with less than 20 per cent of the technically feasible generation potential utilised to date, there is significant expansion already in the planning stages or under development.
Most of Malaysia’s electricity generation capacity is natural gas-fired and coal, but the government is seeking to achieve a more balanced portfolio of electricity generation over the coming years to meet its growing demand and reduce its dependency on fossil fuels. This has benefited Malaysia’s hydropower sector, which has in the past largely been concentrated in Peninsular Malaysia, but due to its high rainfall and geography, the state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo is expected to experience the lion’s share of new developments.
In 2009, the Malaysian Government established the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) programme, designed to take advantage of the state’s vast natural resources and to diversify its economy by providing reliable, low-cost electricity to its growing manufacturing base. SCORE is looking to capitalise on the 51 potential hydropower sites that the government has identified which could provide an estimated 20 GW of capacity.
In recent years, the 2,400 MW Bakun plant developed by Sarawak Hidro was opened in 2011, becoming Malaysia’s largest hydropower plant, and this was followed in 2015 by Sarawak Energy’s 944 MW Murum plant beginning full operations. Sarawak Energy also received state government approval for its 1,285 MW Baleh project in 2016, and there are several other hydro projects in the pipeline which could represent a further 4 GW of new capacity.
It is forecasted that 60 per cent of Sarawak’s power generation is to be sourced from hydropower by 2020, up from 35 per cent in 2012. Electricity exports to the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan already under way, and further plans are also in place to export to both Brunei and Sabah by 2025.
Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TSB), the country’s largest utility company, also recently completed the construction of two plants in Peninsular Malaysia – the 250 MW Hulu Terengganu project and the 382 MW Ulu Jelai project in the state of Pahang, coming online in 2015 and 2016 respectively. There is a further 1,700 MW of hydropower projects either at a planning or feasibility stage in Peninsular Malaysia.
Small-scale hydropower projects, which Malaysian regulations classify as run-of-river schemes up to 30 MW in installed capacity, are also contributing to the country’s electricity supply, especially in rural areas. Their development has been incentivised by a feed-in tariff (FiT) scheme adopted in 2011, which allows small generators to sell electricity to the national utility through the grid.
As of December 2022, installed capacity of hydropower under the FiT scheme is 96.8 MW, with plants in planned progress of a further 600 MW, the largest share of all renewables.
As well as contributing to a more balanced energy mix, hydropower development is fundamental to the Malaysian Government’s efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions intensity of GDP by 45 per cent by 2030 relative to 2005 levels. The government is confident of reaching the target, claiming it had already recorded a 33 per cent reduction by the end of 2015.
The government’s target will be further supported by the purchasing of up to 100 MW of hydroelectricity from Laos, via Thailand, following the signing of a memorandum of understanding in 2016. It’s expected to take place by 2018 and it could be increased further in the future.
This country profile is featured in the 2017 Hydropower Status Report. You can download the full report here.
This profile was last updated in May 2017.