Many industries were hit hard the past year during the global pandemic, but one of the few things which held steady and forged ahead was the rise in renewable energy
The emergence of renewable resources has changed world markets. The green industry is recognised as the way forward in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy supply. It is the era of climate investment and consumer-driven decarbonisation.
According to Forbes, despite the world coming to almost a halt during the Covid-19 pandemic, global renewable energy consumption grew by 9.7 per cent last year. Over the past decade, renewable energy consumption grew at an average annual rate of 13.4 per cent.
Hence, it is not surprising that companies are moving towards clean and renewable energy. Many corporations are recognising that it yields results in greater emphasis not only on the environment but also on a large economic scale.
While some are just beginning to make waves, State-owned Sarawak Energy Berhad, Malaysia’s largest renewable energy provider, has already embarked on the energy market way before the term ‘Go Green’ became popular.
Group CEO Datu Sharbini Suhaili shared in a recent interview with @greenXtra how Sarawak’s green plan was coming along and how the State was on the right track in achieving developed status by 2030.
On track to achieve sustainable goals
Sarawak has embarked on the renewable energy path for the past decade or so. The State’s energy provider, Sarawak Energy, plays a pivotal role in meeting the demand for reliable and renewable sources through hydropower development.
Sharbini said Sarawak Energy had made tremendous strides over the past 100 years to transform from a traditional utility into a modern and agile company and energy developer with regional ambition.
As a result of a decade’s energy strategy focus and accelerated growth, Sarawak’s power system has been decarbonised by as much as 68 per cent. It is on track to achieving its developed status by 2030.
“We provide power to light up our population of about three million across the State, in urban and rural communities, homes and businesses through a sustainable energy mix,” said Sharbini.
“We are accelerating our rural electrification programmes to support Sarawak’s ambition. We want to achieve full electrification by 2025 or sooner, ahead of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (UN SDG) 7 target of 2030.
“In 2018, an allocation of RM2.37 billion from the Sarawak Government under the Accelerated Rural Electrification Masterplan spearheaded by the Ministry of Utilities Sarawak and implemented by Sarawak Energy enabled the simultaneous implementation of the rural electrification strategies.”
Sharbini also said with urban areas fully electrified, rural electrification coverage in Sarawak rose to 95 per cent in 2020 compared to just 56 per cent in 2009. This is expected to reach 97 per cent in the coming months.
Thanks to its hydropower technology, Sarawak Energy offers the lowest average unsubsidised tariffs in Malaysia, among the lowest in the region.
“In 1921, when we were a small unit in the Public Works Department, electricity was supplied via diesel generators. In the early 1980s, before the commissioning of the 108MW Batang Ai Hydroelectric Plant (HEP), our generation mix was 65 per cent diesel and 35 per cent gas.
“Our hydropower story began in the mid-1980s when our 108MW Batang Ai Plant was commissioned.”
“In the 1990s, our generation mix was 14 per cent diesel, 61 per cent gas, 12 per cent coal and 13 per cent hydropower.”
“In the 2000s, there was strategic pivot to renewable energy and development of Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) to move towards industrialisation and further decarbonisation,” said Sharbini.
It also saw the commissioning of the 2,400MW Bakun HEP in 2011 and 944MW Murum HEP in 2014. Hence, the generation mix eventually evolved to predominantly hydropower complemented by indigenous gas and coal for the security of supply. In 2016, hydropower in the generation mix had increased to around 75 per cent.
Sarawak Energy is also constructing the 1,285MW Baleh HEP, a concrete-faced rockfill dam with an elevation of 225m above sea level.
The renewable energy project, scheduled for completion in 2026, is located on the Baleh River, about 105km upstream from its confluence with the Rejang River in Kapit.
“Today, as a result of our renewable energy strategy and focus over the past 10 years and accelerated growth, we have decarbonised Sarawak’s power system by as much as 68 per cent from 2011 to 2019 and are on track to helping Sarawak to achieve its developed status by 2030,” he said.
It was also reported that Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg had recently said environmental sustainability would be a critical factor in the State’s recovery effort and long-term growth.
This, he said, would pave the way for more investment inflow to Sarawak that will create solutions, more green jobs and business opportunities to drive the State’s economy sustainably.
Meeting the State’s need for reliable and renewable energy
Sarawak Energy harnesses its abundant natural resources to light up Sarawak and provide power for its growth.
Sarawak’s geographical location and terrain is perfect for hydropower solutions because of its high volume of rainfall and elevated topography.
“These resources have enabled us to offer reliable and competitively priced electricity to our domestic, commercial, industrial and export customers.
“We aspire to be a renewable energy powerhouse and the battery of ASEAN sharing our renewable, reliable, affordable, and sustainable hydropower resources with our neighbours and growing our expertise in sustainable hydropower project development,” added Sharbini.
Sarawak had its first successful interconnection in 2016 when it began exporting energy to West Kalimantan in Indonesia through a 120km 275kV double circuit transmission line stretching from Mambong in Sarawak to Bengkayang, West Kalimantan.
In November 2020, Sarawak Energy also signed a memorandum of understanding with PETRONAS to collaborate on green hydrogen commercial production to venture into energy export with hydrogen as an energy carrier.
This tie-up marked a significant milestone in Sarawak as it potentially positions the State as a critical hub for the hydrogen value chain.
In August, Sarawak and Sabah sealed a power supply deal when Sarawak Energy, through its subsidiary Syarikat SESCO Berhad, signed a Power Exchange Agreement and Interconnection Agreement with Sabah. The project is expected to commence end of 2023.
Sabah will be importing an initial 30MW to 50MW for 15 years via a 31km 275kV double circuit transmission line with a maximum design capacity of 300MW, which will run from Lawas in Sarawak to Mengalong, Sipitang in Sabah.
“We are on track to delivering on our ambition in transforming Sarawak Energy into a renewable energy powerhouse of Southeast Asia,” he added.
The role of hydropower in a sustainable future
Sarawak Energy is one of the most established hydropower players in the region. Compared to other forms of energy generation, hydropower has an advantage in eliminating the cost of fuel and contributes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
It offers the lowest Levelised Cost of Energy or LCOE, giving Sarawak a sustainable and competitive advantage. It allows the State to transfer savings to domestic consumers and attract energy-intensive industries by offering competitive bulk power tariffs.
“Hydropower is crucial towards meeting not just Malaysia’s goals but the world’s energy and climate goals.
“We are lucky to have rivers and the right terrain to enable us to harness our abundant renewable hydropower potential,” said Sharbini.
He said the world needed sustainable hydropower to help tackle the climate emergency. Investment over the long term in energy storage and grid resilience that hydropower provides is becoming ever more urgent to expand growth in renewables.
Malcolm Turnbull, former Australian Prime Minister, and Tony Blair, former United Kingdom Prime Minister, on the opening day of the 2021 World Hydropower Congress (WHC), agreed the potential absence of sufficient hydropower capacity was the “ignored crisis within the climate crisis”.
Sharbini added, “Sarawak Energy is supporting and contributing towards Malaysia’s targets to the Paris Agreement by helping the country meet its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to reduce carbon emissions.”
Earlier this year, large hydropower was finally recognised by the federal government as part of renewable energy. It means Sarawak’s hydropower generation is counted in meeting the national renewable energy targets of 40 per cent by 2035.
Out of Malaysia’s total hydro generation capacity of 5,684MW, Sarawak Energy contributes 3,452MW of renewable energy from its stable of large hydropower plants.
“Our focus on renewable energy resource development has resulted in a decarbonised power system. It has also enabled us to embark on research into renewable energy alternatives including floating solar and hydrogen and launch of Sarawak’s first renewable energy certificate (REC).
“The newly-formed Green Hydrogen Organisation or GH2, chaired by Turnbull, and the International Hydropower Association (IHA), have committed to collaborate in addressing climate change issues by using sustainable hydropower to produce green hydrogen,” said Sharbini.
GH2 will promote green hydrogen production and use and establish a ‘GH2 Green Hydrogen Standard’ to ensure that green hydrogen is certified as coming only from low carbon sources.
“We are also working with global energy leaders to explore more sustainable options of renewable energy. IHA has recently been seeking public feedback on the San Jose Declaration on Sustainable Hydropower, a new manifesto for hydropower development that will identify principles and recommendations to guide new hydropower developments and enhance the sector’s contribution to the energy transition.”
“The final version of the Declaration was launched on Sept 24, 2021, at the 2021 WHC, where stakeholders were invited to express their support for the declaration,” he added.
Sarawak Energy voluntarily adopts IHA’s Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol and, in 2011, formed a sustainability partnership with the IHA to ensure best practices in its hydropower development and operations, which include social issues related to project-affected communities.
The group has been a sustainability partner and platinum member of the IHA since 2010, and Sharbini was recently re-elected a member of the IHA Board.
IHA is the world’s most extensive and active hydropower network and was created under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1995 as the voice of sustainable hydropower. —@greenXtra