Sustainable planning of Sarawak’s power system

A photo of Murum Dam with generation mix predominantly from renewable hydro.

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KUCHING, Aug 24: With the expansion of Sarawak’s power system, further optimising operation of the power system can be achieved through interconnections to other power systems with neighbouring countries such as Kalimantan, Brunei or Sabah.

Minister of Utilities Dato Sri Dr Stephen Rundi Utom revealed in a media release today that Sarawak Energy is already interconnected via 275kV transmission line from Mambong in Sarawak to Bengkayang in West Kalimantan through a power exchange agreement.

“The interconnection project has been highly successful and (it) is the first step towards building cross-border power connectivity within the island of Borneo, also known as the Borneo Grid,” he said.

He emphasised that interconnection of power systems between Sarawak and its neighbouring countries have multiple advantages including technical, economical and environmental.

“The Borneo Grid’s objectives are for shared energy security and reliability with neighbouring countries and Sabah, while also supporting the economic growth of Borneo and beyond,” he elaborated.

“In general, interconnections promote efficient and economic usage of diverse energy resources in the region. Besides the ability to share generation capacity, interconnections can also improve power system stability and voltage control,” he added.

Dr Rundi highlighted that the positive impact of interconnections was already proven as these were widely used in Europe, America, Asia and Africa as a mean to achieving the benefits.

Stand alone off-grid alternatives solar or micro-hydro systems under Sares are provided to very remote areas in Sarawak.

Sarawak’s power system, he explained, was planned and implemented sustainably with an optimal capacity mix of predominantly renewable hydropower with the balance of fuel sources from coal and gas for energy security.

“Power planting by building new hydro, coal and gas plants is implemented when there is a need to meet planned or forecast demand of domestic, commercial and industrial local organic loads, such as from Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (Score) bulk-energy industries, and to support Sarawak’s digital economy initiatives,” he said.

“By harnessing Sarawak’s abundant hydro potential, Score enables the hydropower sector to be developed to catalyse socioeconomic growth and propel Sarawak towards achieving a high income economy by 2030,” he added.

He pointed out that successful hydro sector development was an integral part of Sarawak’s socioeconomic development growth as it has attracted investment from energy-intensive Score industries.

“Capacity from Bakun and Murum is fully taken with committed demand from Score customers of more than 2700MW,” he said.

“Job opportunities and other spin-off benefits have been created, raising Sarawak’s standard of living including those in the interior within the corridor,” he added.

Infrastructure development such as associated roads required for accessibility to hydropower sites such as Bakun, Murum and Baleh, he continued, has brought connectivity to these remote areas, providing opportunities to bring these once inaccessible rural areas into the mainstream of socioeconomic growth and development.

In addition, he said hydropower was not exposed to market price volatility unlike fossil fuels.

“As a result, Sarawak Energy’s customers are now enjoying the lowest average tariff in Malaysia. At 38 per cent lower than Peninsular Malaysia, our average tariffs is also among the lowest in Asean,” he highlighted.

To ensure sufficient capacity to meet committed and future demand, he disclosed that the 600MW Balingian Coal Fired Power Plant will begin operation this year, raising the generation capacity to above 5,000MW.

This will be followed by the 800MW combined cycle plants in Tanjong Kidurong in 2021 and 1,200MW Baleh Hydroelectric Power (HEP) in 2026.

Dr Rundi emphasised that the Ministry of Utilities through Sarawak Energy has a mission to provide all the rakyat with reliable, affordable 24-hour electricity.

“Sarawak’s power development also includes strategies to electrify rural areas. Today, I am pleased with the progress that we have achieved through our strategic energy development plans and accelerated electrification initiatives,” he said.

He revealed that Sarawak has currently achieved 96.4 per cent overall electrification with 92 per cent of rural areas provided with 24-hour reliable power supply.

“Most of Sarawak’s areas are connected to the State Power Grid. But for very remote areas, the rakyat are also provided with stand alone off-grid alternatives solar or micro-hydro systems under the Sarawak Alternative Rural Electrification Scheme or Sares,” he said.

He reiterated that by 2020, the target was to electrify 97 per cent of rural households towards the state’s final target of full electrification by 2025.

“We are committed to plan prudently the power system in Sarawak and to ensure sustainable operation for the benefit of all Sarawakians to enjoy adequate, reliable, and affordable electricity,” he assured.— DayakDaily