Sarawak Energy aims to expand power coverage

KUCHING: Sarawak Energy Bhd (SEB) targets to extend electricity supply to the state’s entire population by 2025 from the current coverage of 95% at the end of 2017.

Rural coverage increased by 3% to 90% last year from 87% in 2016, according to SEB group CEO Sharbini Suhaili.

“In the last 10 years, there have been tremendous achievements in providing greater access to electricity for all Sarawakians despite the terrain and the vastness of the state. Our ambition is to achieve 100% coverage by 2025,” he added.

Sarawak has a population of some 2.78mil, about half of them living in the rural areas.

Sharbini said under the rural power masterplan, there were four schemes to increase the number of settlements in the rural and interior areas to gain access to electricity supply.

These are through the rural electrification scheme (RES), solar/mini-hydro hybrid, Sarawak alternative rural electification scheme (SARES) and rural power supply scheme (RPSS).

The RES is the conventional electrification approach by extending grid lines into the interior. It has, however, reached a critical point where the existing system is no longer able to support further expansion.

According to SEB, there are some 400 villages in the remote rural heartlands that are impossible to connect to the grid due to extremely rugged and challenging terrain.

“As it is difficult to extend transmission lines to many coastal villages, we have to use hybrid systems — renewable solar and mini-hydro projects,” Sharbini said during SEB’s media business update.

The hybrid scheme aims to provide off-grid solutions for villages which are deemed unable to be connected to the existing power grid in the immediate future. The scheme involves solar or hydro projects supplemented by diesel generators.

The SARES is a fast-track solution by providing very remote villages with standalone solar or micro-hydro systems within the shortest time. This is a community-based system with recipients enjoying free electricity.

The RPSS is a new approach aimed to complement RES by introducing new transmission lines and substations in rural areas to enable existing gridlines to be extended to the interior.

Sharbini said the 10.5MW Sg Kota 2 mini-hydro project in Limbang division was expected to be completed by July this year.

State-owned SEB has a current power generation capacity of 4,700MW, about 75% of which is generated by renewable hydro. The current power demand is around 3,500MW.

The utility body currently owns and operates the 2,400MW Bakun dam, 944MW Murum dam and 100MW Batang Ai dam. SEB is building a second major dam in Baleh, with an installed capacity 1,285MW and is expected to come on stream in 2025.

The 2x300MW Balingian coal-fired power station project is expected to be completed for commissioning later this year.

SEB, which has a customer base of 650,000, is expected to raise its generation capacity to 5,449MW by 2020 and further increase it to 7,115MW in 2025.

The bulk of the power is currently consumed by energy-intensive industries, such as aluminium, ferro-alloy and manganese smelters in the Samalaju Industrial Park, Bintulu.