Achieving Energy Security: Village Solutions for Global Change
Technical Coordinator: Gabriel Wynn
The aim of this project is the up-scaling of rural access to renewable energy through the development of four key energy sectors – run-of-the-river hydro, biomass, geothermal and solar.
More than 20% of Sabah’s population still does not have access to electricity. A large portion of this population is located in remote mountainous areas of the state, or in remote island communities. Sabah’s renewable energy potential can be described in terms of its capacity to develop four major resources: run-of-the-river hydro, biomass, solar (PV and thermal), and geothermal. Forever Sabah is engaging the renewable energy focal area in two different capacities: first, through supporting the increase of renewable power generation via larger, grid-connected energy projects; and second, through improving rural access to energy services via stand-alone mini and micro-grids.
Run-of-the-river Hydro: Given that 70% of Sabah landmass is rugged mountains, with slopes greater than 25°, there is considerable potential to harness the energy generated by rivers and streams, in low-impact ways, to generate power for nearby communities. Micro-hydro power therefore is a practical and cost-effective approach for remote rural electrification. Although Micro-hydro development is still in its infancy in Sabah, work has already been started through the pioneering efforts of the local NGO Tonibung. Forever Sabah recognises the vital opportunity Tonibung’s expertise represents, and fully supports its mission to provide off-grid power supply, capitalise on the huge potential for micro-hydro in Sabah and support the state’s transition to a green economy.
Micro-hydro development is seen, in many cases, as the only viable way to assist rural indigenous communities to achieve energy security. This, in turn, helps power-up clinics, kindergartens and schools, and creates new business opportunities in the process. In addition, micro-hydro systems are highly dependent on healthy watersheds to function to maximum efficiency. This means that installing these systems creates strong and direct incentives for communities to protect and restore their watershed areas.
Biomass to Power: Project concept notes have already been developed for a number of small scale community-based biomass applications, such as the torrefaction and pelletisation of oil palm biomass at KOPEL, Batu Puteh. Tonibung is also exploring the potential of small scale power supply and cooking gas made from rice husks, a waste product generated by hundreds of subsistence-based communities across Sabah. In 2014, Forever Sabah will work to develop these potentials – and produce energy through biomass gasifiers and biogas digesters in three subsistence communities in Ulu Papar.
Solar Photo voltaic: Sabah possesses the highest insolation levels in all of Malaysia, yet even so there are numerous challenges to overcome before Solar PV is taken up as a viable alternative source of power at the larger utility scale. One key step will be the implementation of a Feed-in-Tariff mechanism by the state Government, which is expected to drive investment in this option, and for example, make residential solar installations more cost-effective.
With the Feed-in-Tariff in the pipe-line, investors approached Forever Sabah, in 2013, to facilitate the implementation of a 30 megawatt (utility scale) solar PV installation in Eastern Sabah. In addition, Tonibung has identified several village sites in eastern Sabah and in islands off Sabah’s coast for solar hybrid applications. Work in this area will focus on three pilot projects: i) the utility scale solar array in Sandakan, eastern Sabah, ii) a solar-wind hybrid project on Mantanani Island for the community residing there, and iii) a hydro-solar micro grid in Pensiangan, in the southern interior.
Alongside Green Empowerment and Tonibung, Forever Sabah is also collaborating with the Energy and Resources Group, UC Berkeley, Penampang Renewable Energy Sdn Bhd. and other local investors to achieve the aims of this project.
As previously noted, opportunities for the installation and use of renewable energy exist throughout Sabah. For the purposes of the Forever Sabah Programme, three target areas have been identified and are being developed as potential sites for micro-hydro projects: Ulu Papar, Pensiangan and Telupid.
Forever Sabah’s off-grid energy and access project will involve numerous smaller projects under the umbrella of one core model project. These projects will be developed according to TONIBUNG’s well tested model for community micro-hydro projects. Alongside micro-hydro this work will also develop other renewable energy options utilising biomass and solar PV.
In most cases, the excess money raised through community organised tariffs can be channeled into watershed conservation work. This will include strategic investments in training, clean technology, and a multi-sector approach, which could provide solutions for Sabah’s power needs, while securing the state’s critical watershed areas. This will likely include developing partnerships and official recognition of community management of watersheds, alongside the development of ISTC/CREATE community training center in Nampasan Village, and the development of a local turbine assembly plant. Detailed plans of each sub-project – micro-hydro, biomass, solar PV, training, turbine assembly etc. are currently being developed.
The aims of this project reinforce those of several other Forever Sabah focus areas including Waste, Water & Soil, and Watersheds & Communities. For instance, the work done by this project in Telupid is an important element of Forever Sabah’s project to establish a Water Conservation Area in the Telupid Forest Complex. Achieving energy independance and security is vital to the development of a truly equitable and diversified green economy in Sabah.