Sabah and Sarawak is blessed with high volume of rainfall every year and topographic condition is hilly and mountainous. These areas are also rich in water; forest other biological resources that sustain the livelihoods of many indigenous communities. Many of these communities are very remote and dispersedly located on these hilly and mountainous areas, making it challenging in terms of development.
In this new era of information and communication technology (ICT), electricity supply is the most essential infrastructure for development. Electricity is also the key infrastructure enhancement to provide opportunity for job generation and vital income for village residents. However, numerous rural communities in Sabah and Sarawak are without electricity services, which are a limiting factor in socio-economic development, education, and healthcare.
Rural electrification through “conventional methods” such as grid connection and diesel generators is either very costly, or - in the case of grid extensions – simply not in the plans for the foreseeable future. These conventional methods result in emissions that are harmful to human health and the environment. With the rise of fuel prices in recent year rendering many isolated diesel generators un-operational due to high maintenance cost. Even new solar hybrid systems are affected by the cost since these systems still runs almost 50% on diesel during rainy days; where in remote areas in Sabah and Sarawak average rainy days are almost all year long!
With the rise of fuel prices, diesel generators become an economic burden on low-income families remote rural communities have to pay more to enjoy diesel and petrol-fueled electricity supply, eliminating the economic benefits of electricity. The additional costs very often cover the long distance transportation. Hence they pay twice or more the actual market price for every liter to power generators, often for less than six hours a day. Already burdened by poverty, paying such a high cost for energy is like rubbing salt to their financial wound.
The Solution is Micro hydro power
Proposed solutions to these problems to provide electricity to remote communities in Sabah and Sarawak is amazingly coming from its own obstacle which is its hilly and mountainous terrain and high rainfall. These conditions are ideal criteria for a micro hydro system. Hydro power is the oldest form for technology to harness energy from natural resources since the invention of the water wheel by humans. It uses simple but practical form of spinning wheel to harness power from water that is still in use today.
A micro hydro power system harnesses the kinetic energy of fast flowing water using a turbine and converts it into mechanical power. The mechanical power then can be used directly to drive agro processing equipment such as rice mills or to turn a generator to produce electricity. Because of the size, the system is very cost effective and easy to operate and maintain making it ideal for electrification in remote and isolated communities particularly in Sabah and Sarawak. In the advancement of the digital technology, Micro hydro digital load control system has evolved Micro hydro power into a system that is very reliable and requires very low maintenance.
Fig 1: Typical setup of micro hydro system
A micro hydro system is environment friendly since it does not require any dams that will obstruct water flow and submerge vast areas because it is designed based on the available flow of the river. It is carefully designed that not more than 60% of the water flow should be used to ensure that the river continues to flow and support aquatic life. A small diversion weir is all that is needed to divert water to an intake then to a penstock pipe that will run the turbine (fig.1). This system does not conflict with the regulations of the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID). As a solution, community-based Micro Hydro projects emphasize the people’s participation in all aspects of project conceptualization, design, installation, and implementation. These projects have the greatest likelihood of long-term successful operation because community residents are invested in designing and maintaining the systems. Since they have invested their time, energy, and resources into project development, they have ownership over the project and work to keep it successfully running over the long term.
The micro hydro system will directly serve the communities through increased capacity and the availability of electricity, clean water, and agro-processing equipment powered by the new electricity system. The villagers will be the direct beneficiaries of the trainings that are designed and intended to empower the entire community at large.
It is an innovative and Award winning rural electrification program
This program was initiated through cooperation between PACOS and ERA WIRA Sdn. Bhd. building upon its previous successful and Award winning (2006 ASEAN Energy Awards ) Community Based Micro Hydro Projects in Kg.Terian, Penampang and Kg.Bantul, Pensiangan Sabah including Long Lawen, Belaga Sarawak. Community-based micro hydro projects emphasize people’s participation in all aspects of project planning, installation, management, and maintenance. The community work to keep it running successfully over the long term because they have ownership of the system.
PACOS trust is a community based NGO have been working on social and environment issues since 1993. The organization has been responsible on the community aspect such as community mobilizing, socio economic and watershed management component of the Micro Hydro projects.
ERA WIRA SDN. BHD a renewable energy consultancy company has been responsible in designing, installing and commissioning the successful Micro Hydro System in Long Lawen, Terian and Bantul. Technical team specialized in renewable energy (Hydro and Solar energy) feasibility, its technicians is trained in design and troubleshooting by ENTEC of Switzerland and HEKSA HYDRO a small Hydro turbine manufacturer based in Bandung Indonesia. Have vast network of the best Small Hydro turbine manufacturer and supplier in the region
Past successful Community Based Micro Hydro Projects
Long Lawen, Belaga, Sarawak 10Kw
Located in very remote village in upper Bakun. Approximately 7 hours by logging road from Bakun Dam. The micro hydro system supply 24 hrs electricity to 70 households, Kenyah Badang, ethnic group. The micro hydro system has displace use of 56 diesel and petrol generators. Saving about 15,000 liters of diesel annually, which is approximate RM 110,000 worth of diesel at location price (note: diesel selling at RM 7.50 per liter at nearby timber camp)
The micro hydro system is also integrated with rice mill mechanically operated by turbine at the power house contributing to the improvement of the livelihood of the community. This project was initiated in September 1999, Commissioned in April 2001. The total cost of this project RM 280,000. Funded by Seacology Foundation, Green Empoerment and The Borneo Project through US- Malaysia NGO assistance program.
Kg. Terian, Penampang, Sabah 5 Kw
This project is located in a remote village in Upper Papar, Approximate 5 hrs by foot traversing Crocker Range Park. No road linking this village. All equipment has to be air lifter using helicopter. The micro hydro system is supplying 24 hrs electricity to 25 house holds of the KadazanDusun Ethnic group. The micro hydro system also displace use of kerosene lamps, 12 diesel and petrol generators. Saving about 6000 liters of diesel 3000 liters of petrol and 500 liters of kerosene per year, which worth approximate RM 16,000 worth of diesel, RM 8,500 worth of Petrol and RM 3,500 worth of kerosene.
The micro hyro system is integrated with universal disk mill to produce flour mechanically operated by turbine at power house for food processing and making animal feed. This project was initiated in November 2003 completed and commissioned in May 2005. The total project cost is RM 188,000 and was funded by SEACOLOGY foundation, The Borneo Project and Green Ville Foundation through US- Malaysia NGO assistance program.
Kg. Bantul, Pensiangan, Sabah 5 Kw
This project is located in a remote village in Pensiangan District, takes approximately 5 hrs by road from Kota Kinabalu to Sapulut, then another 3 hrs by boat. Very close to the Malaysia - Indonesia border. The micro hydro system is supplying 24 hrs electricity to 20 households of Murut ethnic group. The micro hydro system also displaces use of kerosene lamps, 8 diesel generators. Saving about 6500 liters of diesel and 300 liters of kerosene per year, which is approximately RM 32,500 worth of diesel and RM 2,250 worth of kerosene. (note: Diesel price is RM 5.00 per liter and kerosene at RM 7.50 per liter in nearby Pagalungan town)
The micro hydro system is integrated with universal disk mill to produce flour mechanically operated by turbine at power house for food processing and making animal feed. This project was initiated in November 2003 completed and commissioned in May 2005. The total project cost is RM 188,000 and was funded by United Nations Development Program – Global Environment Facility - Small Grant Program (UNDP GEF SGP)
Kg. Bario Asal, Bario, Sarawak 40Kw
Located in the Kelabit highlands, this project is to revive the failed RM 17 million hybrid micro hydro by the Ministry of Rural Development in 1997. The system has since been abandoned and was partly destroyed by flash floods in 2003. The community of Bario Asal has taken the initiative to revive this system through assistance from PACOS and Era Wira Sdn. Bhd. This project is funded by the SEACOLOGY Foundation, GEF SGP, and the Sarawak Development office. It is completed in January 2009.
We strongly feel that Micro hydro is one of the answers to the rural electrification in Sabah and Sarawak. It is a better alternative to the proposed 12 dams in Sarawak and the Coal fired power plant in Sabah. Dams have adverse impacts to the livelihoods of Indigenous Poples which we have seen in Batang Ai an Bakun Hydro projects and Coal fired power plants are harmful to the environment and contributes to global warming.
NGOs and donor agencies have played a good role in promoting this benign technology, so far through this pilot project a model have been established and now it’s the government’s turn to replicate and adopt this model. Malaysia should learn from its neighbors like Indonesia and Thailand that have implemented a similar model.
In micro hydro terms, “Small is beautiful and practical”. In moving Malaysia towards sustainable development, appropriate technology will always play an important role to answer the complicated problems that lies ahead.