Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ever wonder why there are not many mini hydros in Sarawak's interior?

A 10kW mini hydro installed in Penampang, Sabah 

If you have a chance to travel in Sarawak's interior you will find this familiar landscape: long houses with no electricity supply located next to fast streams or even waterfalls. Why is not mini hyro more popular in such locations? These are the 4 major reasons I had come across why mini hydro, despite its merit and low costs, don't quite make it big in rural Sarawak:

1. It is the government's responsibility to provide basic amenities like electricity to the people; the society, the NGOs have no business to provide them on charitable basis; if this arguement stands then a lot more things that the people can help themselves will be left to the government, which means, left  never done; And the government utility that supply electricity SESCO, seems to take a long time to extend electricity supply to rural areas, citing the business consideration of slow returns in far flung, scattered areas; Yet they make a law that once the SESCO wires reach any village any local electricty generation would be considered illegal! Another point: if mini hydro is installed SESCO cannot charge the users for electricity!

2. The costs of installing mini hydro is very high. A community get their mini hydro installed by an overseas groups at purported USD$100 000.00. They had been citing this figure to others who enquired about mini hydro-effectively killing off any interests from the enquirers. What is not known is if the costs quoted by the overseas group-probably donated by some public fundraising, could be lowered significantly if the implementation involved more local inputs. Worst, there are indeed some commercial groups in towns who may want to make a killing to install mini hydros for these rural folks-thus hardening the impression in some rural folks that the costs of installing mini hydro is far beyond them;

3. There are also some well intended people who are afraid that electricity will erode the lifestyles and culture of the rural communities; There are bound to be effects from electricity on the lifestyles of people once they start using electricity-but the picture of people not using electricity already is mistaken. Many families in rural areas are using electricity the hard way ie generate electricity from diesel or petrol generators-which cost them a fortune over a year, considering that diesel and petrol price in this oil producing state is actually higher than in West Malaysia, especially after the fuel goes through a few hands/timber camps before reaching the interior. Under such conditions electricity is used only for a few hours at night, or only when there are visitors; After some mini hydros are installed in a few locations residents found that they could eliminate the use of tens of diesel generators and save over Rm100 000.00/year in fuel costs! (See example of Long Lawen below)

4. There is no expertise to install mini hydro. This could be true -but not unsurmountable. Eg a community in Lacau managed to install their mini hydro by various people in society coming together to poll their expertise and financial resources to see through the installation, which benefit a whole village. So: experise for this very old, mature technology, is available-but perhaps there is not enough information on how to go about getting help to get it done. Actually there are many villagers asking for mini hydro in view of the government's failures to bring electricity for many decades-there is indeed a vacuum for power supply in Sarawak's interior which can best be addressed with mini hydro! In fact there are 2 ways to generate hudro electricity viz 1. minihydro tapping into waterfall;2. waterwheels which tap into quick and big volume flows from rivers-both of which are mature technologies easily researched and well-supplied by many competitive suppliers;

A waterwheel that can generate electricity from streams.

From the above run down of the reasons given you can see that there is indeed a need for more mini hydros in rural Sarawak, and that non-commercial installations methods will be needed to keep costs low enough for rural folks to afford them. Perhaps the latter is the reason why there has not been so many minihydros around at places where they are most needed!

In an alternative government policy the rural residents could be subsidised to install such sustainable energy generators where the government itself is unlikely to be capable of extending electricity supply to these locations for a long time to come! While waiting for such a policy to come along the civil society can help by fundraising as well as training the rural folks to instal mini hydro themselves!

PR government offer installation of RM3200.00/household of hydro electricity to Selangor, how about BN?

Describing a successful experience in installing mini hydro in Long Lawen, Barnie, an NGO from PACOS said of the project there:

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment