Toolkits to craft electrification of Sabah villages

The Borneo Post (Sabah) 31 Dec 2021

KOTA KINABALU: Toolkits for guiding the planning and implementation of renewable energy mini-grids have been developed to craft electrification of a target 200 of remote villages across Sabah that are far from the Sabah Electricity Sdn Bhd’s (SESB) current and planned electricity grid.

An estimated 72 pe cent of all the un-electrified kampungs in Malaysia are in Sabah, and three quarters of these are in the eight poorest districts of Malaysia which are located in Sabah.

“This is the right time for all Sabah’s kampungs to access reliable power. Renewable technologies are now much cheaper than diesel generators. Most communities are ready to learn how to manage their own systems, and everywhere people have ideas to put electricity to work to enhance livelihoods and wellbeing,” said Junia Anilik of PACOS Trust.

“Less than a quarter of Sabah’s un-electrified villages can be reached all-weather in a regular car, and around half rely on boats. Despite remoteness nearly half have some solar panels and 89 per cent have generators with an average of 15.7 generators per village. However, these places are so isolated that getting fuel for even a few hours of unreliable electricity every day costs households an average of RM200-300/month,” Junia added, drawing on the pioneering research of her team.

PACOS Trust is one of the members of a consortium building the Sabah Renewable Energy Rural Electrification Roadmap (SabahRE2), the others being Forever Sabah, TONIBUNG, and Green Empowerment.

The consortium is part of Sabah’s effort to address climate change and partners with Sabah’s Economic Planning Unit (UPEN), Ministry of Rural Development (KPLB), SESB and Institute for Development Studies (IDS).

SabahRE2 website (www. includes a live map of almost 400 villages without grid electricity in Sabah. From this, over 200 were identified for the Project Profile Portfolio, for which a team of 60 local researchers, community organisers and field assistants worked with the district officers to understand their needs and aspirations.

Detailed feasibility studies were then conducted with 49 communities to identify actual power generation and distribution systems.

Leona Wai, a researcher at TONIBUNG said: “We have spent the last few months gathering data for feasibility studies to serve 49 villages with 35 minigrids. What is particularly exciting is how many remote villages have good forest and healthy streams perfect for minihydro, which in hilly areas can be installed without constructing dams and disrupting the ecology.”

The new toolkits, developed with the assistance of Green Empowerment, enable best practices to be applied to the planning and design of next generation mini-grids at scales crafted to meet the growing needs of Sabah’s rural communities. The toolkits are rooted in experience and data collected from Sabah, but also draw on proven best practices from throughout the world where the decentralisation of electricity grids and the development of renewable sources are major trends.

Alice Jipius is the Executive Director at TONIBUNG. She described how useful the toolkits can be to mini-grid implementers: “The formulas help us to quickly assess how much power is available from a given stream, and if it is enough to meet the community’s needs. Meanwhile, it is clear from the toolkits that mini-hydro is now the most cost effective way to generate electricity in remote rural Sabah.”

The use of mini-grids is quite different from each household having their own private electric system.

Alice explained that: “Minigrids enable a community to produce their own power in bulk and distribute it to their members. By collaborating they can produce enough power to run refrigeration and other appliances that can transform rural livelihoods.”

“Furthermore”, added Junia, “Mini-grids enable collaboration in power production between households and needy local institutions – 30 per cent of the un-electrified kampungs have schools, 9 per cent have clinics, 80 per cent have houses of worship and 14 per cent agri-processing facilities. Telecommunications towers also need reliable power in remote regions. We therefore believe mini-grids can be a source for collaborative rural development approaches.”

The consortium has also developed planner toolkits that help decision-makers identify the lowest cost and highest performing energy access options, factoring in costs, generation technologies, climate resilience, and grid availability.

The SabahRE2 website serves as a live portal for the roadmap process, sharing the data, knowledge and experiences that can pivot Sabah towards renewables for rural electrification, decisively shifting the trajectory towards a lowcarbon future.

Funding to develop this road map is provided under the British Government’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, under an international program called “Partnering for Accelerated Climate Transitions” (UK PACT). The Consortium is building a blended funding strategy whereby international grant funding, private sector investment, government support and bank loans enable the scaleout of mini-grids across Sabah.

“For us at Forever Sabah, bringing imagination and community determination to tackling climate change is integral to driving Sabah’s transition to a more diversified, equitable, circular economy that can better meet the needs of the people of our state”, said Cynthia Ong, the Chief Executive Facilitator of Forever Sabah which coordinates the SabahRE2 Consortium.