KOTA KINABALU: Sabah should look towards green renewable energy to make its mark in the region, said Tobpinai Ningkokoton Koburuon Kampung (Tonibung) founder Senator Adrian Lasimbang. He also stressed on the need to be innovative. “This is because we have so much local talent available in Sabah and I feel the current directive (focus) on industries in the State such as oil and gas as well as forestry needs to be changed. “This is because industries in the State such as oil and gas can already be considered a sunset industry with its very high production costs.
“We should look at renewable energy as a sunrise industry as this is where the State can stand out in the whole region given its strategic location.”He said this at the Institute for Development Studies (Sabah) and Tobpinai Ningkokoton Koburuon Kampung’s (Tonibung) second series of Sabah Talk entitled Implementation of Renewable Energy Through Empowering Rural Communities” at IDS Hall, Wisma Sedia, here. About 150 people from both the public and private sectors participated in the event. Adrian said, however, the State still lacks a comprehensive energy master plan.“My observation after working 20 years (in the renewable energy sector) is that we don’t have a comprehensive energy master plan for the State. “I think it is high time we have a master plan not only on energy but also on how we can do development,” he said, adding the State also has to be the forerunner in green sustainable energy.The current plan is “kais pagi makan pagi” (just enough to get by). When we have projects, we don’t see it in terms of the future, we don’t see projection on the overall (picture) of where is the industrial development coming in. “I know the development corridors are there but it’s not consolidated to see how and where we can develop a sustainable development plan.” Meanwhile, on the event itself, Adrian said it was a good platform to provide an avenue for both governmental and non-governmental stakeholders to share their experiences, have further discussions and to gain a better understanding on rural electrification in Sabah. “Today I also shared my 20 years of experience in promoting renewable energy in the State, especially in villages where this alternative energy can be used for development in isolated rural areas.“Our main problem to bring development to rural areas is the limitations we face as a result of a lack of electrical energy.
“There are still many isolated villages that do not have electricity. So an alternative energy source should be found to ensure these villages are not left out in enjoying the benefits of electricity supply. “Here I have also shared the micro-hydro system as one such alternative to be applied for this purpose.”He said one of the problems his team faced in carrying out their task was the lack of proper data on the actual numbers of villages in the State that are without electricity.“There are contradictions in the official statistics with figures ranging from 600 to 1,000 villages. However, what I do know is there are more than 600 villages in the rural areas in Sabah that still do not enjoy electricity supply.“Many of these villages are located in isolated regions such as Pensiangan, Paitan and various areas in Sipitang. So we are looking for ways to bring electricity to these areas, including using Solar PhotoVoltaic and micro-hydro based on our feasibility studies.”At present, he said, with the new government, the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (Mestecc) has given out various small funds for pioneer projects in Sabah.“One of these projects funded by Mestecc is a joint system of electricity and water. An example of this system we are now installing is in Pensiangan, which involves water filtration using solar pumps with any excess solar energy powering the villages.“So, we have just started such pioneer projects and from the results of such projects, the Government will consider much larger scale projects.” On his immediate plans, Adrian said it was also to push policies forward to promote renewable energy. “As far as what I see, renewable energy is generally promoted at the large scale such as industrial solar farms and we don’t have enough promotion of renewable energy in rural areas.“So we are really hoping that the Federal Rural Ministry (KPLB) will also adopt this at the federal level where the funds for such rural development projects come from.“In the context of Sabah, a lot of the villages are very remote and it will take years before the grid can come to them. Grid extension also comes with road access. If there is no road access, normally the grid also won’t go there, so we have to find alternative ways while waiting for the grid which will come in stages.“We have to help these remote communities to have access to electricity which is part of the country’s goal to meet the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.”Meanwhile, IDS Chief Executive Officer Datuk Dr Johan Arriffin Samad said rural electrification has always been a major concern in Sabah’s setting where most of the rural population are still not able to have good access to electricity. “Access to energy is deemed to be one of the most important pillars to support the socio-economic development where it serves as one of the indispensable tools to help in reducing poverty level. “One of the main constraints of lack of supply in the rural areas of Sabah is the decentralised geographical settings where most of the rural places are scattered, posing a technical and financial difficulty for conventional on-grid electric supply,” said Johan. He stressed that Sabah is in need to look into an alternative of using off-grid renewable resources to cater to the rural populations as a long term solution to elevate the local communities to be more productive and self-reliant. “In order to move towards sustainable rural electrification, the application of renewable energy needs to be implemented within the local setting through empowering of local communities and integrating them to participate in the projects”. He said the model set by Tonibung pioneered by Adrian on rural electrification that encompasses community engagement are one of the successful efforts to empower rural communities and boosting their socio-economic growth.