PETALING JAYA: There is a need for awareness among the urban populace that providing basic amenities to the rural areas is not just the government’s responsibility, says Ong Boon Keong.
The founder of NGO Lightup Borneo, which aims to bring 24/7 electricity supply to the rural areas of Sabah and Sarawak through the use of microhydro power, noted that one of the biggest challenges to doing so is the assumption that it is the government’s problem.
“The real factor that stalls installations (of microhydro setups) is the people’s ignorance of this problem, or the way people look at the relevance of providing basic amenities. They may assume that it is the government’s fault.
“The biggest challenge is in the recognition of the need of this basic amenity for the rural community. Some people think that the service should be provided solely by the government.
“There are however, enough people who are realistic enough to realise that this is necessary. It is because of the public’s continuous support that we can keep installing these hydroelectric setups, despite having no corporate or governmental support,” Ong told FMT.
According to Ong, Lightup Borneo’s mission is to provide “24/7 electricity supply to the off-grid villages in Sabah and Sarawak”.
“There are no exact figures as to how many villages are off-grid. Sarawak Energy (Berhad) says 36 per cent of 6,000 vilages in Sarawak have no electricity. Figures in Sabah should be similar. But there is always some confusion because the reports by the government are never really consistent.
“(In any case) a significant amount of the people in Sabah and Sarawak are living without 24/7 electricity supply. We consider this a basic social amenity that should be given to every citizen, but somehow that has not happened,” Ong said.
Since its inception in 2001, the NGO has set up over 20 units across Sabah and Sarawak, and a few in Peninsular Malaysia.
Each unit covers one village, which may have 20-30 houses.
“We do not think we will be able to supply every village off-grid, but we hope to inspire more people to help, and pressure the authorities, be it state or federal, to provide what we consider a basic human right,” Ong said.
According to Ong, the NGO chose hydroelectric power due to its cost efficiency and renewability.
“This involves us doing recce (reconnaissance) in villages to check out the water potential and get an idea – this is why we chose hydro. Hydro is the most cost-efficient and renewable energy. Sabah and Sarawak are well-endowed with water sources.
“Maybe half the places have huge slopes where streams can run down, the other half have flat rivers. We have to innovate in terms of technology,” Ong added.
He noted that microhydro power is very cost-efficient, costing RM5,000 per kilowatt.
“On the other hand, 1kw of solar energy costs RM12,000 commercially. Whenever there is water, we should be able to utilise it,” Ong said.
He dismissed the idea of wind energy, saying that the 3-4m/s wind energy seen both in East and West Malaysia is not sufficient.
“There have been a few experiments by the government to produce wind turbines, but these don’t produce electricity.
“Previously in Bario (Sarawak), the government spent RM6 million to set up wind turbines. These turbines did not produce enough power for even a single lightbulb,” Ong said.