Sabah sets geothermal history
Published on: Saturday, August 06, 2016

Kota Kinabalu: Malaysia is set to have its first geothermal plant developed in Apas Kiri, Tawau, soon.Announcing this, Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili (pic) said the geothermal power plant project, which is to be developed by Tawau Green Energy Sdn Bhd (TGE), is set to export 30 megawatt (MW) nett to the Sabah Electricity Sdn Bhd (SESB) grid under the Feed-In-Tariff (FiT) scheme.

He said it is scheduled to achieve commercial operation by June 2018 which will make Malaysia the 16th country in the world to have geothermal energy generation.

In 2015, Ongkili said geothermal made history in the country when the Sustainable Energy Development Authority (Seda) gazetted the resource as the fifth renewable energy under the FiT portfolio and TGE secured the feed-in approval the same year.

"The geothermal energy technology is considered both very green with extremely low carbon footprints and has a very high availability and reliability rate as clearly demonstrated in other operating plants worldwide which I have visited such as in Singapore, Indonesia and New Zealand.

"After an extensive research followed by geology, geophysics and geochemistry analysis and modelling by GeothermEX Inc, USA and a geothermal consultancy, Jacobs New Zealand, they indicated the existence of an active geothermal system centred on the flanks of Mount Maria in Apas Kiri," he said.

Ongkili said this when attending a briefing on the latest development of the project in Apas Kiri, Tawau at a hotel here, Friday.

Also present were Seda Malaysia Chairman Datuk Dr Yee Moh Chai, Sabah Parks Chairman Dato' Seri Tengku Dr Zainal Adlin Tengku Mahamood, TGE Executive Chairman Ramzi Raad, TGE General Manager Andrew Amaladoss and senior officials.

"We are also pleased to learn that the drilling had reached a depth of 1,449 metres and even at such shallow depth, the temperature recorded had already exceeded 200 degree Celsius.

"This result also confirmed an earlier 'magnetotelluric' (MT) study on the technical potential of geothermal in Apas Kiri that was conducted earlier by TGE geologists as well as by the Mineral and Geoscience Department Malaysia," said Ongkili.

According to him, construction of two geothermal well pads has been completed, as of now, and the third well being created whereby these wells would be used for exploration and drilling processes to extract three required components of geothermal system, namely the heat, fluid and permeability to be used for power generation.

"This project is a private sector investment placed under the FiT scheme where the Government gives support to the early stage of the development.

"We will also give facilitation in terms of infrastructures like roads and FiT support in the form of subsidies on top of the cost of production.

"As for the costs of realising the project, I was made to understand that the exploration and drilling cost of each well to look for geothermal potentials would involve about USD5 million," he said to reporters during a question and answer session.

Ongkili said the continuous growth of renewable energy in Sabah has the potential to enhance electricity supply towards achieving the country's pledge in carbon emission reduction of 45 per cent by 2030 that was made in the Paris Climate Conference officially known as the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21).

He said geothermal plays an important role towards having an energy balancing market that will be vital when variable renewable energy such as solar and wind increases in the energy mix.

As of June this year, he said Seda has approved a total of 9,570 FiT applications with a total capacity of 1,308.55MW and in the same period, 6,201 FiT applications have achieved commercial operation with a total capacity of 364.02MW.

By end of 2020, Ongkili said the 11th Malaysia Plan (11MP) estimated that the renewable energy installed capacity would reach 2,080MW or 7.8 per cent of total generating capacity in the peninsula and Sabah.

"Actually we are slightly behind in terms of the FiT as the total capacity now is 364.02MW.

Therefore, the Federal Cabinet has agreed to do a fast tracking on the FiT by targeting to produce a total generation supply of 1,000MW using solar energy by 2020.

"So in four years' time, we target to produce 250MW power using solar in a year whereby the peninsula is aimed to generate 200MW while the remaining 50MW is expected from Sabah," he said.

By capitalising on the resources of renewable energy to generate stable and continuous power supply, Ongkili said his ministry has set a new power interruption 'System Average Interruption Duration Index' (Saidi) target of 250 minutes per customer in a year. He said the new Saidi target is lower than last year's Saidi that was set at 350 and had been achieved.

In fact, Ongkili said Saidi in the country has shown improvement where 10 years ago, the Saidi was like 2,000 minutes per customer in the country and later reduced to about 600 to 700 Saidi five to six years ago.

Meanwhile, the East Coast of Sabah, particularly Tawau, is expected to enjoy better power supply when Malaysia's first geothermal power plant project in Apas Kiri in Tawau commissions its commercial operations by June 2018.

General Manager Andrew Amaladoss og TGE, which will develop the project, said it would channel electricity into the grid which will be enjoyed by many Tawau households and industries.

Following rising demand for power supply in Tawau, he said the development of the geothermal power plant in the district would improve power distribution to the residents and communities as well as industry players.

However, he said he could not give an assurance as to whether power supply for the State would be improved with the commissioning of operations in two years' time as only SESB would know that.

To a question, Amaladoss said a total of RM600 million is estimated to be the total capacity investment to realise the first phase of the geothermal power plant that is a form of green energy that does not require any fuel burning or combustion to produce heat or electricity.

"Of the RM600 million, a total of RM35 million was given as a grant for the project from the Private Public Cooperation Unit (UKAS) under the Prime Minister's Department while the remainder was derived from shareholders of the TGE.

"For a start, the project will develop its first phase and when there is progress coming from the well pads, then we will be applying for bank loans," he said.

Meanwhile, Jacobs geothermal consultant Dr Ryan Libbey told reporters that about 10 well pads are expected to be built for its exploration and drilling process for the project as not all will produce expected results.

It is learnt that a geothermal power plant project needs to create holes known as wells, which are constructed using drilling rigs in the ground to extract fluid and other vital geothermal components used for generating power.

"Each well that produces successful results can generate four to five MW of power supply.

Therefore, this Apas Kiri geothermal power plant project that is set to export 30 megawatts nett would need about five to six well pads to be built in order to achieve the expected amount of energy for the electricity.

"But bear in mind, not necessarily all well pads would produce successful results as some can be used as injectors.

"That is why it is early to say how many well pads are needed to be built so as to meet the expected 30 megawatts nett from the project," he said.

In layman's terms, Dr Libbey said one megawatt could be enjoyed by about 1,000 households per day and using geothermal plants to generate electricity would benefit the people and industries as the power generation from the plant is continuous and cannot be stopped.

Hence, he said this will assure stable supply of steam to generate electricity to the public and could help reduce power outages.


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