Tapping into power of sun to meet Brunei’s energy needs

July 18, 2016

Much has been said about the potential of harnessing the sun to reduce the use of non-sustainable energy sources in Brunei. But solar energy has yet to take off in the sultanate.

With its geographical position near the Equator, Brunei enjoys the sun all year round. This led to many experts and the government to conclude that tapping into solar power is feasible in diversifying the country’s energy sources.

Universiti Teknologi Brunei Assistant Vice Chancellor (Research) Professor Dr Nawaf Hazim Saeid last month said Brunei has “good potential” for solar energy as “the solar intensity is higher in Brunei compared with other countries because of the amount of sunlight it has daily”. Solar intensity refers to the amount of sunlight hitting the earth’s surface.

Dr Nawaf had said Brunei can tap into solar energy by placing photovoltaic panels in large areas of land mass unoccupied by the population.

“There are a lot of areas in Brunei that can be used to generate solar energy, including photovoltaic panels on top of buildings and houses,” he said, adding that Brunei has good potential to utilise solar energy in terms of renewable energy.

“One of the successful projects for producing electricity is the Tenaga Suria Brunei Photovoltaic Power Generation Demonstration Project in Seria,” he added.

Solar panels were installed at the Seria Power Station in 2010, kickstarting Brunei’s aspiration to cut down the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity.

However, Brunei still depends on fossil fuels for its energy needs.

The Energy White Paper released in 2014 stated that solar power only accounts for 0.05 per cent of Brunei’s 2013 total domestic energy consumption.

The government has set a target to increase the share of renewable energy in the total power generation mix by 2.7 per cent by 2017 and by 10 per cent by 2035.

According to a study published by the think tank Centre of Strategic and Policy Studies (CSPS) in 2011, Brunei should integrate its energy infrastructure with that of other countries in the region.

Youngho Chang, the author of the study published in the CSPS Strategy and Policy Journal, had stated that the ASEAN Power Grid and Trans-ASEAN Gas Pipelines will help Brunei tap into foreign energy supply sources.

“Brunei needs to put more efforts into developing and expanding viable sources of renewable technologies, including solar energy, mini-hydro and wind power.

“Brunei’s problem is that many of these renewable resources are still at an infant stage of development,” the study added.

In ASEAN, use of solar energy has already taken flight, especially Thailand, which seems to have benefitted the most from harnessing solar power, according to a November 2015 report by ASEAN Brief.

Other countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia are also investing in solar farms, creating incentives, as well as attracting solar panel manufacturers, the report stated.

Globally, due to the current energy crisis and growing environmental consciousness, the energy sector is shifting more towards sustainable and secure energy resources and technologies.

According to UBD|IBM Centre Director Pg Dr Mohd Iskandar Pg Hj Petra, Brunei is contributing to this positive change by increasing the share of clean and renewable energy resources in its energy mix.

He said the government is targeting to generate at least 10 per cent of total power from new and renewable resources by 2035.

The government, meanwhile, has included in its energy plans to harness the sun’s energy to power Temburong homes by 2019.

Minister of Energy and Industry at the Prime Minister’s Office Yang Berhormat Pehin Datu Singamanteri Colonel (Rtd) Dato Seri Setia (Dr) Hj Mohammad Yasmin Hj Umar in April said the government was collaborating with Royal Dutch Shell to study the feasibility of using solar energy to replace the current diesel-generated power station in the district.

Although solar investment is higher, the minister said it is almost next to nothing considering the life cycle of the cost.

The Temburong project meant that about 20MW will come from solar. “We need 70MW to be the 10 per cent of our renewable energy and this 20MW from solar energy is something that will contribute (towards it),” said the minister.

Researchers at the UBD|IBM Centre also found that solar is the best renewable energy option for the country. The study demonstrated how energy consumption in the residential sector in Brunei can be reduced through energy conservation and efficiency measures.

Pg Dr Mohd Iskandar and his deputy, Associate Professor Dr Sathyajith Mathew, concluded that solar panels worked efficiently for roof top systems under Brunei conditions. “The solar PV system as a rooftop technology will work well within Brunei,” said Assoc Prof Mathew.

Pg Dr Mohd Iskandar said along with technological intervention, “simple behavioural changes in the consumption pattern” can contribute significantly in promoting sustainable development in Brunei.