BRUNO MANSER FUND, BASEL / SWITZERLAND
23 April 2014 – for immediate release
Scientists present alternative to Sarawak’s mega-dams
A new study by the University of Berkeley shows how Sarawak’s future lies with small-scale, local energy solutions
rather than with risky and expensive large-scale hydropower. The scientists are presenting their findings tomorrow at
the ASEAN Renewable Energy Week in Kuala Lumpur.
(BERKELEY, US) Scientists at Berkeley University have come up with an alternative to Sarawak’s power gigantism with its
Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) project. Instead of building mega-dams, the government ought to focus on
small-scale energy sources for increasing rural electrification and developing rural areas.
Extending rural energy access is key to poverty reduction in Sarawak. According to the new study entitled “Kampung
Capacity”, small-scale energy solutions are more likely to translate into electricity access for the affected and nearby
communities than large hydropower projects. The Bakun Dam shows that mega-dams mainly bring power to urban areas and
feed large industries, while villages in the rural areas – even those next to the Bakun dam – remain without access to
The study analyses different energy scenarios based on small-scale energy solutions for three villages in the Baram area
and finds "the least-cost options for energy services to come from a mixture of locally managed small-scale hydroelectricity,
biogas generators and accompanying batteries instead of a claim of service provision based on large-scale regional
A whole range of tested “different renewable energy service scenarios are consistently 20 percent, or less, than the cost of diesel energy
scenarios, without the social, economic, and environmental disruptions that would come with a large-scale hydropower
plan for the river basin.“ Consequently, significant savings could result from using local and sustainable sources compared with today’s
dependence on diesel generators in most rural villages.
The Berkeley report is the answer to the problems set out by researchers at Oxford University whose analysis of past
dams has revealed that large dams are associated with enormous risks: on average, the actual costs of large dams have
been 96 per cent higher than the estimate, and the implementation schedule has overshot by 44 percent. They concluded
that large dams were uneconomical and advised countries at a lower level of economic development to implement smaller
With their study, scientists Shirley and Kammen of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of
Berkeley have now specified a possible design for such an energy strategy based on small-scale local energy solutions
for Sarawak. The result is a viable alternative to “SCORE’s large scale, extraction-based development regime”. The two scientists have prepared the way for new paths of development in Sarawak. The researcher and author of the
study, Rebekah Shirley, is presenting her findings tomorrow at the ASEAN Renewable Energy Week in Kuala Lumpur.
The Bruno Manser Fund asks the government of Sarawak to develop an alternative energy and development plan for Sarawak
based on the findings of both the Berkeley and the Oxford studies. The time is ripe to acknowledge the advantages of
small-scale energy solutions over large-scale dams. Development should be focused around the people and not indebt the
state for generations to come.
Sources for this release:
Shirley, R. and Kammen, D., 2013, “Kampung Capacity: Local Solutions for Sustainable Rural Energy in the Baram River
Basin, Sarawak, Malaysia”, University of California, Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (REAL). https://rael.berkeley.edu/Kampung-Capacity
Ansar, A. et al., 2014, “Should we build more large dams? The actual costs of hydropower megaproject development”, in:
Energy Policy, University of Oxford. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421513010926