Wholly owned by the State Government of Sarawak, Sarawak Energy plays a critical role in the communities it operates in. Not only is it providing power to more than 600,000 customers across the East Malaysian region, it is also supporting their needs — beyond energy — through various community programs and initiatives. All of this is being done to help the government realise its vision of turning Sarawak into a developed state by 2030.
Coming from Europe with a strong background in the energy industry, Torstein Dale Sjøtveit was a great fit for Sarawak Energy when he joined the company as CEO in November 2009. At that time the business was already healthy in terms of financial performance; however, there were ample opportunities to significantly expand its operations. “That’s the reason they recruited me,” Torstein shares, “and, over the past seven years, I am happy to note that the team has grown in strength to position Sarawak Energy as a thriving and modern power utility. In seven years we have expanded the volume of sales by almost five times, we have doubled the number of employees, and we have had a significant increase in profits. There has been a great deal of growth which we are extremely proud of.”
When Torstein first came on board, Sarawak Energy was preparing to take on a critical role as the main driver of the State Government’s economic development strategy called SCORE, which stands for the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy. This was a unique development initiative aimed at attracting investors by offering them bulk sustainable energy at globally competitive prices, and it is still a priority for the company today.
In seven years we have expanded the volume of sales by almost five times, we have doubled the number of employees, and we have had a significant increase in profits.
Torstein understood Sarawak Energy had great potential to build its reputation as a regional powerhouse in ASEAN, so he was thrilled to take up the challenge to sustainably grow the business in line with the SCORE agenda. Key focuses within this were, and continue to be: engaging and signing up bulk customers with competitive energy prices; and developing cost-effective and high quality generation projects to meet energy demands including in the areas of hydropower and thermal. “As the resources are developed, the generation mix will be approximately 60% hydropower, and 40% thermal,” Torstein notes.
Reliable, secure energy
Aside from the SCORE initiative, Torstein has several other areas he is honing in on to ensure Sarawak Energy continues to move forward on a positive path. One is the provision of reliable, secure energy to Sarawak Energy’s 600,000 customers through efficient operations. Another is to build organisational capacity by implementing various strategic changes in people and leadership development, ultimately preparing them for the international arena. Sarawak Energy currently has a total workforce of 4,500 and, since 2009, it has recruited about 2,300 new local staff in line with its business growth.
Furthermore, it is continuously striving to be a socially-responsible corporation by supporting improvements in the life and wellbeing of communities. This is done through various corporate and CSR initiatives, for example the Murum Penan Literacy Program, scholarships, rural electrification, training programs, the provision of amenities and facilities, schools, and support for culture and heritage conservation.
‘Sustainability is also about how people in the communities are affected by our projects’
Torstein says that to be a sustainably-run company means so many things. “If you look at our environmental impact, the C02 emissions per kilowatt hour, this has been reduced by more than 50% since we started in 2009. That’s an important part of what we want to achieve: reducing the global impact of our business. However, sustainability is also about how people in the communities are affected by our projects — and we are proud to have a great story related to this. When we built our last hydropower dam — the 944 MW Murum Dam — we had to relocate 1,450 indigenous people. They were resettled and have been given wonderful opportunities with proper housing and electricity, which was previously not available to them. Then, more importantly, there were two critical issues we have been able to help them with. The first was assisting them to become recognised members of Malaysian society, as many of the people we relocated didn’t have the ability to fill out the right forms and they were unaware of the process involved to register as an official citizen. We have helped more than 800 people to do that, and it’s changed their lives.
“The second is in regard to schooling. Less than 20% of the community had received a formal education and we have now put more than 500 of them through a literacy program, and sent over 300 children to school. So I believe we have a very proud story to tell in terms of the situation these people are in now, compared to where they were in 2008. They now also have access to medical services, in addition to water, electricity, housing, and land.”
In addition to all of this, Sarawak Energy is spending US$2 million per year on scholarship programs, to send young people to university or college. “We are the biggest organisation in Sarawak, so of course we need to play a role in developing the state,” Torstein adds.
We are on track to becoming a regional powerhouse in ASEAN, and we are developing further generation projects to meet rising demands within Sarawak, and for export.
Looking towards the future, Torstein has a bold vision. Ultimately, he wants Sarawak Energy to be known as the best utility in the region and for it to continue to provide sustainable and secure energy to its local and export customers. “We are on track to becoming a regional powerhouse in ASEAN, and we are developing further generation projects to meet rising demands within Sarawak, and for export,” he says. “Sarawak Energy has developed plans with our neighbours, Brunei and Sabah, for further interconnection projects that will advance the concept of the ASEAN Grid. We are already exporting 100 MW of electricity to Kalimantan. Additionally, we are exploring partnership opportunities in power generation projects in other countries in the region — we have signed a letter of intent with the Indonesian Northern Province (KALTARA). In time, we will also adopt technological advancement and best practices that suit our business operations, for cleaner generation.”
Torstein’s time with Sarawak Energy has already been full of highlights. “I am optimistic that the investment by Sarawak Energy in generation, transmission, and distribution systems will result in a modern electricity supply system that will be one of the best in the region,” Torstein says.
“I wish to thank all Sarawak Energy management and staff for the teamwork and commitment given to ensure Sarawak Energy delivers on its mission and is on track to achieving its vision. I believe Sarawak Energy will progress to become the leading utility in the region.”