May 8, 2024

Malaysian Electric Utilities Seek U.S. Partners to Help Decarbonize the Country's Energy Sector

As noted in previous posts in this Forum, I am optimistic about the commercial opportunities that U.S. companies that are looking to sell their services and products in Southeast Asia. Among the ten nations that comprise the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), I recommend that American business owners and corporate executives look closely commercial opportunities in ASEAN's six largest economies (data provided by the International Monetary Fund): Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia.

The Malaysia Country Commercial Guide, which is a useful resource produced by the International Trade Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, explains that "Malaysia is an upper middle-income economy with a population of over 34 million. The country's growing affluent middle class increasingly drives consumer and business demand for quality goods and services. U.S. products and brands are favorably viewed and enjoy a strong presence in many sectors, including technology, machinery, electronics, medical equipment, and franchising."

What is more, "U.S. exporters looking to expand their market presence in Malaysia can benefit from the country's developed infrastructure, an English-speaking business and consumer environment, a well-established legal framework, and the ability to repatriate capital and profits. Malaysia is generally considered an easy and cost-competitive market for doing business. The United States is Malaysia's third-largest trading partner, and U.S. exports of goods to Malaysia were valued at over $18 billion in 2022." The U.S. Department of State also points out that "Malaysia is the United States' 17th largest trading partner and the second-largest trading partner among the 10 ASEAN members, after Vietnam."

Considering my optimism about ASEAN's economic opportunities and interest in employing technologies to mitigate the consequences resulting from global warming, I attended the Malaysia Smart Grid Technologies Reverse Trade Mission (RTM) on May 1st, 2024 in Millbrae, Calif. The U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), which helps companies create U.S. jobs through the export of U.S. goods and services for priority infrastructure projects in emerging economies, sponsored this event. Delegates of the RTM included representatives of agencies within the Malaysian governments and executives from Malaysian energy utilities. Representatives from the USTDA and the U.S. Commercial Service were also in attendance at the event held just outside of San Francisco.

A delegate from the Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) said the Malaysian multinational electricity company is the only electric utility company in Peninsular Malaysia and is the largest publicly listed power company in Southeast Asia. Serving over 10 million customers throughout Peninsular Malaysia (except Sarawak) and the East Malaysian state of Sabah, TNB's core activities are in the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity. The presentation also highlighted how renewables are expected to grow significantly, with Malaysia targeting 70 percent of its 2050 installed capacity. Advancements in storage technologies are making renewables more dispatchable.

While not part of the presentation, TNB's most recent sustainability report explains:
We have been making progress in rolling out the adoption of a Smart Grid as part of our Grid of the Future (GoTF) initiatives. GoTF aims to improve the grid flexibility with two-pronged objectives - to allow for better services to our customers and enable higher growth of Variable Renewable Energy (VRE) and Distributed Energy Resources (DER). TNB has achieved a Smart Grid Index (SGI) score of 71.4% in FY2022, which demonstrates significant improvement of 19.4% from 2019. Moving forward, under our Smart Utility 2025 Masterplan, we target to achieve a score of 85% by 2025. Through the establishment of this ambitious target, we aim to facilitate the integration of clean energy into our electricity grid and enable efficient management and utilization of resources. These endeavors will help drive the pace of our decarbonization efforts and renewable energy initiatives to achieve our net zero aspiration.



Attendees then heard a presentation by Sarawak Energy Berhad, which is state owned electric utility company of the State of Sarawak. Sarawak Energy's vision is to achieve sustainable growth and prosperity for Sarawak by meeting the region's need for reliable and renewable energy—providing electricity to 3 million Sarawakians in urban and rural areas. Furthermore, the utility aims to ensure all rural communities including the most remote and inaccessible upriver communities have access to constant electricity supply. Using micro-hydro, which is the small-scale harnessing of energy from falling water such as that from steep mountain rivers, and solar hybrids, Sarawak Energy has a goal to help more than 30,000 rural household achieve full electrification by 2025. Sarawak Energy is also making progress in becoming a regional power house as the utility exports power to the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan.


According to the aforementioned country commercial guide, "The Malaysian government is seeking ways to grow its national grid to be a smart, automated, digitally-enabled grid. Malaysia is looking for solutions that ensure greater cost efficiency, reliability, and customer satisfaction than can be achieved with centralized grids. Market opportunities for U.S. companies exist for smart meters, grid technologies and systems, and transmission & distribution systems." I appreciate how this business briefing provided an opportunity for U.S. entities to meet with a delegation of decision-makers from Malaysia interested in learning more about U.S. smart grid technologies and best practices for cybersecurity, distribution networks, and storage solutions for the power sector.

What opportunities are you seeing in ASEAN's renewable energy sector?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.