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Powering Belt and Road Development

China has announced it will back the construction of Malaysia's biggest solar-power plant. The project will see a 61-megawatt solar facility established at a 110-hectare site in Kuantan, the capital of Pahang, Malaysia's third-largest province. For Malaysia, the installation marks another step towards establishing a clean-energy network, while China sees the facility as vital for powering further the Southeast Asian expansion of the Belt and Road Initiative, its ambitious infrastructure development and trade facilitation programme.

Under terms of the agreement reached at the end of last year, Nanjing-based ET Solar and Northwest Electric Power Design Institute (NWEPDI), a division of the China Power Engineering Consulting Group, will work with UiTM Solar Power, a Selangor-headquartered solar photovoltaic developer, to build and operate the new facility. When completed, it will be the largest of the 42 new solar installations scheduled to be built at sites across Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Labuan in the run-up to 2020. Malaysia's Energy Commission hopes to bring 360 megawatts of new solar power capacity on-stream over the next three years.

The Kuantan facility is expected to generate enough clean energy to supply 80,000 households when connected to the national grid in November this year. ET Solar's second major Malaysian project, it comes in the wake of the company's work on several large-scale installations across the world, including sites in the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Chile and Turkey.

Its first project in the country, commissioned last April, set up a 12-megawatt solar-power plant in the northern Kedah state. The facility came online at the end of last year and currently generates enough energy to power more than 5,000 households.

Apart from Chinese companies, South Korean businesses have also lent their expertise to help meet Malaysia's clean-energy aspirations. In December last year, the Seoul-headquartered Hanwha Energy Group announced it had been appointed to install and manage a 48-megawatt solar-power facility in the northwestern Perlis state. With construction work scheduled to begin next year, it is expected to supply electricity to 15,000 households when it comes online in October 2020.

Taken together, the Kuantan, Kedah and Perlis solar plants form part of an evolving clean-energy network designed to generate electricity for commercial and household use. A proportion of their output has also been earmarked for powering several Belt and Road-related infrastructure projects, most notably the East Coast Rail Link, the expansion of Kuantan Port and the completion of the Pan-Borneo Highway.

The facilities are also key elements in the Malaysian Solar PV Roadmap 2030, likely to be unveiled later this year. The work of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority, the Roadmap is expected to serve as the blueprint for delivering the country's integrated solar-energy ambitions.

Prior to the Roadmap’s official unveiling, several of the expected proposals have already been enacted. Last October, for instance, work began on stepping up production of solar photovoltaic cells, with the country aiming to be the world's second-largest manufacturer, after China, of such units – vital links in the solar-power generation chain.

In the medium-term, more opportunities are expected to emerge for Belt and Road investors as Malaysia continues to prioritise the expansion of its sustainable-energy sector, in a bid to cut greenhouse emissions, reduce the nation's reliance on its oil and gas reserves, and improve energy efficiency, while also lowering the overall cost of power generation. The country aims to produce 2,080 megawatts of energy from renewable sources by 2020, with solar power accounting for more than half of that total.

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