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Behind an ambitious megaproject in Asia: The history and implications of the Bakun hydroelectric dam in Borneo


  • Sovacool, Benjamin K.
  • Bulan, L.C.


Using a case-study, inductive, narrative approach, this article explores the history, drivers, benefits, and barriers to the Bakun Hydroelectric Project in East Malaysia. Situated on the island of Borneo, Bakun Dam is a 204Â m high concrete face, rock filled dam on the Balui River in the Upper Rajang Basin in the rainforests of Sarawak. Bakun Dam and its affiliated infrastructure could be the single largest and most expensive energy project ever undertaken in Southeast Asia. Based on data collected through site visits, original field research in Sarawak, and more than 80 research interviews, the article begins by teasing out the complex history and drivers behind the Bakun project before identifying a set of potential social, political, and economic benefits the project could deliver. It then delves into six sets of barriers in the technical, economic, political, legal and regulatory, social, and environmental realms. We find that Bakun illustrates how centralized energy megaprojects, while ostensibly championed for reasons of economies of scale and the ability to bring about transformational change in the shortest period of time, often fail to address broader development goals such as fighting energy poverty and improving the livelihoods of the local communities they are supposed to serve.

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  • Sovacool, Benjamin K. & Bulan, L.C., 2011. "Behind an ambitious megaproject in Asia: The history and implications of the Bakun hydroelectric dam in Borneo," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(9), pages 4842-4859, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:enepol:v:39:y:2011:i:9:p:4842-4859

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Keong, Choy Yee, 2005. "Energy demand, economic growth, and energy efficiency--the Bakun dam-induced sustainable energy policy revisited," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 33(5), pages 679-689, March.
    2. Sovacool, Benjamin K. & Brossmann, Brent, 2010. "Symbolic convergence and the hydrogen economy," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(4), pages 1999-2012, April.
    3. Kempton, Willett & Montgomery, Laura, 1982. "Folk quantification of energy," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 7(10), pages 817-827.
    4. Sovacool, Benjamin K. & D'Agostino, Anthony L. & Jain Bambawale, Malavika, 2011. "The socio-technical barriers to Solar Home Systems (SHS) in Papua New Guinea: "Choosing pigs, prostitutes, and poker chips over panels"," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(3), pages 1532-1542, March.
    5. Sovacool, Benjamin K., 2009. "Rejecting renewables: The socio-technical impediments to renewable electricity in the United States," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(11), pages 4500-4513, November.
    6. Sovacool, Benjamin K., 2009. "Energy policy and cooperation in Southeast Asia: The history, challenges, and implications of the trans-ASEAN gas pipeline (TAGP) network," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(6), pages 2356-2367, June.
    7. Ball,Michael & Wietschel,Martin (ed.), 2010. "The Hydrogen Economy," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521178549, January.
    8. Koh, Siong Lee & Lim, Yun Seng, 2010. "Meeting energy demand in a developing economy without damaging the environment--A case study in Sabah, Malaysia, from technical, environmental and economic perspectives," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(8), pages 4719-4728, August.
    9. Sovacool, Benjamin K., 2010. "A comparative analysis of renewable electricity support mechanisms for Southeast Asia," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 35(4), pages 1779-1793.
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