Datuk Torstein Dale Sjøtveit is strongly confident in his own ability. Throughout his long career in heavy and energy-related industries, he has distinguished himself through his integrity, decisiveness, ability to motivate people and clear focus on achieving corporate goals. But when he accepted the CEO’s role at Sarawak Energy in 2009, something he describes as “a wonderful, once in a lifetime challenge”, even he had no idea just how successful he would be.
In recognition of his contributions to the state of Sarawak, he was awarded the Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of Hornbill Sarawak by the Governor of Sarawak, which carries the title ‘Datuk’. Since Sjøtveit took over, Sarawak Energy’s transformation is apparent. In just seven short years, he has transformed the company from a traditional utility into a modern, agile energy developer and producer on its way to becoming a regional powerhouse for renewable energy in South East Asia with a completely new brand identity.
Both of Sjøtveit’s parents are teachers, but he never felt the call to follow his parents’ vocation. From young, he wanted to do rather than instruct others. After graduating from Technical College in Civil Engineering at Stavanger in 1979, he pursued a career as diverse as it is successful. After two years of working in a local construction company, he joined the Norwegian Conglomerate Norsk Hydro. For the first 15 years he developed his management and problem-solving skills in the high-pressure crucible of the oil and gas industry. He served for a total of 27 years in Norsk Hydro in various senior positions across the company’s operations such as in oil and gas, petrochemical and then further on to aluminum business as the Head of Aluminum, the group’s largest business division and a global top-10 producer, where he led 5000 employees from 30 plants in 13 countries through a period of continuous growth and expansion.
Sjøtveit left Norsk Hydro in 2008 to become president and CEO of STX Europe AS, one of the world’s leading cruise and oil service shipbuilders. Having led a major restructuring effort, he felt ready for a new, career-topping challenge. The Sarawak State Government needed a proven leader who was familiar with every aspect of large industries and energy production, and one who understood the energy industry from the perspective of large industrial consumers. When approached by intermediaries to join the shortlist, he felt very intrigued by this great challenge.
Sarawak’s high rainfall and abundance of rivers are ideal for harnessing renewable energy through sustainable hydropower development. The Sarawak Government seeks to leverage this strategic advantage through SCORE (Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy), the largest of Malaysia’s regional development corridors, extending over 70,000 square km. The rationale behind SCORE is to produce renewable energy at globally competitive prices to attract energy-intensive industries, transforming Sarawak’s economy to developed status by 2030. This development model was successful for Canada, Austria and Norway, where hydropower is a proven catalyst of growth.
Sjøtveit’s first task upon taking over at Sarawak Energy was to prepare the company for SCORE. This would mean increasing energy production, but in a sustainable way, compliant not only with Sarawak and Malaysian law, but also guided by international best practices in hydropower development. It would also mean upgrading the transmission grid, improving customer service, increasing profitability, upgrading the workforce and implementing a new corporate culture and way of doing things.
Significant progress has been made – the entire 2,400MW output of the Federally-owned Bakun Hydroelectric Plant has been secured by Sarawak Energy through a power purchase agreement signed in 2011. The 944MW Murum Hydroelectric Plant, the company’s largest project to date, began commercial production in 2014, less than 6 years after construction began. The 1285MW Baleh Hydroelectric Project has received regulatory approval, as well as the state principal approval.
To provide additional energy security, thermal power projects are also being undertaken. The 270MW Mukah Coal Fired Power Plant came on-stream in 2009, in 2010 the 317MW Bintulu Combined Cycle Project was commissioned, the first Malaysian plant under the UN’s Clean Development Management (CDM) scheme. A further 1,500MW of thermally generated power will be implemented over the next decade.
Under Sjøtveit’s leadership from 2009 to 2015, the Company has achieved significant milestones as follows:
Revenue and profit before tax more than doubled.
Power sold has grown by three times and generation capacity has increased almost threefold.
Sarawak Energy has signed 14 long term agreements to supply more than 3000MW of clean, renewable energy.
Transmission line length has increased from 974 km to 1725 km.
A new RM2.7 billion 500kV Backbone Transmission Grid is being constructed to improve supply reliability.
System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI) has reduced from 223 minutes per year to 144 minutes.
Power theft has been reduced significantly. In 2015, non technical losses have been reduced to RM34 million compared against its peak of RM140 million in 2010.
70,882 new rural households have been connected through grid expansion or community-based generation projects.
The Sarawak Energy workforce has increased from 2,700 to 4,300, in new highly skilled jobs.
24-hour customer care has been implemented, along with expanded payment channels including mobile app.
Electricity tariffs have been reduced for industrial, commercial and residential customers, and perhaps most importantly,
With Sarawak’s electricity supply mainly from hydropower, the state’s carbon intensity for electrical supply has dropped by almost 60% since 2009.
Under Sjøtveit, Sarawak Energy is embedding sustainability into its operations and its corporate practices. It is a champion in CSR, focusing on the socio-economic development of project affected communities by making long-term, sustainable social investments such as the Murum Penan Literacy Programme. Launched in 2012, it is specifically tailored to close the literacy gap while preparing the Penan communities to be resettled for the Murum Hydroelectric Plant. It won the Excellence in Provision of Literacy and Education Award at the Global CSR Summit and Awards.
Sjøtveit has elevated the benchmark for Sarawak Energy to international level. The company is guided by the International Hydropower Association’s (IHA) Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, and had the honour of hosting the prestigious IHA World Congress for Advancing Sustainable Hydropower, held in 2013 in Kuching.
In recognition of his contributions to the hydropower industry, Datuk Torstein was elected a Vice President to the board of the IHA, to spearhead hydropower development in the region. In crediting Sarawak Energy’s achievements, he praises the workforce and the board of directors, and credits the close cooperation and trust of the company’s owners, the Sarawak Government. He is also grateful to the then Chief Minister of Sarawak, Tun Pehin Sri Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud (now Governor of Sarawak) for his high level onboarding, as he recounts, “He took me personally to visit virtually every decision-maker in the state, to introduce me and to be sure I could rely on their cooperation.”
Sjøtveit considers himself a practical engineer rather than a business theorist and cites traditional Norwegian values and hard work for his success. He adds, “senior executives earn far higher salaries than rank and file employees. To justify that difference, they must be prepared to give their best effort whenever the company’s business needs require it, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
For the moment, he is pleased with what he has achieved, and believes Sarawak Energy’s corporate culture is comparable with any public utility, anywhere. He sees his principal mission as guiding Sarawak Energy closer to becoming a world-class company and the Regional Energy Powerhouse for ASEAN.