Powering ahead to solve Southeast Asia’s energy challenges

Southeast Asia wants to shift to a clean energy system, but high energy demand and cost pressures could slow progress. The upcoming Asia Power Week brings together industry and policy leaders to discuss solutions to these issues.

Despite ambitious green energy targets set by several Southeast Asian nations last year, the region’s fight against climate change could be an uphill one, going by some turbulent trends over the past decade.   

Energy demand in the region has frequently outpaced growth in sustainable energy. Strong economic growth and poor regional coordination have been cited by experts as underlying causes for the persistently low share of renewables in the region’s energy mix.

Thailand saw its energy production decrease in 2015, forcing the country to increase energy imports to meet domestic demand. Cambodia’s electricity prices are among the highest in the region, due to its reliance on imported fuel.

Indonesia, the region’s largest energy consumer, is expected to face an energy crisis by 2020-2030 due to its inability to generate enough clean energy to meet the electricity needs of its growing urban population and industries.

Southeast Asia’s use of coal – a highly-pollutive fuel – has increased thanks to its abundance, relative affordability and the need to provide energy for 120 million people who live without electricity.

Regional governments have been trying to overcome what is described as the “energy trilemma” – finding the balance between energy security, environmental sustainability and economic competitiveness.

With Southeast Asian energy demand set to jump by more than 80 per cent between 2015 and 2040, as projected by the International Energy Agency, Southeast Asian governments face the daunting task of producing enough sustainable energy to meet the burgeoning demand for electricity.

The price of failing to curb greenhouse emissions will be high for Southeast Asia, as the region’s long coastlines are home to tens of millions of people, vulnerable to sea level rises and severe typhoons aggravated by climate change.

Boosting regional coordination and technical expertise

Over the past few years, Southeast Asian governments have been stepping up efforts to grow their renewable energy capabilities.

Indonesia has pledged to reach 19 per cent renewable energy production by 2019, while Myanmar, a land rich in natural gas, is aiming for 15 to 20 per cent renewable energy production by 2020. In Thailand, three memorandums of understanding (MoUs) aimed at boosting solar power research and improvement of the region’s infrastructure for renewable energy were signed last October.

But challenges remain. As Sanjay Kuttan, programme director at the Energy Research Institute at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore explains, pragmatic energy polices in many countries have been “hamstrung” by social and political pressures. 

Heavy subsidies supporting traditional energy sources have created an unequal playing field for sustainable energy development, says Kuttan, adding that traditional energy suppliers have strong economic and political influence over the status quo.

One event that offers regional policymakers and industry players a platform to discuss solutions to policy challenges and scale up clean technology is the upcoming Asia Power Week in Bangkok, Thailand. The expo, held at Bangkok International Trade and Exhibition Centre (BITEC) from September 19 to 21, hosts two events: POWER-GEN Asia, which deals with the nuts and bolts of producing power, and Renewable Energy World Asia, which focuses on renewable energy strategies and technologies.   

It will bring together business executives and policymakers from involved in sustainable energy production around the region. Participants can share information on the challenges facing the power industry, as well as discuss solutions for advancing Asia’s energy future.

Conference themes include renewable energy strategy and renewable energy technologies, which are potentially useful in helping Southeast Asian governments meet their sustainable energy targets. This includes slashing its energy intensity by a fifth by 2020 compared to 2005 levels and increasing the share of renewables in its energy mix to 23 per cent by 2025, up from 10.2 per cent in 2013.

Asia Power Week can provide a forum where obstacles are “challenged and discussed head-on”, says Sanjay. It can also be a platform for heads of ASEAN power utilities and authorities to make announcements for national and regional sustainable energy commitments, he adds.

The NTU energy expert also argues that incumbent energy suppliers can be made “part of the solution” in order for sustainable energy to be deployed successfully.

With more than 180 international speakers and over 200 leading exhibitors at Asia Power Week, a new user-friendly Business-Matching Service, called hubsCONNECT, will help attendees connect and meet with the people they wish to do business with.

Delegates can also deepen their technical expertise at some of the 45 conference sessions that deal with key aspects of sustainable power production. Among the many conference themes are Trends, Projects & Planning; Finance & Investment; Optimizing Plant Operation, and Power Technologies. Also included are conferences on Digitalization; Integration, Storage & Distributed Generation.

Frontier markets and China’s Belt & Road project

The Asia Power Week also offers opportunities to discuss how developments beyond Southeast Asia will affect the region. For example, a panel discussion has been dedicated to taking a comprehensive look at China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI).

A massive infrastructure plan to foster trade and connectivity throughout Asia and Europe, the BRI has sparked concerns that participating countries could suffer the same air quality and ecological problems faced by China. In April this year, four Chinese ministries have issued guidelines calling for a “green Belt and Road.”

Asia Power Week’s return to Southeast Asia is also timely, given recent heavy Chinese investments in the region, as part of plans for the Maritime Silk Road.

At another session titled “‘What’s Next for the Renewable Market’ Panel Discussion; the Hotspot Market Focus”, energy experts will examine frontier markets in Asia to uncover risks and opportunities of accelerating clean energy adoption in countries such as Vietnam and Pakistan.

Tackling the hot topic of digitalization will be the Cyber Security session, with speakers from household names like Siemens, Kaspersky and Mitsubishi Hitachi. AWR Lloyd, a specialist in natural resources and strategic industries in Asia, will host a workshop on energy storage investment analysis.

“We are extremely proud to have been serving the ASEAN, as well as the wider Asian power industry, for a quarter of a century,” says Johnstone. “We look forward to continuing to serve by providing a forum where the industry’s wants and needs, in terms of both strategic market thinking and the latest technological advances, are met.”

 

Asia Power Week 2017 will be held from September 19-21 in Bangkok, Thailand. It will feature technical tours, multiple networking receptions, panel discussions, and many learning and business opportunities. Click here to learn more about the event.

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