Climate change and the shift to cleaner energy push Southeast Asia to finally start sharing power



HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Urgent for Southeast Asian countries Switch to clean energy It is reviving a 20-year-old plan to share the region’s capacity to tackle climate change.

Malaysia and Indonesia signed an agreement last month in Bali, Indonesia, to study 18 potential locations where cross-border transmission lines could be laid.

These links could eventually generate roughly the equivalent of what 33 nuclear power plants would produce in a year. They are economically and technologically feasible, and are now supported by regional governments, said Benny Suryadi, an energy expert at the ASEAN Center for Energy in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, is a political and economic gathering of 10 countries spanning a vast region, from tiny Brunei and Singapore to military-controlled Myanmar and fast-growing economic power Vietnam.

Experts have described Singapore’s import of hydro-generated electricity from Laos via transmission through Thailand and Malaysia as a “pathfinder” project, the first time four countries in the region have agreed to trade electricity.

Only 2.7% of the region’s capacity was cross-border power purchases in 2017, According to the Journal of Global Interconnection. But they were between two countries like Thailand and Laos. Now, more countries are looking at power sharing as a way to wean their economies off coal and other fossil fuels. Vietnam wants a regional grid so it can sell clean energy to its neighbors, such as from offshore wind, while Malaysia’s Sarawak province is looking to sell its hydropower to neighboring Indonesia.

Plans for a regional grid among the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations were envisioned two decades ago, but progress has stalled due to a range of issues, including technical hurdles and political mistrust.

The region now recognizes that it must move quickly. climate change can reduce The region’s economic potential by mid-century is more than a third, according to a report presented at the 2021 UN climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland. Electricity demand is increasing, and the government realizes the need for an interconnected grid to transition away from fossil fuels, Suryad said.

“It has become an important requirement for every country,” he said.

In the past, countries in the region focused more on energy security, relying heavily on fossil fuels and often generating more capacity than they needed. But the cost of renewable energy is falling, making hydro, solar and wind power more affordable. And all ASEAN countries except the Philippines have pledged to stop adding carbon to the atmosphere by 2050.

So, the argument for an interconnected grid seems to exist.

Tiny, landlocked Laos with a population of just 7 million has built more than 50 dams in the past 15 years, relying on its position as the “battery of Southeast Asia” to profit from electricity sales to Thailand, Vietnam and China.

It still has surplus energy to sell to others in the region.

Singapore – a small city-state of 6 million with almost no natural resources – must import clean energy to meet its renewable energy targets.

Regional grids can help bridge the gap between where electricity is needed and where it can be generated, helping countries adjust to outside shocks like big jumps in oil prices. They can also help reduce costs: in 2021, for example, Europe could save $36 billion through trade power, European regulators say. approx.

Interconnected grids can also provide reliable electricity to communities in remote areas such as West Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. Blackouts were a life-cycle until 2016 when a 170-kilometer (105-mile) long cross-border power line from neighboring Sarawak province was replaced, forcing shops to shutter and people to use diesel generators.

“It’s a no-brainer to do this… because it’s been done elsewhere and the benefits are obvious,” said Rena Kuwahata, an energy analyst at the Paris-based International Energy Agency.

But the problem remains.

One of ASEAN’s core principles is non-intervention, which means members stay away from joint projects. Domestic energy priorities are sometimes at odds with the potential benefits of an interconnected grid. Nadilah Shani, another expert at the ASEAN Center for Energy, said this creates a “dilemma” for countries: They can sell clean energy to neighbors for the region to wean themselves off fossil fuels, or they can use those resources to meet their own. Climate targets.

Malaysia gets only 1% of its annual electricity from clean sources. It also banned renewable exports in 2021 to foster a domestic clean energy industry. The ban was lifted this year but Indonesia’s ban on clean energy exports imposed last year remains in place.

Another obstacle is the region’s lack of a regulatory framework for issues such as laying submarine power cables.

Not all technical issues have been resolved. The voltage used by each country may vary, as does the capacity of their grids. Even countries with extensive grid boundaries, like Thailand, will need to upgrade, Harald Link, owner of Bee Grim Power and president of the Association of Private Power Producers of Thailand, said in an interview.

Estimates of where electricity will be needed must be factored in, for example, planning for power-hungry data centers

“You need a lot of electricity – and they want it green. And where do you get it? For some countries, it’s more difficult to make it green,” says Link.

Costs are high: at least $280 billion in the power sector Investment requiredAccording to the ASEAN Center for Energy.

China’s involvement in building much of the region’s energy infrastructure through the Belt and Road Initiative may also be a cause for concern. In 2021, Laos, under pressure from its mounting debt, granted a 25-year concession to a majority Chinese-owned company to operate its power grid.

But despite intermittent tensions between China and some of its neighbors over territorial disputes and other issues, generally Beijing and ASEAN are “operating on the basis of mutual interests and benefits,” said Nadilah Shani, another expert at the ASEAN Center for Energy.

Given how expensive it is to build a power grid, the private financing needed to build it could affect how and where projects are built, Shani said. Still, he said, national priorities play a bigger role than Chinese investment in how electricity is transmitted.

“We are in a good place in ASEAN for this kind of cooperation in trade and we have reached a common understanding,” he said.


Milko reports from Nusa Dua, Indonesia. Jintamas Saksorchai in Bangkok, Thailand and Aileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia contributed to this report.


Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. AP is solely responsible for all content.



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