05 Aug ASEAN goes green: Renewable energy strategies in Southeast Asia
Shifting to cleaner energy is an important decision of ASEAN countries as they are most vulnerable to climate change. With a 50% rise in energy demand within a decade the region stands at crossroads in terms of their collective energy future. As of 2019,, the total renewables capacity is the highest in Vietnam and lowest in Singapore, the country that consumes more power per capita than any other ASEAN nation. Vietnam has achieved about 34% share among the leading ASEAN nations in the renewables sector. It is followed by Thailand at 17%, Indonesia at 13%, Malaysia at 10% and Philippines at 10%. It is important to note that increase in energy consumption can signal development activities through industrialization or growth of the information technology sector. A Boston Consulting Group report says that the Asia-Pacific region’s renewable capacity would grow by 7% year-on-year and in 20 years the investment would be to the tone of US$ 3.7 trillion, surpassing North American and European targets put together. This is important to note because the developed nations which are pushing for sustainable and green future would be contributing less towards a sustainable and green future than the developing countries.
Here is a list of clean energy strategy plans by individual ASEAN countries.
With ASEAN setting a target of 23% by 2025, Philippines as a fast-growing market has all the more reasons to achieve it. Some of the barriers to renewable energy infrastructure is the frequent storms that the region faces. Renewable energy currently accounts for 30.3% of the energy mix. Philippines has a 105 million population and a GDP of USD 305 billion. The country consumes 93.35 TWh of electricity annually. A decade ago, in 2011, Philippines set a target to raise installed renewable energy generation capacity by three times from 5.4 GW to 15.3 GW by 2030. The National Renewable Energy Program that is the blueprint of the Renewable Energy Act of 2008 wanted to put the country on course to meet half its energy demand with renewables and lessen the dependence on coal and fossil fuel.
Even as a small city-state, Singapore which is one of the least populated countries in the ASEAN region consumes the highest amount of power per capita at 8.3 MW per year among all ASEAN countries. The country consumes about 47.5 TW of power per year. With one of the top destinations for new business, Singapore’s need for power may keep raising as long as competitors like Indonesia and Vietnam catch up with development. The Singapore Green Plan 2030 aims to scale up Singapore’s net-zero ambitions to green the tech sector in order to reach its energy targets. As part of its commitment to finding more sustainable solutions, the government has put a moratorium on the construction of new data centers, due to their high energy and water consumption.
Indonesia is the regions most populated and naturally the highest consumer of electricity in the ASEAN region. The country needs about 263.13 TW of power. In the power mix, renewable energy is mainly provided by hydropower plants at about 8% and geothermal plants at 5%. The Indonesian government intends to generate 23 % of its total primary energy supply from modern renewable sources by 2025 and 31% by 2050 as part of a national energy policy. According to experts, there needs to be approximately $16 billion worth of investments made annually by the country by 2030 to achieve these forecasts. Even as it is one of the fastest growing markets in the region, the energy consumption per capita in a year is less than half of that of Thailand and Vietnam. The energy production needs to catch up with the growing population. Singapore-based company Sunseap Group has proposed a US $2 billion worth floating solar farm and energy storage system in Batam, Indonesia, which would be the largest in the world.
Over 15 GW of renewable energy capacity is installed in Thailand, accounting for roughly a third of the total. The country’s renewable energy production could reach 63 Gigawatts and a 39% share by 2030, making it a regional leader in renewable energy in Southeast Asia. According to a report by International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in 2017, by 2036, Thailand may draw a large amount of hydropower up to 1000 MW of pumped storage. Bioenergy is one of the dominant renewable sources in Thailand’s end-use sectors as this can e used for heat and transport fuels. Thailand may replace traditional bioenergy with modern cookstoves and biogas digesters which can increase residential uptake.
It is estimated that the demand for electricity in Myanmar is increasing by 20% yearly and the country targets to generate about 3 GW of electricity by 2021. The country has a population of 53.4 million and a US $67.4 billion GDP. The Ministry of Electricity and Energy announced ambitious goals for renewable energy, which call for an increase of 8% by 2021 and 12% by 2025. As of 2019 the total electricity consumption in Myanmar is about 18.02 TW. Myanmar’s solar resource is estimated by the Asian Development Bank at 27 GW. The only utility-scale solar power plant currently operating in Myanmar is the 170 MW Minbu solar project in Minbu Township, Magwe Region.
The third most populated ASEAN nation Vietnam had a GDP of US $203 billion as of 2019. The country’s energy consumption close to Indonesia, the most populated country in the ASEAN. Vietnam has an appetite of 216.99 TW per year electricity. It is perhaps a sign of growth and development in the country through industrialization. In 2020, solar and wind energy capacity in Vietnam was 16.6 GW and 0.6 GW, respectively. By 2030, Vietnam plans to increase solar capacity to 18.6 GW and wind capacity to 18.0 GW. The country is home to a number of large rivers, despite this, hydro electricity’s reliability can be affected by periodic droughts. Wind and solar contributed 5% to Vietnam’s electricity generation in 2020. As of 2020, there are a total of 11 renewable energy projects recorded in Vietnam with an expenditure of US $1.1 billion.
Laos is a land-locked country in the South Asia with a population of 7 million and a GDP of US $16 billion total energy consumption in Laos stood at 6,596 GWh in 2019 of which the 47% was consumed by the transport and industry sector. Among the renewable energy sources, 56% come from hydropower, 22% from biogas, 11% from solar and the remaining 11% from biomass. The country is yet to state clearly their renewable energy strategy in its National Socioeconomic Development Plans. It is studied that Laos can contribute as much as 728 MW of renewable energy by 2025.
Malaysia is one of the developed nations among the ASEAN countries. Rightly so, the per capita electricity consumption per year is the second highest at 4.6 MW, after Singapore. Malaysia has a total population of 31.6 million and its GDP is US $296 billion. The total power consumption is 147.2 TWh per year, ranking fourth among ASEAN countries. The government hopes for a PPP model and private financing. Previously, the Malaysia’s “Five-fuel Diversification Policy” ratified in 2000 and continued in its 9th plan from 2006-10 did not meet its target entirely. At the end of its 9th plan in 2010 the country had achieved only 41.5MW which was about 8.3% of the target and merely 1% of the total energy mix. The is focusing on 31% renewable energy installed capacity an upto 40% by 2040. This would increase the renewable energy capacity to 10.9 TW by 2040. The government identified that solar power has the highest potential in Peninsular Malaysia.
As the countries do their bit with existing clean energy strategies, there is opportunity to diversify, reinvent and discover newer forms of renewable energy mechanisms. The one advantage that Southeast Asian nations have is that they fall in the Tropic zone, that is between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, which is why they are rich in natural resources and fossil fuels. On the other hand, this would also mean that the region is most amenable for solar energy and there have been innovations such as floating solar panels.
There is a large portion of the ASEAN region that still needs electrification and it is very important for an area to be electrified for any development activity to progress. Each government can look in to off-grid solar energy options to achieve 100% electrification. Since these economies are largely agricultural and countries like Malaysia and Indonesia thrive on their palm oil exports, it is an opportunity for them to utilize the waste and generate biogas.
The innovations in the renewable energy space are constantly looking at mixed land use and alternatives to land. Thus, the Southeast Asian nations need not look at conventional set ups or designs and can explore the sea to build their renewable farms. It is also possible that ASEAN can harness newer forms of energy such as tidal wave energy, and if the right technology is put in place, this can be a continuous source of energy. Perhaps, more touchstone infrastructure ideas and innovations for renewables will come from this region with many diverse forms of resources.