Anna Lobanova and Randi Kristiansen
Secure and sustainable energy systems are a key driver of economic growth and social development. Together with technological innovations, which open new opportunities, the modern world faces emerging challenges to future progress including energy security issues.
ESCAP defines energy security as “a concept which encompasses supply reliability, accessibility, self-sufficiency, diversification of supply and demand, continuity, price stability and environmental impact”. This blog post provides an overview of some key security issues and how energy connectivity may help address them.
Energy connectivity includes strengthening cooperation at the regional level, connecting regional energy markets and sharing best practices. Cross-border power grid connectivity advances economic integration and sustainable development, increases energy security and supports the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 7 to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
Resilient infrastructure is a major element of sustainable energy systems. Adequate and timely development of cross-border grid interconnections, for example, support progress in the electricity sector. However, infrastructure assets could be vulnerable to various threats such as physical attacks or extreme weather events which lead to energy security risks. Countries in Asia and the Pacific regularly experience a range of natural disasters. Therefore, it is crucial that countries in the region build power systems that are resilient to extreme weather events or other disruptions. Together with adequate planning, extensive physical grid interconnections help to mitigate various security risks and help to rapidly restore electricity supply in case an accident occurs. Due to geographical location and dispersion, cross-border grid connectivity is not a feasible option for some countries, most notably in the Pacific. However, other ways of regional cooperation, for example, developing common standards and knowledge exchange can help to reduce the security risks.
Development of variable renewable energy (VRE) sources helps to lower the carbon emissions and accelerate the energy transition, but at high shares they can create challenges related to the balancing of the energy system due their weather dependence. More broadly, the COVID-19 pandemic and current geopolitical tensions led to energy price spikes and disruptions in fossil fuel supply chains which destabilized energy systems of many countries.
The development of new technologies and urgent need for energy transition together with the ongoing and emerging global crises set an important task for policymakers to create resilient systems which are able to respond to possible disruptions without compromising the security of the whole system. Stochastic analysis, modelling, planning and assessment is needed to design emergency response policies to mitigate the risks. Grid interconnections together with adequate planning also help with the deployment of large amounts of renewable energy by increasing balancing areas and allowing for sharing of complementary resources.
Power system connectivity enhances benefits in terms of accessibility of least-cost but remote VRE sources, and geographical and temporal smoothing of VRE generation. It is important that policy and regulatory regimes, including setting relevant reliability criteria and standards, are developed to support these issues.
The digitalisation of the energy sector is an important area of development which helps to increase energy efficiency and to speed up energy transition. With various benefits from the advanced use of computer technologies, however, come emerging threats related to cyber security. Cyber-attacks are unfortunately becoming more common, in particular because increasing volumes of sensitive data are exchanged or stored on servers. With rapid development, energy systems become more vulnerable to possible cyber threats. Managing interconnected and intelligent energy systems increases the need for the development of mechanisms to mitigate cyber security risks and to respond to them. Knowledge exchange, sharing best practices, development of common standards and regulations are major areas for cooperation towards sustainable energy development. Common work on security issues will increase effectiveness and decrease costs.
ESCAP’s role in energy connectivity in Asia and the Pacific
ESCAP promotes energy connectivity and sustainable development through regional cooperation in Asia and the Pacific. In 2021, ESCAP member States endorsed the “Regional roadmap on power system connectivity: Promoting cross-border electricity connectivity for sustainable development”. To support implementation of the Road Map strategies, ESCAP organized the 1st Asia-Pacific Regulatory Forum on Power System Connectivity in July 2022. One of the topics of the Forum was “Security implications of cross-border power sector connectivity”. Participants discussed the benefits of energy connectivity to reduce security risks, emphasizing that development of energy interconnections as a feasible solution for renewable integration, energy security and market evolution. One of the examples was Lao PDR-Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore Power Integration Project which despite regulatory, financial, political and technological challenges, provides benefits and opportunities for energy security, economic development and improvement of environmental and social aspects. The discussion during the Forum also helped to identify priorities for future ESCAP work to support secure energy connectivity in the region and progress towards achievement of SDG 7.
*Anna Lobanova Energy Specialist, Energy Division, Randi Kristiansen Economic Affairs Officer