Quoting from Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, during his plenary speech at the 42nd ASEAN Summit in Labuan Bajo (Wednesday, May 10, 2023), which promotes other ASEAN countries to have a joint power grid (based on an article published by Channel News Asia). This statement is highlighted after the success made by the Lao PDR-Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore project in supplying renewable energy. In recent years, the importance of renewable energy has become increasingly apparent as countries worldwide seek to reduce their carbon footprint and address the impacts of climate change. The ASEAN region, comprising ten Southeast Asian countries, is no exception towards the movement. As a region with a rapidly growing energy demand, ASEAN countries are looking to renewable energy as a critical solution to address their energy needs while mitigating climate change by shifting towards renewable energy. In this context, strategic partnership opportunities among ASEAN countries can be crucial in accelerating the Sustainable Energy Transitions Initiative.
Renewable Energy Opportunities in the ASEAN Region
The ASEAN region has diverse renewable energy resources, including solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and biomass. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in 2018, wind energy is potentially growing in the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam because the wind speeds are between six to seven metres per second. On the other hand, IRENA and ACE (2016) highlighted geothermal potential in Indonesia and the Philippines. Besides, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore also have opportunities to explore ocean energy since the geography position is an archipelago (ASEAN RESP, 2016).
However, despite the potential of these resources, the region still relies heavily on fossil fuels, particularly coal, to meet its energy needs. According to the study “The ASEAN Climate and Energy Paradox” by I.Overland, H. F. Sagbakken, H. Chan, M. Merdekawati, B.Suryadi, N. A. Utama & R. Vakulchuk, the energy demand from fossil fuels between 2000 to 2018 resulted to 85% while the share of renewable energy in the energy mix remained. This reliance on fossil fuels contributes to climate change and exposes the region to energy security risks and price volatility. As a result, there is a growing recognition among ASEAN countries that renewable energy can play a critical role in reducing dependence on fossil fuels and achieving sustainable energy systems.
Countries Strategic Partnership
ASEAN countries can accelerate the deployment of renewable energy technologies and overcome common challenges. Some countries have already made significant progress in developing their renewable energy sectors, while others are still in the early stages of deployment. By working together, countries can learn from each other’s experiences and leverage their strengths to achieve renewable energy goals.
The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of resilience and sustainability in the energy sector. The pandemic has disrupted energy supply chains, and more demand for renewable energy will rise in 2020. The key players in the energy sector should form more strategic partnerships to encourage energy trading in response to the high demand for electricity across the region in the future.
As a result, strategic partnerships among ASEAN countries can help accelerate the transition to renewable energy and create a more resilient energy system that can withstand future shocks. In February 2023, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) and Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to conduct a feasibility study to enhance the interconnection of the power grid between Peninsular Malaysia and Thailand.
Benefits of Building Strategic Alliance
The development of regional energy infrastructure can significantly impact regional energy infrastructure development. Establishing interconnectors and cross-border electricity trading can enable ASEAN countries to share renewable energy resources and optimise their use. This can address the issue of intermittency, which is a common challenge for renewable energy sources. Through diversification of renewable energy sources and sharing resources, ASEAN countries can create a more stable and resilient energy system by diversifying renewable energy sources and sharing resources.
In addition to sharing knowledge and infrastructure, strategic partnerships create opportunities for joint investments in renewable energy projects. By pooling their resources and expertise, ASEAN countries can undertake more significant and complex projects which require more work executions and upskill their employees through tacit knowledge. Most of the electricity firms in the ASEAN region are state-owned companies and require endless government support. For instance, governments can collaborate to develop large-scale renewable energy projects, requiring substantial capital investment and technical expertise. Joint assets can attract private sector investment and reduce the financial risks associated with renewable energy projects.
A strategic partnership can promote the adoption of policies and regulations that support the growth of renewable energy. ASEAN countries can develop common standards and rules for deploying renewable energy technologies, such as feed-in tariffs and tax credits. ASEAN countries can create a more predictable and stable policy environment for renewable energy investment.
Future of Renewable Energy
Other than the potential benefits of strategic partnerships, ASEAN countries may need to construct more institutional mechanisms to facilitate regional cooperation on renewable energy. There are existing platforms for cooperation among ASEAN countries, such as the ASEAN Centre for Energy and the ASEAN Power Grid. These platforms are more targeted initiatives. ASEAN countries shall also focus on renewable energy and facilitate collaboration among relevant stakeholders, including government agencies, industry players, and civil society organisations.
One notable initiative is the recent launch of the ASEAN Catalytic Green Finance Facility (ACGF), which aims to mobilise private sector investment for green infrastructure projects in the ASEAN region. The ACGF, which the Asian Development Bank (ADB) supports, will provide loans and technical assistance to project developers and financial institutions to support the development of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. This initiative is an example of how strategic partnerships between governments and international organisations can help to catalyse private sector investment in renewable energy. According to ADB’s website, realising the shortfall of green infrastructure at $100 billion per year, private capital should consider grasping the opportunities to fill the gap to accelerate renewable energy growth.
The development of offshore wind projects requires significant technical and financial resources. Countries can address these challenges through strategic partnerships by pooling resources and expertise to develop large-scale offshore wind projects. For instance, several countries, such as Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines, are exploring offshore wind’s potential as a key renewable energy source. Based on the article published by Nikkei Asia entitled “Vietnam Offshore Wind Power Sparks Influx of Foreign Investment”, during the COP26 United Nations Climate Summit 2021 in Glasgow, the Vietnamese Prime Minister, Pham Minh Chinh mentioned the government’s commitment to shifting to renewable energy through the wind power in which accounts for about 5% of energy on a power generation capacity at the moment and the government plan to raise till 30% by 2025 despite the challenges faced.
In conclusion, strategic partnerships among ASEAN countries towards renewable energy have the potential to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon energy future, promote regional energy security, and support sustainable economic development. However, realising this potential requires more institutional coordination, financial resources and inclusive stakeholders’ involvement to address the future landscape of renewable energy. By working together and leveraging their strengths, ASEAN countries can create a more sustainable energy future that benefits people and the planet.