Bringing ASEAN closer to its energy goals with technology

The World Economic Forum will hold an event starting Sept.11 in Hanoi to discuss how ASEAN can speed up its energy transition. Johan de Villiers, ABB’s Managing Director for Singapore and South East Asia region, will lead a discussion on exploring how the region can prepare for the energy revolution and realize the opportunities stemming from the transition.

There is little doubt, if any at all, that life is predicated on how we harness and consume energy. In this fast-paced world, energy goes beyond just sustenance. Energy has a direct impact on personal welfare and economic effectiveness and it is in our interest to looks for ways to secure a continuous access to energy sources, such as electricity and fuel.

It is no wonder that energy security or the uninterrupted availability of energy sources at affordable prices has been the motivation behind many international agreements. These alliances have created a constant churn in the global energy market and the most dynamic group in this space are the ten countries that form the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

ASEAN countries may be in different stages of economic development, with varying energy supply-and-demand patterns and policies but they all have one thing in common: having risen 60 percent over the past 15 years, their energy needs are spiraling. For now coal is the most commonly used fuel source due to its abundance and affordability. But the lack of global funding of the polluting and low-efficiency fossil fuel has left more than 100 million people without proper access to electricity in the ASEAN region.

As its economy triples and population swells, ASEAN’s energy demands are expected to grow by almost two-thirds by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Conventional sources of energy cannot keep up with this growth. The region needs to transition its energy infrastructure into a more diverse, efficient, and integrated system that is more reliant on higher-efficiency coal and cleaner energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal.

The move towards a cleaner energy future has far-reaching implications. The IEA estimates that reduced reliance on oil and gas imports can lower ASEAN’s import bill by $180 billion by 2040. On the other side, strong growth in fossil-fuel consumption can lead to a 75 percent jump in energy-related carbon emissions.

Just as increased accessibility of renewable resources is reducing dependency on fossil fuels at a rapid rate, new-age technology such as energy storage devices, smart inverters and digitalization have boosted productivity. Hanoi itself is stands as an example. ABB’s operations in the region supported an energy battery project in South Australia which is expected to store 129 megawatt-hours of energy that can power more than 30,000 homes for more than one hour. The battery has one of the world’s largest capacities.

Conventional methods of power supply will not be able to reach the many remote islands that form a part of the ASEAN region. Flexible grid connectivity through microgrids that can be set-up near consumption sites and generate power through conventional and renewable resource have the potential bring essential power to those to lack it.

Digitalization is at the heart of efficiently adapting to new energy realities. Digital substations, predictive analytics, virtual power plants are some digital solutions that not only increase efficiency, but will also ensure a smooth transition to more sustainable energy. Singapore, which was once a water-stressed country, is now a shining example of harnessing cutting-edge digital technology offered by ABB to monitor every drop of water that flows through its taps.

The energy transition taking place in the ASEAN region is a long-term overhaul towards a sustainable future, however, policy shocks can have the potential of hampering progress. Along with technology that will boost energy availability and productivity, ASEAN must provide adequate training and education to its people about its changing energy landscape. Only then will the region be able to meet its ambitious goal of securing 23 percent of its primary energy supply through sustainable sources in the next seven years.

As the world adapts to the new environment, ASEAN countries are best-positioned to show the rest of the world that energy security need no longer be a race but rather a common goal towards creating a better world without consuming the earth.

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