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Exploring Rural Electrification Challenges in ASEAN

Can you imagine a world without access to electricity? That’s a reality for over 100 million citizens of ASEAN today. Meeting those electrification needs is a key priority under the ASEAN Plan of Action for Energy Cooperation (APAEC) 2016-2025.

ASEAN has room to be proud of its efforts in electrification. The number of people without access to electricity have almost halved in just over a decade, down from 190 million in 2005. The challenges that face the region in achieving 100% electrification are diverse, and the resources that governments can deploy are equally varied between ASEAN countries.

In understanding ASEAN’s electrification targets, you have to understand the unique landscapes of each country. Here’s a study of 3 nations of ASEAN, the electrification challenges they face, and how they are working to tackle them.




Lao People’s Democratic Republic has some of the lowest electrification rates in ASEAN according to World Bank figures, with only 78.1% of the population enjoying access to electricity as of 2014. Only neighbours Cambodia and Myanmar suffer from lower access in the region. While electrification rates are still low, those figures mark substantial growth from just 17.7% in 1998.

Under the Rural Electrification Master Plan, the government has developed goals to achieve a target of electrifying 94.7% of households by 2020. While one of the fastest growing economies in the region, Lao PDR’s electrification targets are still framed by a country with one of ASEAN’s lowest GDPs. Yet beside the financial challenges, by far the greatest difficulty comes from geography.

Lao PDR is the only land-locked nation in ASEAN, roughly 240,000 square kilometres dominated by mountain ranges which take up over 70% of the country. This challenging terrain creates significant barriers to large scale energy infrastructure, severely restricting the potential for national grid connections. The country has been tackling this problem with the help of distributed power technology, providing localised off-grid solutions such as solar kits to locations too remote for more traditional infrastructure. These locations account for roughly 3.8% of households under the national electrification plan.


Indonesia offers a further exploration of the challenges of geography when it comes to electrification yet driven by a rapidly expanding demand generated by ASEAN’s largest economy. By World Bank figures, Indonesia’s electrification stood at 97% in 2014, up from 60.3% in 1998.

With over 17,000 islands making up this sprawling archipelago, Indonesia must face the hurdle of diverse infrastructure requirements across multiple locations alongside challenging rural  needs that include over 12,000 villages still without access to power. Indonesia’s success in electrification to date means the nation now faces a more difficult final push, as costs and technical hurdles for the remaining projects will grow, according to a recent ADB study.

Under the government’s 2016-2025 Electricity Supply Business Plan, Indonesia aims to achieve an electrification rate of 99.7% by 2025. Crucial to attainment of these goals will be a growing focus on private-public partnership.


Malaysia is a nation with two parallel challenges for electrification. While World Bank figures indicate a close to 100% electrification achieved nationally, there still remain pockets of remote rural locations without access to modern energy infrastructure.

Peninsular Malaysia enjoys near 100% electrification today, presenting a level of electrification which is the envy of many nations in the region. This is a result of a well-established central grid infrastructure and predominantly accessible population centres. The limited number of homes that are without electricity are usually represented by highly inaccessible rural locations.

The states of Sabah and Sarawak highlight the other end of this extreme, where geography presents a significant hurdle to widespread distribution infrastructure while at the same time providing huge electricity generation potential as part of the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE).  Innovative solutions show the potential for off-grid renewable technologies to help tackle some of these barriers. The Bario Central Hybrid Power Station in the Bario Highlands provides 887 kilowatts of power, 24-hours a day, to communities across this 3,200 feet high plateau.  The success of similar initiatives mean electrification in Sarawak now sits at 91%, with a target to achieve 100% electrification by 2025.

The KKLW is one organisation working hard to help achieve this goal, developing and delivering vital electrification projects throughout rural Malaysia. Their initiatives include a diverse range of solutions, from grid connections to innovative new solar-hybrid power generation. Under the 11th Malaysian Plan, and with funding support from the nation’s Electricity Supply Industries Trust Account (MESITA), off-grid power technologies and community engagement are solutions which are promoted in tandem to support the final steps towards 100% rural electrification.

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