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Digital Revolution in ASEAN: Solving the Energy Problem

The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on the importance of connectivity and has hastened the adoption of several digital innovations and trends. As the rush to go digital increases around the region, this puts pressure on energy systems in the region which have to cater for the surge in energy demand to power more computer and digital networking hardware.

The ASEAN Plan of Action for Energy Cooperation (APAEC) 2016-2025 includes several initiatives aimed at meeting surging energy demands in the region. These involve expanding multilateral electricity trading supported by the ASEAN Power Grid (APG), enhancing gas connectivity by incorporating LNG into the Trans-ASEAN Gas Pipeline (TAGP) effort, promoting clean coal, promoting renewables, and building capabilities for nuclear energy.

The IEA estimates that it will cost ASEAN nearly US $1 trillion through 2035 to develop its power sector, but this is a cost worth bearing. Digitalization of ASEAN’s energy ecosystem can help reduce operations and maintenance costs, extend lifetimes, improve efficiencies, and enhance performance of energy systems.

Southeast Asia’s growth in electricity demand is among the fastest in the world

Southeast Asia’s growth in electricity demand is among the fastest in the world – rising 80% since 2000. As ASEAN goes digital in the post-pandemic new normal, we are set to see a spike in energy demand to power digital hardware. Besides that, due to work from home measures, we will also see demand for electrification and more stable electricity access to power ASEAN homes which will now be using more electricity than usual.

The ASEAN region is diverse and populous, with the ability to adopt innovations quickly at the individual and corporate levels. There are numerous examples where new digital technologies are already changing the way power is produced and delivered in ASEAN. These range from power plants enhanced by IoT technologies and solar energy mobile pay systems to blockchain technology.

ASEAN countries are paving the way forward on their innovations in green technology. Below is a quick overview of the projects our neighbouring countries like Singapore and Indonesia are embarking.

Closer to home, we’ve made some remarkable progress as well. TNB’s renewables generation mix is growing thanks to its research and development into solar, wind, hydro and biomass energy. As of June 2020, TNB had about 141MW of domestic RE capacity. The company continues to be a leader in renewables within ASEAN and has plans to pivot to a more regional scale and presence via investments and acquisitions in Southeast Asian economies like Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia.

A focused transition to a green economy offers ASEAN members a chance to pursue a transformative agenda which will only accelerate its sustainability efforts. Opportunities for growth include: decarbonisation and electrification, digital supply chains with complete transparency to help ensure low carbon footprints, smart city development and electric vehicle usage.

The reality of a greener ASEAN is not out of reach once we look at initiatives that have garnered success elsewhere in the world. In Japan, local municipalities are now partnering with energy companies to provide clean energy to homes, businesses and industries in 1,700 towns and cities. These “energy sustainable zones” which are created within a township help futureproof cities from disasters like Fukushima and prevent an all-out energy outage which can be devastating to the local economy.

In Germany, distributed generation – where electricity generation, mostly from renewable sources is localised – has attracted a small but growing base of advocates. Coupled with smart technologies, it allows literally anyone to be a power producer. All one needs is a solar panel or small wind turbine where excess energy generated can be fed into the grid and used in other parts of the city or town. To date, energy co-ops now produce power for more than 83,000 German households.

Developing Southeast Asia’s green economy could provide up to $1 trillion in annual economic opportunities by 2030. To achieve this lucrative prize, everyone must play their roles. Governments must set the right policy roadmaps, businesses must push for greener investments and consumers must walk the talk on sustainable consumption.

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