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Is Low Wind Power in ASEAN Possible?

Talk about renewable energy in Southeast Asia, and solar and hydro power comes to mind. Wind power projects have rarely been brought to the table in the past; which is not surprising given the region’s lack of windy climate and abundance in hot and wet weather instead.

Across ASEAN, only 1.5% of the region’s land area possesses an average wind speed above 7m/s – the usual standard required for wind power development. In recent years however, the evolution of Low Wind Speed Power (LWSP) has brought about new grounds for growth.

Unlike conventional wind turbines, LWSP technology harnesses lower wind speeds between 5-7 metre/second (m/s). With the help of technological breakthroughs, low-speed wind farms can now generate much more power than before. The cost of wind turbines have also declined substantially since the turn of the century, a trend shared with solar panels.

Low wind speed in ASEAN climate

Despite reasons to believe, the benefits of LWSP are not evenly distributed across ASEAN. In the Philippines and Vietnam for example, there are excellent wind resources available, with the country’s general wind resource at a Level 3. In Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia, wind resources are concentrated in a few areas, with wind resources mostly at Level 2.

In contrast, Brunei, Singapore, and Malaysia record winds generally lower than D-1 Level (less than 5m/s wind speed). Across ASEAN, Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei are countries with the lowest ‘technically exploitable’ wind power capacity. Brunei and Singapore both possess only 0.02 gigawatt (GW) and 0.01GW of exploitable wind power, while Malaysia only has 1.4GW. Up until today, all three countries have zero wind power capacity installed.

In comparison, Indonesia, Myanmar, and the Philippines possess technically exploitable wind power capacities above 100GW. On the leading end, Thailand holds 341.4GW of wind potential, followed by Vietnam with 201.2GW. Thailand’s potential over the rest is significant – it holds more than a quarter of the entire region’s total exploitable wind power capacity.

Turbine building considerations

Success of wind projects is also dependent on other factors, such as terrain, ground cover, transportation, and a flexible grid. Flat terrains are better for wind projects – it’s easier for planners to simulate, optimise, and build turbine layouts on flat ground. Parts of Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, and the Philippines are home to flat terrains, making it conducive for wind power projects.

Transportation is another key factor – large turbine blades require delicate handling, especially across dangerous terrains such as mountains. Accessible entry and well-built roads are basic requirements for the construction of large-scale wind power bases, but are not commonly available in many parts of rural ASEAN. These include difficult-to-access central Indonesia and the sprawling archipelago of the Philippines.

From a cost perspective, financing options and construction costs play a large role in pushing wind projects ahead. Vietnam enjoys the lowest Levelised Cost of Energy (LCOE) for wind power development (USD 0.050/kWh), thanks to strong wind potential, while Singapore and Brunei have the highest LCOE.

These varying considerations translate into differing policies. Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines have already outlined plans to develop wind power, with incentive policies and tax preferences being introduced. Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia, still battling with grid infrastructure challenges, require stronger policy and financial support.

Brunei, rich in oil, has made no clear plans to move into renewables. Similarly, Malaysia has poured its focus into solar, a decision influenced by prior wind pilot projects. In 2007, the state government alongside national utility Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) installed two units of wind turbines in a project on Pulau Perhentian Kecil, a small island off Malaysia’s northwestern coast. Despite heavy investments, the project did not take off, confirming findings that the country’s climate could not support wind power development.

Successful low wind speed projects across the region

Success in the low-wind speed arena is dominated by Chinese enterprises. In Vietnam, the 50MW Chinh Thang Wind Power Project that began operations in 2021 is invested and commercially operated by Energy China. It is also the first onshore wind power project with China’s wind turbines in Vietnam. The wind farm has an annual average wind speed of just 6.29m/s, but with the help of 13 3MW and three 3.6MW wind power generator units, is expected to generate some 137.85 million kilowatt-hours of power annually.

In China itself, several LWSP projects are already running. The Panyang Wind Farm located in Fujian has an installed capacity of 48MW and features 24 units of low-speed wind turbines manufactured locally. Situated in the high coastal mountains, the turbines are susceptible to strong thunderstorms and freezing. To safeguard the safety of the turbines, the project follows design standards for lighting protection and adopts reliable protection measures for key equipment such as converters, blades, and anemometers. Anti-freezing innovations have also been incorporated into the turbines’ design.

On a contrasting geography, the Dongbatou Wind Farm in Henan Province, China is located on flat, central plains, amongst wheat, corn, and other crops. After its construction, the surrounding road and land were restored, not affecting the growth of the original crops.

After a feasibility study was conducted, it was proposed that increasing the turbine tower barrel’s height could significantly increase revenue. As a result, China’s first 140-meter-tall tower barrel was installed in the project. The project has been in operation since 2017 and demonstrates how a renewable energy project can successfully integrate into the natural surroundings. The efficient use of local land and the maximisation of wind power have managed to deliver a win-win situation for all members of the community.

ASEAN wind potential and priorities

Though there are on-going developments, growth of wind power is still relatively slow across ASEAN. As of 2019, the region had a total 2,344 megawatt of wind power installed; a mere 0.3% of the world’s total. The region faces many challenges, from high costs to poor grid infrastructure.

At present, construction costs of wind power projects in ASEAN are slightly higher than the international average level. The region does not have an independent industry supply chain, which means that equipment and materials need to be imported across land or sea, increasing transportation costs.

With the Paris Agreement deadline looming near ahead, this renewable resource could very well be the addition needed to electrify ASEAN sustainably.

Therefore, creative methods for financing need to be explored, including investment options by private groups or multilateral institutions such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank. In Vietnam, private investors are already fronting 3.4GW and 3.5GW offshore wind farms in Thang Long and La Gan, while a roadmap for wind power for the Philippines is being backed by the World Bank Group.

Supportive government policy and financial incentives, such as those rolled out in Vietnam and Thailand, will also help propel the industry’s growth. As the industry matures, and as the region moves towards the implementation of the ASEAN Power Grid (APG), energy players must analyse what advancements in LWSP technology could mean for the region’s clean energy goals. With the Paris Agreement deadline looming near ahead, this renewable resource could very well be the addition needed to electrify ASEAN sustainably.

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