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TNB Energy Transition Conference 2023: Setting the Stage for a Decarbonised Future

  • Energy experts and stakeholders responded to the urgent need for collaborative efforts in accelerating a responsible energy transition, a commitment witnessed at TNB Energy Transition Conference 2023.
  • The 2-day conference revealed insights on the strategies and solutions needed to decarbonise the energy sector and prepare power grids for the future of sustainable energy.
  • A call to action for the world to come together, share insights, and collaborate on solutions to amplify impact and collectively address the climate crisis to achieve a sustainable future for all.

A global energy transition is underway. Driven by the increasingly devastating impacts of climate change, governments around the world are going through a green energy transition, tapping into innovative solutions, strategic roadmaps and policymaking to limit global temperature rise to below 1.5°C, per United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released last year.

Beyond this, the energy transition is offering countries and regions the opportunity to diversify their energy sources, move away from traditional coal and gas-powered energy and build towards all-inclusive solutions that embrace sustainability while enhancing grid resilience, flexibility and security. While significant progress has been made towards a green future, a lot more needs to be done to meet the original Paris Agreement targets, and even further still to meet the renewed COP27 commitments.

Earlier in August, Malaysia’s incumbent power company, Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) hosted its inaugural , a platform for local and international industry stakeholders, thought leaders, and policymakers in the energy sector to converge, share their knowledge and inspire actionable solutions to accelerate the global sustainability shift. Over a two-day period, the conference, which saw the launch of the full series of the National Energy Transition Roadmap (NETR) by Malaysia Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, featured the energy transition in three key categories – power, transport and cities.

As said by the Prime Minister at the launch, “The energy transition is one of the initiatives to restructure the Malaysian economy under Ekonomi MADANI: Memperkasa Rakyat framework. The NETR will provide policy clarity in shaping Malaysia as a leader in energy transition among Asian economies. It is the starting point to mainstream energy transition in the national development narrative, which will bring positive and sustainable results to the energy sector and the economy.”

Discussions were spread out between plenary sessions, exhibitions and dialogues centered around the technologies, capabilities and policies that are necessary for a successful energy transition. Some topics of interest include circular economy strategies, green investment opportunities, climate technology innovations and regional energy interconnection, with over 30 expert speakers sharing the experiences and professional insights gained from leading the energy transition movement around the world.

TNB CEO Dato’ Indera Ir. Baharin Din said, “A year ago, we decided that it was important to bring together players and policymakers to discuss how we can deliver an accelerated but responsible energy transition. We knew that we could not do it alone and that this would require cross-sector and cross-border solutions.”

Getting the Grid Up to Gear in the Energy Transition Era

The first day of the conference offered attendees a deeper insight into the strategies and solutions needed to decarbonise the energy sector and prepare power grids for a future of sustainable energy.

South Korea, which recently released its 10th Basic Plan for Long-Term Electricity Supply and Demand, aims to have renewables account for 22% of all energy generation by 2030, with another 32% provided by nuclear energy. At the same time, the South Korean government has created a roadmap to accelerate its hydrogen economy, outlining goals to produce 30,000 commercial hydrogen vehicles and 70 hydrogen refuelling stations by 2030 and aiming for hydrogen to account for 7% of power generation by 2036. Doing this will require an enhanced energy grid, capable of handling variable renewable energy generation and transmissions while reducing energy waste and ensuring a steady stream of electricity for consumers – a challenge shared by energy grid operators all over the world.

At the Plenary Session: Getting the Grid up to Gear in the Energy Transition Era, Dr Kim Jung Bae, as Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Hyosung Heavy Industries Corporation, took attendees through his ‘3Ds’ approach to grid enhancement – decentralisation, decarbonisation and digitalisation. As Dr. Kim shares, top of the list in any energy transition plan is the decarbonisation of energy sources. Renewable energy will be key in this mission, as technologies such as solar, wind and hydropower allow us to generate energy without the carbon emissions from traditional power sources such as coal and oil.

However, the intermittent nature of renewable energy requires a grid that is flexible and Dr Kim shares that Hyosung is leaning heavily on energy storage solutions. Energy batteries, he says, can have a dual role in the power system, both as a generator (when discharging energy) and as a consumer (when charging up with excess available energy), increasing the grid’s capabilities and strengthening the overall power system.

This very capability has already been seen in action in South Australia. As explained by the Honourable Frances Adamson AC, Governor of South Australia, in her Plenary Session: Powering a Decarbonised Future Through Renewables and Energy Storage, South Australia was almost entirely reliant on coal and gas-powered energy decades ago. This changed from 2007 till now having boosted its energy mix from 1% to 77% renewable energy. Despite this outstanding success, the transition has not been without its challenges. With the high intermittency of renewable energy, the state’s electricity grid has had to manage voltage and frequency issues and develop new tools to improve demand management.

“We have an abundance of coincident wind and solar resources,” explains Adamson, “but as these sources of energy expanded their share of the state’s energy mix, concerns regarding intermittency came to the forefront.” To overcome this, South Australia turned to grid-scale battery storage to provide frequency control and other ancillary services that assist in firming up the large share of renewable energy available in the marketplace, she explained. This is where the Hornsdale power reserve came in. At the time of its installation in 2017, the Hornsdale power reserve was the largest battery of its kind in the world. Within the first two years of operations, the power reserve saved South Australian consumers over $150 billion in energy costs, becoming an exemplar of what can be achieved through grid-scale battery storage systems.

Besides this, shared Adamson, decentralisation and digitalisation efforts are also strengthening the grid and accelerating the energy transition. “I’ve seen it firsthand in South Australia, where the community has embraced new technologies,” she said. “Our rooftop solar and home batteries have come together to create virtual power plants linked by smart technology, providing coordinated generation into the marketplace, and ultimately, lower prices for energy consumers.”

Unlocking the Full Potential of Our Energy Future

Even in the example of South Australia, a pioneer state in the renewable energy transition, there is work yet to be done to fully unlock the potential of sustainable solutions. Most days, more electricity is generated than the existing demand, even with the ability to export energy across borders. In fact, the state’s climate change action plan could achieve a level of renewable energy generation that is more than 500% of the current global grid demand. Harnessing this surplus energy is the state’s goal and the next big step, says Adamson, is to add hydrogen into the energy mix.

“As is the case with grid-scale batteries, hydrogen fuel power stations will be able to work with renewable energy providers to keep the grid stable through times of unreliable, renewable intermittency,” says Adamson.

This move towards establishing a hydrogen sector is set to be accelerated by a hydrogen and renewable energy bill, expected to be introduced to the South Australian parliament this year. Acknowledging the enormity of the shift towards large-scale renewable energy and hydrogen, the state intends to introduce a ‘one window to government’ licensing and regulatory system for renewable energy and hydrogen projects in South Australia through this legislation.

In a similar situation, under the nation’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality, renewable energy supply in South Korea’s west coast is rapidly increasing every year, explained Dr. Kim. However, the current electricity network lacks the capacity to transmit this power to metropolitan areas. Korea’s power system in the metropolitan areas is also susceptible to fault current and overload issues, contributing to a high probability of wide-scale power blackouts throughout the country, he said.

To address these challenges, state-owned utility Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) is planning to expand and strengthen the country’s energy infrastructure by building a power grid along the country’s western coast. This revolutionary new grid will directly transmit electricity from solar and wind energy farms in the southwest region to meet energy demands in central metropolitan areas such as Seoul. The HVDC (High-voltage direct current) Backbone Power Grid in South Korea will use large-scale inter-regional flexible lines to transmit excess renewable energy to areas where green energy capacities are low. The project is estimated to cost USD893 million and will alleviate constraints concerning power generation in the western coastal area and increase the power supply to the capital region.

A Global Perspective

Both South Korea and South Australia’s plans for a greener future underscore the urgency of taking immediate action to transition our energy grids. In both cases, we can see how digitalisation and innovation of energy technology will be crucial elements as we move forward in the global energy roadmap.

Despite the enormity of the global energy transition, there is one upside – the world is in this fight together. While individual countries are faced with their unique sets of energy-related challenges, most of our problems are shared ones. Cross-border and cross-industry collaborations will not only help solve our global energy problems but accelerate progress in creating a more sustainable and resilient future. International symposiums and platforms such as TNB’s Energy Transition Conference pave the way for countries, businesses and everyday citizens to learn from each other’s successes and challenges, fostering a collective sense of responsibility for our sustainable future.

There is a long way to go, but the right strategy can transform this climate challenge into an opportunity at every level of the energy system. From the examples of South Korea and South Australia, we see that grid resilience and sustainable technology innovations are key elements when it comes to laying the foundation for a green and sustainable future, but more than that, these two cases also show how vital government involvement is in driving a country’s energy progress and resilience. The right regulatory environment can exponentially propel growth in the right direction while saving costs in the long run, while the lack of a proper regulatory framework can stall much needed progress and lead to increased costs to rectify the situation.

The Time to Act is Now

The need to act now in the pursuit of a greener future cannot be overstated. South Korea and South Australia’s experiences serve as vivid reminders that the time for decisive action is upon us. Both nations have demonstrated the challenges and possibilities of transitioning to green energy swiftly, emphasising the critical role of digitalisation, innovation, and grid stability in this undertaking.

This year’s Energy Transition Conference stands as a call to action for the world to come together, share insights, and collaborate on solutions to amplify our impact and collectively address the climate crisis. The global community should now recognise that the challenges of climate change know no borders, and only through collective efforts can we hope to achieve a sustainable future for all.

“The discussions and newly formed partnerships that have taken place at the conference these past 2 days are critical for us to collectively move forward to reach our Net Zero goals. From the people I’ve met and the discussions I’ve heard, I’m comforted that we have the right minds working on this challenging problem,” Dato’ Indera Ir Baharin concluded.

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