A Step Forward for ASEAN Interconnectivity

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A Step Forward for ASEAN Interconnectivity
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Over 20 years since it was proposed, recent announcements from Singapore might be the catalyst for the realisation of greater interconnectivity across ASEAN, driven by an ability to integrate higher shares of renewable energy.

The ASEAN Power Grid (APG) was proposed back in 1999 but until recently there had been very little progress in its creation, a reflection of the number of hurdles any multi-lateral, highly technical, project such as this must overcome. While the concept has seen limited development, this could be about to change.

During successive Singapore International Energy Weeks (SIEW) and recently at the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), the initiative, that would allow the transmission of power (and primarily for the purposes of those starting to give the project a push, renewable energy (RE)) between countries, has emerged as an important part of the ASEAN energy transition strategy.

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Lao PDR-Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore Power Integration Project a likely first step

ASEAN has begun to pick up the pace for the plans on an interconnecting grid in an attempt to meet climate change targets, with an ambitious target of 23% of energy from renewables by 2025. Fresh impetus to the concept has come primarily from Singapore, who late last year announced its decision to trial importing electricity, and to finally initiate cross-border trade under the Lao PDR-Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore Power Integration Project (LTMS-PIP), a project first proposed in 2014.

Singapore, with limited open space and natural resources, has identified the importation of energy as a core strategy to ensure a more diverse supply, boost energy security, and provide access to RE in quantities it cannot produce in-country. The city state plans to import up to 4 gigawatts (GW) of RE-generated electricity by 2035, or about 30% of its total supply, announced trade and industry Minister Gan Kim Yong on the opening day of SIEW 2021.

This 4GW will consist of imports from Malaysia, and be supported by a number of solar projects in neighbouring Indonesia. By 2027, this could be complimented by the Australia-Asia Power Link (AAPowerLink) which will be capable of supplying up to 15% of the country’s total power needs.

Over the last 13 months Singapore has fast-tracked their RE mission with aggressive strategies to drive RE adoption to ensure they meet their commitments to the Paris Agreement. Its very ambitious goals see it forging a path that could see it leapfrog some of its ASEAN peers, such as Vietnam, in the adoption of RE.

Support builds for greater connectivity

However, like Singapore, much of ASEAN are adjusting their strategies to transition to a cleaner energy future. Malaysia, who signed the Lao PDR-Thailand-Malaysia Power Integration Project (LTM-PIP) energy purchase & wheeling agreement (EPWA) back in September 2017, have recently taken steps to increase its domestic renewable power sector and generation capability. It also repeated its commitment to the LTMS-PIP last year, a move supported by TNB.

“TNB recognizes the importance of a strong and resilient ASEAN Power Grid (APG)…(and has been) an active proponent of the APG from the beginning… involved in the planning and execution of APG through our involvement in the regional utility grouping known as Heads of ASEAN Power Utilities/Authorities (HAPUA)” shared Datuk Wira Roslan Ab Rahman, Chief Regulatory & Stakeholder Management Officer for Tenaga Nasional Berhad and TNB’s HAPUA Country Coordinator.

Cross-border trade of any kind, however, has never been as simple as putting pen to paper and Datuk Rahman was at pains to point out that “to actualize a project of this magnitude will require the firm support and commitment from all the ASEAN member countries and power utilities”.

TNB became the first utility in ASEAN to purchase power through multi-lateral cross border EPWA arrangements in 2018 and currently purchases 300MW of firm power from Laos via Thailand’s existing transmission line.

“TNB will continue to actively support and actualize APG through the various interconnection projects and initiatives under the ASEAN Plan of Action for Energy Cooperation (APAEC),” Rahman affirmed. In a blow to Singapore’s renewable energy targets, however, it was announced in October that Malaysia will allow only non-renewable energy exports to the island. The decision was made to boost the development of the local renewable energy (RE) industry as Malaysia aspires to reach its climate change aspiration, the Ministry of Energy said in a statement.

“It’s a lot about coalition building”

Realising such a complex project is challenging, not only because of the logistics and the need for government coordination and diplomacy, but also the sharing of knowledge while working collaboratively. Southeast Asia is a diverse intersection of countries with differing priorities which only serves to complicates matters; which begs the question, just how will they come together?

Announced at COP 26, The Green Grids Initiative, One Sun One World One Grid, is a joint initiative spearheaded by the United Kingdom and Indian governments, to guide collaboration between countries in an effort to increase RE adoption and partnerships between crucial stakeholders.

“The idea is essentially to leverage connectivity as a tool to improve sustainable development,” expressed Matthew Wittenstein, Chief of Section for Energy Connectivity at the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

UN ESCAP will be driving the initiative in Southeast Asia and Matthew said there are already governments who have voiced interest in collaborating. The role of the Green Grids teams is to skilfully employ thoughtful ways to ensure cohesion and partnership across countries with well-thought out practices. “It’s a lot about coalition building. You know, when it comes to connectivity initiatives, you really sort of have to look at the different stages,” Matthew stressed.

Asked what will be the secret to success for the APG and ASEAN interconnectivity, Matthew believes that “for all 10 countries to be fully integrated…it’s really only a matter of the political will. There’s no technological obstacle to fully integrate ASEAN”.

While the LTMS-PIP and APG continue to gather steam; Laurence Kwan, the Director of Energy for Sunseap pictures that in reality we may see a spider web connecting an RE network within nations which will greatly enrich the reliable green energy for Singapore and that of much of Southeast Asia.

“We are currently learning here in Singapore on how to best do this and with our ASEAN neighbours, we can [merge] this learning together. We hope to light up every household regardless where you are in ASEAN and with renewable energy,” Laurence shared.

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