Flexibility seen to fast-track ASEAN energy transition

Flexibility seen to fast-track ASEAN energy transition

Nicolas Leong, Sales Director of Wärtsilä Energy Business in Southeast Asia, endorses the role of flexibility to realise a 100% renewable future in the region.

A zero-carbon future for Southeast Asia (SEA) would require a wide range of changes in conventional methods and technologies in power generation. For Nicolas Leong, Sales Director at Wärtsilä Energy Business (SEA), the energy transition calls for a shift in the mindset of various stakeholders as well as the integration of new flexible technologies besides regulatory reforms and innovative business models.

The energy market is inter-connected; thus a single non-participating player can shake the entire value chain. While Leong believes that government policies in Southeast Asia pose a major challenge to the energy transition, he also argues that a change in people’s mindset can effectually drive this paradigm shift forward. European countries, particularly Germany which is perceived to be a global role model for a low carbon energy system, are already seeing progress. In Southeast Asia, a lot of work still remains undone despite some countries stepping up, like Vietnam’s recent adoption of more renewable technologies and price drop of renewables.

Leong believes that there is a need to make people more aware of the possibility of the ASEAN energy transition even with the impact of a pandemic. Private companies, like Wärtsilä, can act as thought leaders to reflect that a 100% renewable energy future is attainable. Embracing this role, Wärtsilä has recently launched an interactive map called “Atlas of 100% Renewable Energy”. This Atlas shows how each country can achieve 100% renewable electricity systems if they were optimally built from scratch, not considering the burden of existing power plants while taking into account their solar and wind conditions and geographical regions.

Moreover, Wärtsilä’s Atlas also takes into consideration the role of flexibility in an ideal energy system. Flexibility acts as a balance so that when the power system experiences fluctuations in electricity supply and demand, the system can respond accordingly, says Leong. Now that power grids are becoming more and more dependent on renewable energy sources, largely due to the decreasing cost and increasing sources of solar and wind energy, flexible technologies can address the intermittency from renewables. As Leong explains, flexibility fills in the gap when the wind does not blow or the sun does not shine. Energy storage is an obvious example of a technology providing flexibility, providing power when required. Flexible internal combustion engines running on natural gas and carbon-neutral synthetic fuel in the future can also be used as back-up to the renewable shortfall.

Wärtsilä believes that 100% renewable electricity in Southeast Asian countries is possible through flexible systems and enhanced capacity. For example, should Myanmar push to run on 100% renewables, it can use 30% solar, 0% wind, 62% hydropower, 8% flexible gas, and 10% energy storage. During the day, solar and wind can power the cities while batteries are charged and carbon-neutral synthetic fuels are created. At night, the batteries and wind can provide power since solar energy cannot be used; on rainy days, flexible gas and wind may serve as sources of electricity. Wärtsilä’s Atlas provides the same modelling for 145 countries, and Southeast Asia sure has the potential to utilise its renewable sources having abundant solar and wind.

With such modelling, Leong believes that the energy transition in Southeast Asia is still bound to happen regardless of inevitable delays resulting from the pandemic. But with the integration of novel technologies that provide flexibility to the power system and the changed mindset of developers toward this transition, a zero-carbon future for the region can be accelerated.

Therefore, as the role of coal in the energy systems of the future becomes increasingly unclear as renewables are gaining traction, Leong advises developers, investors, and other key players in the energy market to “do something that is future-proof”. We must, he urges, avoid the mistakes of the past, in which conventional power sources received the majority of investment and support, and instead invest in a flexible power system that will enable a more sustainable energy future.

About Wärtsilä Energy:

Wärtsilä Energy Business leads the transition towards a 100% renewable energy future. We help our customers unlock the value of the energy transition by optimising their energy systems and future-proofing their assets. Our offering comprises flexible power plants, energy management systems, and storage, as well as lifecycle services that ensure increased efficiency and guaranteed performance. Wärtsilä has delivered 72 GW of power plant capacity in 180 countries around the world.

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