How ASEAN Start-Ups are Disrupting the Energy Sector’s Status Quo


There are no quick fixes in the complex realm of the global energy transition that will transcend the challenges the energy industry faces to establish a sustainable future or a diversified grid. It will take collaboration, clear direction, strategic investments, regulatory policies which support decarbonisation goals and new ideas.

Original ideas are plentiful in the ASEAN start-up scene, which is brimming with young, diverse, and passionate entrepreneurs. New blood is just what the ongoing energy transition requires, along with funding, all of which have further enriched ASEAN as a welcoming innovative environment.

To nurture and fund budding entrepreneurs, the Asian Development Bank’s ADB Ventures is currently seeking early-stage companies with novel and impactful ideas. ADB Ventures, which has a target to ‘crowd in more than $1 billion of risk capital by 2030,’ also has an arm in Singapore. This branch is actively focused on funding ASEAN start-ups with scalable, high-impact energy technology or solutions with a mission to link crucial stakeholders across all industries. 

Between increased funding and innovative solutions, clean energy start-ups could potentially have a pivotal place within the energy transition movement, which is why Enlit Asia established Initiate. Founded in 2014, Initiate is an Enlit global movement that spotlights talent, empowers the next generation of energy entrepreneurs, and creates impactful programmes to move the industry forward.

With the goal to unite start-ups, entrepreneurs, students, young professionals, corporate executives, public sector innovators, and investors from around the world, Initiate is designed to act as a sounding board and marketplace of ideas supporting energy newcomers and investigating how these agile companies are positively disrupting the energy sector.

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During the Enlit Asia Digital Festival last month, the Initiate segment addressed the shapeshifting energy market and specifically how start-ups can support decarbonisation progress. One of the winners for the Initiate ‘Future of Energy’ Start-up Challenge said that there is vast potential in the renewable sector, and start-ups can significantly affect growth.

“Well, I think there is still a lot of room for improvement in the renewable energy sector. In my opinion, digitalization will take a lot of cues from various start-up technologies currently being implemented all over the world, not just in the Southeast Asia region. One big challenge I see is storage, and I see a lot of start-ups providing innovative solutions for this problem,” said Dana Sultanova, the Chief Marketing Officer of ANNEA.

ANNEA provides the next generation of condition-based predictive maintenance and underperformance detection for renewable energy assets. Dana said solutions, like those of her company and also niche sustainable solutions, are what the energy sector requires now in 2021.

Also needed is a collaboration between established corporations, governments, and start-ups which have the capacity to be a game-changer in building out-of-the-box solutions tailored to each country. In fact, Stanley Ng, an Initiate judge and Program Director for New Energy Nexus, said these sorts of collaborative partnerships are necessary for Southeast Asia’s clean energy sectors, which may have gotten a bit of a late start. Being that collaborations are at the heart of what his organisation does, Stanley believes by connecting start-ups, implementation partners, and investors onto a single region-wide platform, Nexus SEA can fast-track the development of the ASEAN smart energy start-up ecosystem.

ASEAN might have been late to the renewable energy party, but Tim Rockell, the Managing Director and Founder of the Energy Strat Asia Pte. Ltd., believes that as the region strives to reduce reliance on coal, accelerate the deployment of renewable energy sources, and to improve energy efficiency, there are ways in which agile start-ups can transform the energy sector in ways larger corporations just can’t.  

“In Southeast Asia, the big national companies own the infrastructure. So it’s really around how start-ups can work with those big companies, and in a lot of cases, it’s not necessarily working with them directly. It’s more likely the supply chain. I believe there are tremendous opportunities, but it’s going to take a lot of persistence,” Tim said.

The start-up environment in ASEAN is growing, but the persistence will lie not only with entrepreneurs but also with governments and established corporations that will need to adjust and make room for modern solutions. At the core of Initiate is the theme of collaboration, which all stakeholders must do to ensure the success of ASEAN decarbonisation missions and implementation of renewables into the grid of the future.

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