Decarbonisation is one of the greatest challenges and also opportunities that mankind has faced in 21st century to save itself from a climate disaster. An astronomical number of the population or 252 million people will be subject to coastal flooding by 2050 according to a new study and most of this population noted sit primarily in ASEAN. The region has much to achieve in the way of decarbonisation, but there are positive developments on the horizon. A recent announcement was made in which Japan has pledged to aid ASEAN with $10 billion in financial support for their energy transition. “There has been a rapid progress in divestment in fossil fuel projects in the international finance industry… But to achieve carbon neutrality in ASEAN, it is important to create a mechanism to attract investment and financing for a variety of projects and technologies that contribute to an energy transition,” Takeshi Soda, Director for International Affairs at the Industry Ministry, said.
ASEAN will need more than funding from countries like Japan to overcome the decarbonisation barriers that countries face in the region. More than ever it needs tools and a clear commitment and direction of where to focus its investments and strategy, not only for the sake of net-zero target emissions but also to meet global decarbonisation expectations.
Flexibility = Key to a carbon-neutral future
ASEAN countries will need to utilize expertise to combine cutting-edge technologies and renewables to move the goalpost towards achieving carbon-neutral targets. According to Soumya Sahu, a Business Development Manager for MAN Energy Solutions, largescale projects may appear to be the best place to start the decarbonisation journey for some utilities and corporations, but often, these projects are not fundamentally flexible and have a long execution timeline. “ASEAN countries need to think about flexible generation sources that can complement the growing renewables in the capacity mix and adding future fuels like hydrogen and synthetic fuels in their energy mix… these future fuels can play a major role in decarbonisation. With increasing renewables, the grid needs to be flexible to respond to intermittent nature of renewable power,” Soumya said. He believes flexible gas engine-based generation plants provide essential baseload flexibility and complement the inbound renewables along with other energy storage solutions. But what should power companies be focusing on right now at this moment? “Regulators and utilities should think about a clear strategy for flexible generation plants to add to their generating mix,” Soumya said.
Overcoming Obstructions to Net-zero
The year 2050 is a static date that cannot change, and although ASEAN has not committed to this date, the countries in the region are under pressure to focus on their decarbonisation strategy. “Now is the time for bold action,” said ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa, in his welcome remarks at the 2021 Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) Asia Clean Energy Forum (ACEF) held last month. “We must commit wholeheartedly to fighting climate change and meeting the emission-reduction goals under the Paris Agreement while ensuring universal energy access in a region where more than 200 million people still lack access to electricity.”
With the IEA and the rest of the world watching ASEAN targets closely, it is clear that a multi-layered approach is needed. Between investment banks, government officials with a clear agenda, and buy-in from a region’s constituents, all stakeholders must work together cohesively to succeed in the common decarbonisation goal. But what lines of attack should be implemented by power companies now?
“ASEAN countries should encourage using LNG-based power solutions as an interim step to other decarbonisation solutions in order achieve a completely Co2 neutral futuristic power sector. We believe hydrogen and other synthetic fuels play an important part in decarbonisation of the various sectors,” Soumya said. Soumya speaks from the vast experience MAN ES has in producing green hydrogen and SNG (Synthetic Natural Gas) production units, which has supplied the methanation system for the world’s largest Power-to-Methane plant in Werlte, Germany. Soumya said it is not enough for power companies to dabble in adding hydrogen or other synthetic fuels to the energy mix but that regulators should orchestrate roadmaps with incentives and develop strategies to promote hydrogen and synthetic fuels in ASEAN countries including Singapore.
Hydrogen is one tool that is attracting stakeholders like a new toy on the playground. For instance, countries like Singapore are looking to hydrogen as a critical facilitator of the city-state’s energy transition. “Hydrogen has the potential to diversify Singapore’s fuel mix towards low-carbon options for electricity generation, heavy transportation, and some industrial processes,” a recent joint press release about Singapore’s energy strategy said. Hydrogen is not without its challenges. Singapore’s study found that producing green hydrogen at scale using domestic green electricity would be challenging due to Singapore’s limited renewable energy resources. “As such, Singapore would need to explore various supply pathways for price-competitive low-carbon hydrogen,” the statement said.
Hydrogen certainly seems to be attracting interest in the region, as a starting point for carbon-neutral future fuels. In Singapore, where LNG has been a part of the energy mix for some time and so is further through this journey, they are looking to hydrogen as a critical facilitator of the city-state’s energy transition.
Constructing a Decarbonisation Toolkit
Hydrogen and synthetic fuels are an excellent start to diversifying fuel sources, but energy storage is vital as a tool to ensure the power generated from RE is captured. Increasing the share of renewables, especially wind and solar power, means that power grids are experiencing ever-larger fluctuations. There are periods with too much or too little green electricity, stretching base-load power plants and grid infrastructure to their limits. “Energy storage systems can [create flexibility] by integrating renewables and shifting energy to high-demand periods or provide grid services like frequency control or spinning reserve. It’s also possible to use the stored energy in the form of heat and cold, or as synthetic fuel, e.g., for transportation. They combined with flexible gas-based generation plants have the ability to smoothly transition the grid to become more dynamic and responsive to the increased renewables,” Soumya said. MAN ES has energy storage solutions that enable flexibility and that are made more efficient when storage is required for longer periods of time, and in large scale like Liquid Air Energy storage (LAES), Compressed air energy storage (CAES), Electro thermal energy storage (ETES) and the innovative Power to X which converts renewable electricity into synthetic gas or hydrogen makes CO2-neutral energy. What’s exciting about these solutions is that gas, obtained from green renewable electricity, can immediately be fed into a gas pipeline, providing customers with CO2-neutral energy,” Soumya said. Power suppliers are uncovering ways to produce clean energy and store it for future use or to balance out supply shortfalls in different regions, and solutions like the above offer waste-free and highly efficient solutions based on existing infrastructures that meet these goals
The decarbonisation race may not offer up a tangible prize at the end because there is no end, but instead, the race is ongoing and will be ever-changing to meet the demands of our planet.