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The ‘Asean century’ for renewable energy


THE coming years could be a watershed moment for renewable energy (RE) in the Asean region. Although South-East Asia is considered a laggard in terms of RE deployment, the region is, arguably, where the most significant potential for sustainably-sourced energy lie.

The conditions for the development of RE here, particularly solar energy, could not be better. We get enough sunlight and heat to fulfil global needs for a whole year; in other words, solar radiation can satisfy our energy needs 4,000 times over, notes Matt Tan, group president of Mattan Engineering.

Based on information from the International Renewable Energy Agency, Malaysia ranked third in Asean with a solar capacity of 362MW (megawatts) by the end of 2017.

Simply put, if Malaysia – with a 2% energy mix from RE sources – is ranked third in the region, it means that there is still a lot of untapped potential for companies such as Mattan to exploit.

Tan acknowledges that RE generation costs have dropped for many countries in this region, some, even to the level of conventional energy generation costs, or even lower.

“We are looking to enter the RE markets in Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam by next year. Many countries in the region have taken the first step in formulating a suitable regulatory framework for RE projects to attract investors,” says Tan.

According to Protege Associates, the RE sector in South-East Asia has developed over the years, with installed capacity rising from 38.4GW in 2011 to 62.9GW in 2017, representing a growth of 8.6%.

“Energy profiles across the region are diverse, mainly due to the disparate economic, political and cultural differences. The scale and patterns of the energy use and energy resources within the region also differ from country to country,” it said.

The research firm noted that with the exception of Singapore, Brunei and Thailand, hydropower has the highest installed capacity in all South-East Asian countries.

About 78% of installed capacity in the region was attributed to hydropower in 2017. Bioenergy, which comprises biomass and biogas, has the second largest share, amounting to 11.6% of the total installed capacity in the region while solar energy has 6.7% share.

Tan says growth for the region from now till 2025 will mainly come from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, and Vietnam.

“Unlike Malaysia, these countries have a deficit of energy, meaning that new power plants will need to be deployed immediately,” he says.

As at 2017, Protege noted that Thailand had the largest RE capacity at 10.7GW, of which 36% was attributed to bioenergy. Thailand is set to achieve 17.5GW of RE capacity by 2025, including bioenergy (5.7GW), hydropower (3.8GW), solar PV (6.2GW) and wind energy (1.8GW)

“While it is certain that solar energy – like wind – is intermittent and directly depends on the weather and day-night cycles, rapid advances in electricity storage technologies are reducing this dependency and will lead to the increasing share of solar in the energy system,” says Tan, which will benefit Mattan given that solar currently contributes up to 70% to the company’s orderbook.

Another advantage of energy derived from the sun, says Tan, is its ability to generate local wealth, by lessening energy dependence on foreign sources.

“Moving forward, more efforts to promote the RE sector are expected in order to achieve a region-wide RE capacity of 180GW by 2025, including 55GW of solar PV capacity.

“An ASEAN REmap was launched in January 2017, outlining the target set for RE capacity of each member country by 2025 and the outlook for 2030. Member nations are committed towards achieving the target by intensifying their efforts in promoting growth within the RE sector,” said the Protege report.

Under the ASEAN REmap, Malaysia is targeted to achieve 18.3GW of RE capacity by 2025, including bioenergy (3.8GW), geothermal (0.1GW), hydropower (8.5GW), solar PV (5.8GW) and wind energy (0.1GW).

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