Can the Nordic power market model serve as a concept for a regional, connected ASEAN grid?
The concept of a regional, interconnected ASEAN power grid is nothing new, but problems have prevented it from getting up and running.
The Nordic regional power market model is among a few that could be used to help energise these plans. The development of an ASEAN power grid was first floated in the 1980s.
Despite a general acceptance of the benefits it would bring, traction for the project has been hard to come by. During a summit at Singapore International Energy Week in 2014, ASEAN government representatives and heads of private sector firms all agreed work towards a connected power grid should begin as soon as possible.
Despite this conclusion and several others like it over the years, progress has been slow. Nord Pool Consulting AS is hoping to change that. The firm is working on the ASEAN Power Pool (APP) initiative that would further develop and establish the framework for electricity generation, transmission and trading on a regional level.
The first step of the APP initiative will see a document that defines all aspects of the project drafted. The second step involves the creation of an implementation plan and road map for the establishment of the APP. Nord Pool Consulting AS is expected to finish this in May.
“We are delivering the design and a suggested implementation plan for the APP organisation and framework,” Mr Wilhelm Söderström, Senior Consultant at Nord Pool Consulting AS stated.
The project will establish the criteria, structures, roles and requirements for the formation of the APP organisation. According to Mr Söderström, the proposal will assist ASEAN member states in achieving consensus on the principles, building blocks and framework of an integrated regional electricity market.
The APP related project is implemented by the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia with the Heads of ASEAN Power Utilities / Authorities ( HAUPA) and the ASEAN Power Grid Consultative Committee (APGCC) serving as Nord Pool Consulting AS’ main stakeholders. Currently, both the ASEAN Power Pool name and the final structure of the organization have yet to be fully decided.
“The ASEAN Power Pool is suggested to be an institution to enable regional coordination and later multilateral trading of electricity among ASEAN countries while maintaining the balance, stability and reliability of the interconnected power grids across borders,” Mr Söderström said.
Regional power markets have been successfully deployed in Europe, Southern Africa and elsewhere in the world. The Nordic regional power market model has provided the inspiration for others including the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) and the Gulf Cooperation Council Interconnection Authority (GCCIA).
“Experiences from the Nordics, Southern Africa and other regional power trading collaborations can be utilised in ASEAN,” Mr Söderström reported. “We have a long-term relationship with the SAPP and assist the GCCIA.”
This experience has allowed the firm to see how cooperation can be a way to effectively optimise the usage of energy resources and infrastructure in a region. It has since brought this experience to the APP initiative. Charged up benefits Proponents of the APP claim the optimising of resources on a regional basis is the cheapest and most environmental
friendly method to meet demand for electricity in ASEAN. According to data from the HAPUA Directory 2016 and ASEAN Centre for Energy, the region’s electrification rate is 78.7 percent, but countries remain self-reliant for power generation.
A lack of electrification in Cambodia (66 percent) and Myanmar (32 percent) weigh down the electrification rate quite a bit. No other countries in Southeast Asia have an electrification rate of less than 88 percent. Infrastructure in both Cambodia and Myanmar would need to be built up in order for them to realise the full benefits, but the fruits of the APP would be more immediate for most other countries.
“All the involved countries would benefit from a regional cooperation. Countries with hydropower or low cost resources could potentially sell power to countries operating more expensive generation such as oil, diesel and gas,” Mr Söderström said. “This gives the exporting country increased earnings and the importing country a reduced cost of power generation.”
He added that countries with a large portion of hydropower might potentially need electricity imports during dry periods where the reservoirs and rivers don’t produce at sufficient levels. In this situation, neighbouring countries with thermal based generation could potentially step in and assist by exporting power into the deficit area. So, the collaboration is mutual.
Should large investments in renewable energy, such as wind and solar, occur, an interconnected grid could assist in the integration of these new resources while offsetting some of the risks they present.
“The volatile nature of renewable energies creates a need to support power when the wind and solar forecast is not accurate,” Mr Söderström noted. “This power support could potentially be produced by a hydropower station in a neighbouring country instead of having a gas power plant on standby, for example.”
Supply security and grid stability are two of the primary reasons an interconnected grid would benefit ASEAN, but this collaboration may also allow closer cooperation between countries. According to Mr Söderström, the amount of capital required for generation capacity expansion in Southeast Asia would decrease if this were to take place.
It will take time for ASEAN to move away from individual markets and morph into a regional entity. Mr Söderström pointed out that regional market implementation takes time to develop and needs to happen incrementally, not all at once.
“The political decision needed to move ASEAN towards a regional market can of course be time consuming to reach.” Mr Söderström said. “When speaking of regional cooperation, it needs to be mentioned that increasing regional cooperation does not directly correlate on losing national control of the electricity sector. Both European cooperation and SAPP coordination are living examples of this ideology.”
But this is only half the battle. In addition to clearing all of the political hurdles, more interconnectors will need to be built and other obstacles must be addressed. This can only happen through regional cooperation.
“It’s important to use established ASEAN regional organisations for agreeing on the needed points and to use the knowledge that these organisations possess,” he noted. “Aside from the regulatory difficulties, another challenge is to build an efficient and secure IT infrastructure for connection of the countries involved.”
It will take years, possibly even decades, for the APP to be fully realised, but Mr Söderström doesn’t believe this is a bad thing. He cites recent examples of how a methodical process ended up benefiting all parties.
“Both the developments in the Nordic and the Southern African region has taken several years and have been based on a step-by-step process which allow member states to evolve at their own pace but making sure all are moving in the same direction,” Mr Söderström explained. “One should aim for market development through evolution, not revolution when it comes to these types of implementations.”
The APP may still be in its infancy, but it could prove the foundation that sparks ASEAN energy cooperation after almost 40 years of trying. If the process is about taking steps, Nord Pool Consulting AS is hopeful the first one might be taken soon.
“The benefits of regional cooperation are starting to become accepted and understood among many of the stakeholders involved, so we are optimistic towards the future of the ASEAN power grid,” Mr Söderström concluded.
“The land area for traditional solar solutions is scarce. The land for the best solutions has already been taken,” Dr Bjørneklett said. “You need to open up new areas and new surfaces for solar power systems. Bodies of water are a good place for this.”
Research from the UN found that nearly half of the world’s population lives within 200 kilometres of coastline. Meanwhile, 20 of the world’s megacities, metropolitan areas with more than 10 million residents, are costal. Floating solar can benefit these areas.
For large cities, floating solar can be placed closer to cities than land-based solar power systems meaning less energy is lost during transport. Smaller cities in coastal areas, such as archipelagos, can also benefit from using the technology.
While many areas in places such as the Philippines and Indonesia don’t have a large enough land area for a solar plant, floating solar can provide them with a chance to utilise renewable energy. Many islands in Southeast Asia are still reliant on fossil fuel power generation, which can be both expensive and harmful.
“The technology allows us to build for less cost than land-based solar and with a better yield thanks to the water cooling,” Dr Bjørneklett said. “When implemented it can give access to cheap, renewable energy to new parts of the globe where it may not currently be available such as Southeast Asia. In the archipelagos, it can be hard to create the space needed for land-based solar despite these areas wanting to utilise the energy source.”
Since the technology is not a onesize-fits-all solution, it can easily support a remote fishing village or a large city.
“The Ocean Sun solution allows for the usage of solar power on bodies of waters in a way that wasn’t possible in the past,” he stated. “The solution is also scalable. This means it can be used to provide sufficient renewable energy to different areas to suit all types of demands.”
In addition to the testing in Norway, the company has also set up a test bed on waters just off Pulau Ubin, an island in northeast Singapore. This is Ocean Sun’s benchmark study with aircooled modules. It is the company’s first opportunity to see how the technology performs in equatorial waters. Areas in the lower latitudes reap the greatest benefits from floating solar technology.
“There is enormous interest in Ocean Sun all across the globe. The interest is everywhere plus or minus 40 degrees of the equator,” Dr Bjørneklett noted. A cheaper, Flexible Alternative
Floating solar is a relatively new industry, but the progress has been impressive. Dr Bjørneklett, along with Ocean Sun co-founder Dr Øyvind Christian Rohn, started the company in 2016 to exploit Dr Bjørneklett’s patent application. Shortly after, Dr Arnt Emil Ingulstad made the first important investment and also joined the management team. Later they received a grant from Innovation Norway and together with a Norwegian industry consortium consisting of Bergen Kommunale Kraftselskap, Norsk Hydro, REC Solar, Lerøy Seafood and Grieg Seafood they were able to build the first prototype.
“I was in the photo voltaic business at REC Solar managing the design of the module. When REC Solar moved to Singapore in 2011, I left the company and went on to work in the oil and gas industry, building large hydro elastic structures stretching from the blow out preventor up to the floating rig used in ultra-deep-water drilling,” he explained.
These experiences have served Dr Bjørneklett well at Ocean Sun, Dr Rohn also had experience with business administration in the oil and gas industry and the pair saw great potential for floating solar as an alternative to the oil sector in which they were working in.
“When we started Ocean Sun, there was almost no one else in the floating solar industry,” Dr Bjørneklett said. “I was most concerned about the cost on a dollar per watt basis. We tried to create the simplest and lowest cost solution to carry the solar PV panels in order to make it effective.”
Floating solar also has another key advantage when compared to land based generation. Since the panels are located on top of water, this provides natural cooling that makes production more efficient.
“The primary advantage of the Ocean Sun solution is the direct cooling of the solar PV panels,” Dr Bjørneklett stated. Another benefit is the total amount of polymers going into the structure. Our competitors aren’t able to match this.”
It is not just out at sea where Ocean Sun’s floating solar solution can be effective. The technology is also being touted as a way to improve efficiency at hydroelectric dams.
“Hydroelectric dams can suffer from water evaporation and this can be a problem. With the Ocean Sun solution, you can use solar power during the day and then switch turbines during the night to save potential energy,” Dr Bjørneklett pointed out.
The potential of Ocean Sun and floating solar could provide a massive boost to the renewable energy sector in Southeast Asia. At the moment, the company is focusing on its progress.
“We are looking to expand and continue to develop the product. We want to keep progressing the project and build larger demonstration units,” Dr Bjørneklett concluded. “We are up to six people now and are growing rapidly.” Left: A thin, one millimetre thick polymer membrane makes it possible for installers to walk on the Ocean Sun solar solution
Above: Should a single ASEAN power grid be established, the Xayaburi Dam in Laos is one of many projects that could sell power across borders
PHOTO: OCEAN SUN