Norway and ASEAN have announced a three-year energy project that could help solve some of the region’s power issues.
The project also provide insights on how each of the countries are doing to maintain their commitment to the Paris climate accord.
It took a long time to put the recently agreed upon energy project Norway and ASEAN together, but this was not surprising to the Norwegian Ambassador to ASEAN, Mr Morten Høglund. That’s because energy is an ever-changing sector and it is vital for a project like this to be up-to date.
However, both sides wanted to get this project over the line. According to Mr Høglund, energy is one of the sectors Norway can positively contribute to in the ASEAN region given the country’s history, technologies and knowledge in the field.
“This is an interesting time in regards to energy. Hopefully this partnership can help make a difference. We believe that it could be a critical part of a regional energy solution,” Mr Høglund explained.
The partnership will see significant cooperation between the ASEAN Center for Energy and the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), which will supply knowledge on power, climate
issues, policy and other issues facing the region.
“The project is partly a study of energy policies and then recommendations on how to make current practices more sustainable. It is also important to look for new ways to build additional capacity in the ASEAN energy policy,” Mr Høglund said. “We can utilise our strengths in renewable energy to address some of the challenges, such as electrification, facing ASEAN countries. We have lots of expertise and knowledge in terms of renewables and look forward to sharing our Norwegian experiences and solutions with our ASEAN partners.”
This agreement comes at a critical juncture for energy in ASEAN. With both the population and economic power of the region expected to grow in the coming decades, energy production will need to follow suit.
“The population is young and demand for power is likely to keep growing for the foreseeable future,” Mr
Høglund stated. “We want to play our part in that growth by making sure the solutions are sustainable, and, ideally, renewable whenever it is feasible. We also want to achieve more sustainable use of existing energy output.”
Mr Høglund added both Norway and the members of the ASEAN understand the need for being climate friendly and the new project can help build momentum for clean energy in the region. However, this understanding and the actions of the countries don’t always match up.
Research from the International Energy Agency found that 85 percent of new coal power developments will be built in Asia with Southeast Asia leading this charge. There are currently plans in place to build 40 gigawatts of new coal power in Vietnam alone.
“There needs to be a sense of urgency when it comes to clean energy in Southeast Asia. This isn’t about telling the countries to change energy sources, but ensuring everyone has enough energy. And finding ways to make sure this energy comes from sustainable or cleaner burning sources,” Mr Høglund proclaimed.
He continued, “There continues to be innovation in the renewable energy industry. It is not as costly as it has been in the past. Price will always be a determining factor for governments when choosing energy solutions and these innovations means price is no longer
restrictive when it comes to adopting renewables.”
ASEAN spans ten countries and each one is unique when it comes to energy sources, electrification rates and other matters. While there are some similarities, the Norway and ASEAN energy project is more focused on a few common goals than trying to solve every issue each country is facing.
“The region is diverse. You have countries in different stages of development. The energy industry is at different levels of development. The project is aimed at addressing the big picture issues facing the members of the ASEAN as a whole,” Mr Høglund pointed out.
One of the largest common issues facing the region is meeting its commitment to the Paris climate accord. All of the countries in ASEAN subscribe to the pact. Mr Høglund noted that it is necessary to look at the policies in place and see if the countries are on track to meeting their commitments while also exploring what can be done to improve their work.
As mentioned earlier, the countries that comprise the ASEAN are all at different stages of development which presents some unique situations. For example, Brunei and Singapore are the most industrialised countries in ASEAN but face different problems in reaching energy goals. Singapore is a leader in energy efficient buildings and grids powered by renewable sources meaning the country will likely have no issues meeting its emissions reducing targets.
On the other hand, Brunei is dependant upon the oil and gas sector which means the country needs to find ways to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions caused by industrial activity along with cutting energy consumption.
Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam are each dealing with individual challenges in addition to common problems. And while the project can’t find solutions for each and every issue, it does hope to bring energy and carbon dioxide emission output throughout the region in line with global standards.
This is simply one of a few areas where the project can have its greatest impact. Another challenge facing some of the governments is the integration of renewables. This is something lacking in many ASEAN countries.
“There needs to be a regulatory framework in place as well as a welcoming of these new power sources from national utilities,” Mr Høglund stated. “These are very complex issues, but we will study this thoroughly and hope to propose some possible solutions.”
Mr Høglund also believes that there are industries where there is room for a reduction of emission production and energy can be used more efficiently. There are already a few examples of this happening in ASEAN.
“We will look to identify specific sectors where we can find ways to improve energy usage. An example of this would be green shipping like what we are seeing in Singapore. We have to look at energy usage as well, not just production. There are many parts to the challenges and we must consider them all,” Mr Høglund said.
According to Mr Høglund, there are some interesting new opportunities to work with a long time partner on energy-related matters as Thailand is scheduled to take over the ASEAN chair in 2019. The country’s place along the Mekong River, along with its central location within the region, means there could be some exciting developments on this front.
Additionally, Norway is home to many companies involved with energy and renewables. This is something that will be leveraged during the project as these companies can bring valuable insights to the partnership.
“Maintaining a dialogue between relevant stakeholders on both the ASEAN and Norwegian sides is vital for the success of the project. There will be a number of chances for companies to discuss opportunities as we move forward,” Mr Høglund noted. “We must have input from businesses and we will look for ways to get them involved. There will be moments for them as speakers as well as time for them present what they do and how they can assist the relevant parties.”
The project is likely to present some businesses with a chance to grow or reach interested agencies they may not have otherwise been able to link up with.
“Businesses operating in a few Southeast Asian countries may have a chance to expand their presence elsewhere in the region,” Mr Høglund explained. “The project could provide some Norwegian companies with access to markets they may not have had otherwise while also ensuring they are contributing to the region’s energy solution.”
The project is currently set to run for three years, but there is room for it to continue longer if both sides are happy with the results.
“We have many aims with this project but ultimately the main one is to help ASEAN reach its energy goals. We hope the governments and energy ministries will subscribe to our recommendations and turn them into actionable policy. The legacy of the project will be if it becomes relevant to the countries and contributes to solving the region’s energy problems. There is a lot of promise, but also hard work to be done,” Mr Høglund concluded.
Above Left: The Babelan CFB Power Plant in Indonesia is one of several coal facilities to have opened during the past few years. Above: Norwegian Ambassador to ASEAN, Mr Morten Høglund, meets with ASEAN Secretary-General Dato Lim Jock Hoi