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Asia Urged to Accelerate Adoption of Alternative Energy Generation

Asia is still not on course to meet many of the globally agreed objectives for countering the growing danger of climate change, according to many of the high-level speakers addressing this year's Singapore International Energy Week.

Photo: Land of a rise in sun power: Asia’s solar-energy industry offers the hope of a green new dawn. (Shutterstock.com)
Land of a rise in sun power: Asia's solar-energy industry offers the hope of a green new dawn.
Photo: Land of a rise in sun power: Asia’s solar-energy industry offers the hope of a green new dawn. (Shutterstock.com)
Land of a rise in sun power: Asia's solar-energy industry offers the hope of a green new dawn.

Tough action is needed to accelerate the transition to cleaner forms of energy, according to many of the industry leaders gathered for the recent Singapore International Energy Week. Overall, it was pretty much consensus that, despite renewable-energy costs approaching parity with fossil fuels, demand for carbon-emitting sources of power remains on the increase in Asia, a development largely driven by the region's fast-growing economies and the need for affordable electricity. For many, weaning the economies of Asia off less-sustainable energy sources was the biggest challenge facing the region's utility operators.

Indeed, much of the debate at the conference was focused on the need to transition towards cleaner forms of energy, including existing renewables, emerging renewables and cleaner forms of fossil fuel. Setting the tone here was Chan Chun Sing, Singapore's Minister for Trade and Industry, who was attending the event in order to outline the city-state's long-term vision.

Summarising its proposed approach, he said: "Our plan for the next 50 years is to implement four 'Switches', while making sure that we reduce and manage our energy consumption levels via the utilisation of big data to steer various optimisations – particularly with regard to cooling, heating, building design and transport.

"The first Switch will be natural gas. As we will continue to rely on natural gas for the next 50 years as a means of meeting a substantial part of our energy needs, we need to continually improve the technology we deploy and to become more efficient.

"The second Switch is solar. By 2030, we aim to be utilising a 2GW peak of solar energy. This represents about 10% of Singapore's current peak daily electricity demand. In order to deliver on this, we will need to install an increased number of solar panels – on reservoirs, on the sea, on top of buildings and even on the vertical surfaces of buildings. We are also aiming to have in place 200MW of energy storage capacity from 2025 onwards."

Turning his attention to the shortcomings in the region's power infrastructure, he said: "The third Switch is the possibility of establishing a regional power grid. Today, in certain parts of Southeast Asia, some countries have an abundance of hydropower and other renewables. If we can build a regional grid, it will inevitably provide greater resilience and stability for the entire system.

Photo: Cheap coal: High environmental cost. (Shutterstock.com)
Cheap coal: High environmental cost.
Photo: Cheap coal: High environmental cost. (Shutterstock.com)
Cheap coal: High environmental cost.

"The fourth Switch, meanwhile, relates to the exploration of other low-carbon alternatives, such as green hydrogen, nuclear fusion, biomass and algae. Whether we manage to meet the energy challenge of the next 50 years will ultimately depend on our ability to innovate, find creative solutions and our drive. For our part, we are confident that not only can we rise to these challenges, but we will also be able to offer the wider world possible solutions to many of its own related problems."

Another looking more to global issues was Francesco La Camera, Director General of The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), an Abu Dhabi-headquartered intergovernmental body. Addressing the wider transition currently underway, he said: "For the seventh year in a row, the additional power generation capacity available from renewable-energy sources exceeded that from non-renewables and not by a small amount – 171GW, compared with 100GW. Significantly, in total, Asia accounted for 39% of this new renewable energy.

"Today, one third of global power comes from renewable sources. The cost of renewable energy generation is now comparable to that generated using most fossil fuels. While it's a transition that is already happening, it's not happening at the speed necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change. We need to scale up the adoption of renewables to a pace six times the current level.

"This will require additional investment of US$15 trillion between now and 2050, with $1.3 trillion of that needed for the Asia-Pacific region alone. Ultimately though, any such investment will pay for itself three to seven times over in terms of reduced healthcare costs and reduced damage from climate change, while also generating an additional 2.54% in growth globally and creating new industries and jobs. Half of these new jobs will be within Asia – some 26.8 million."

Looking ahead, Jon Moore, CEO of New York-headquartered Bloomberg New Energy Finance, predicted a coming change in how the world will meet its power needs, saying: "The global energy mix will change significantly by 2050, with renewables making up 62%, fossil fuels dropping to 31%, and the rest coming from nuclear plants.

Photo: Hydropower: Currently under-distributed. (Shutterstock.com/Aung Myat)
Hydropower: Currently under-distributed.
Photo: Hydropower: Currently under-distributed. (Shutterstock.co/Aung Myat)
Hydropower: Currently under-distributed.

"This extreme ramp up of renewables, however, still won't see us complying with the two degrees of temperature maximum increase target. Indeed, in order to deliver on that, new technologies, such as hydrogen and solar thermal, have to be added into the mix. Thankfully, 'Green' hydrogen – hydrogen generated from renewable energy – is on course to be cost-competitive by 2030."

Adopting a similarly downbeat tone was Keisuke Sadamori, Director, Energy Markets and Security for the International Energy Agency (IEA), a Paris-headquartered subsidiary of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). On a mission to bring some harsh realities home to delegates, he said: "Southeast Asia is now on course to become an ever-larger net importer of fossil fuels, mostly oil, with an annual energy trade deficit set to balloon to more than $300 billion by 2040. In particular, the demand for coal is expected to double to almost 400 million tons. It's proving very difficult for Southeast Asian countries to move away from highly affordable coal over the short-term.

"This raises major energy security concerns, with the region set to become increasingly vulnerable to both fluctuations in the global energy markets and to the repercussions of unpredictable geopolitical events. Over the next 20 years, the region will add the equivalent of Japan's current overall energy requirement to ongoing global demand – a level of increase that is twice the global average."

Striking a more positive note, however, was Professor Armin Aberle, Chief Executive of the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore. Decidedly upbeat about prospects for solar power, he said: "For the past 20 years the industry has enjoyed a truly breath-taking compound annual growth rate of 40%. As a result, by 2030, this will be a trillion-dollar industry. Overall, 2018 was our best year to date, with 105GW of new installations coming online. Currently, the global total is about 550GW, with that figure projected to reach 20TW by 2040.

"Solar power is also on something of a race to the bottom in terms of cost. While not so long ago it was $500 a watt, it now costs about 20 US cents to produce a watt. At the same time, there is clearly a race to the top with regard to improving efficiency, which has risen from an energy conversion level that was below 20% to one that is now in excess of 26%. New technology should see it pass the 30% mark by 2025."

Photo: Singapore International Energy Week 2019: Keeping the lights on while protecting the biosphere.
Singapore International Energy Week 2019: Keeping the lights on while protecting the biosphere.
Photo: Singapore International Energy Week 2019: Keeping the lights on while protecting the biosphere.
Singapore International Energy Week 2019: Keeping the lights on while protecting the biosphere.

The 2019 edition of Singapore International Energy Week took place from 29 October-1 November at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre.

Ronald Hee, Special Correspondent, Singapore

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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