ASEAN countries lag on renewable energy

China solar panels - main
Solar panels in the middle of a desert in China Copyright: Panos/Ian Teh

Speed read

  • ASEAN countries have vast potential for producing renewable energy
  • Wind, solar, hydro, ocean and hybrid sources are, however, neglected
  • China and India are outstripping ASEAN countries on renewables

Send to a friend

The details you provide on this page will not be used to send unsolicited email, and will not be sold to a 3rd party. See privacy policy.

While China and India are leaders in renewables, their smaller South-East Asian neighbours are lagging.

The bad news is that oil prices have gone up after years of low prices. The good news is that this will drive green energy up to its highest levels in the next decade or sooner.
It is good to note that the rising prices of oil have prompted tidal moves towards renewable energy development, which surged in 2017, with around two-thirds — or 165 gigawatts — of net new capacity coming from clean sources. (1)  

“The fact that South-East Asian countries are not on this bandwagon is a pity. This region is probably the most appropriate for the development of nature-sourced and nature-driven energy, whether solar, wind, ocean, river, rain or geothermal energy.”

Crispin Maslog

Renewable energy sources include mainly biomass, waste to energy technology, wind, solar, run-of-river, impounding hydropower sources, ocean, geothermal and hybrid systems. 
The current renewable energy surge is due largely to booming solar panel deployment in China and throughout the world. It grew by 50 per cent to around 74 gigawatts, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
The IEA Renewables 2017 report said that “sharp cost reductions and improved policy support are paving the way for continued growth in the renewables sector”.
“Record performance in 2016 ‘forms the bedrock’ of the IEA’s electricity forecast, which predicts renewable energy capacity will expand by 43 per cent — or more than 920 gigawatts — by 2022…Solar power will continue to dominate the renewables market, generating far more electricity in the next four years than wind and hydropower,” the report added.
The Asia Pacific Urban Energy Association (APUEA), which referred to this upward renewable energy trend as the “Fourth Wave of Environmental Innovation”, said this “Fourth Wave” seems to be reaching the shores of most parts of the world except South-East Asia with its 640 million people. (2)  

ASEAN lags
The fact that South-East Asian countries are not on this bandwagon is a pity. This region is probably the most appropriate for the development of nature-sourced and nature-driven energy, whether solar, wind, ocean, river, rain or geothermal energy.
After all, we have sunshine most days of the year. Here is one statistic: Singapore has 200 hours of sunshine per month on the average. Then we have the string of 17,000 islands in the open seas between the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia which provide ocean currents, ebbs, tides and waves waiting to be harnessed.
Furthermore, Indonesia and the Philippines sit astride the Pacific Ring of Fire, with numerous volcanoes that can provide geothermal energy. Typhoons visit the region at least a dozen times each year, bringing rain that can be caught in dams to run turbines for industry.
Unfortunately, we meet nature only in their violent moods and have not been able to harness its power. ASEAN governments need the proverbial political will to catch up and jump onto the bandwagon of renewable energy.
“Singapore — the only first-world country in the region and one that should be leading by example — remains disappointingly in denial of the potential of solar power and electric vehicles with hardly any deployment at all,” APUEA complained.
Indonesia — a nation with solar and wind power across its 10,000 islands — continues to use petroleum and diesel rather than seek clean energy. (1) Why? Perhaps because it has plenty of oil underground and has a thriving petroleum industry.
It is interesting to note that Malaysia has the distinction of being the “only country where the number of solar panel installations has actually declined in recent years”, APUEA claimed. (2)
In the meantime, Malaysia’s neighbour, Thailand, has stopped expansion of renewable energy, while Vietnam talks solar even as it pushes coal, which is cheaper.
In sum, APUEA castigates ASEAN as a region lagging in renewable energy development and transport sector electrification.
One notable ASEAN exception is the Philippines. This country is going big into solar energy production and has introduced this year renewable portfolio standards that will make a difference if enforced.
The National Renewable Energy Board of the Philippines has endorsed rules on renewable portfolio standards to the country’s Department of Energy.

A renewable portfolio standard requires the increased production of energy from renewable energy sources and relies on the private market for its implementation.
Once implemented, this will require distribution utilities to get a portion of their power supply from eligible renewable energy sources. The goal is to bring the renewable energy share of the national energy mix to at least 35 per cent by 2030.

China, India: Leaders in renewables
Meanwhile, Asia’s two giants, China and India, are providing examples to their smaller South-East Asian neighbours. They are two of the three countries in the world—along with the US—leading the way to renewable energy development and production.
China is the renewable growth leader, contributing over 40 per cent of the total global clean energy mix by 2022, meeting various capacity targets and addressing concerns about the country’s air pollution, according to IEA. Recently, China showcased a number of novel technologies designed to clean the air, including a 100-metre-tall smog-sucking tower in Xian.
Additionally, China has surpassed its 2020 solar panel target, and IEA expects the country to exceed its wind target in 2019. China is also the global market leader in hydropower, bioenergy for electricity and heat, and electric vehicles.
The US, perhaps surprisingly, comes in as the second largest growth market for renewables, despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord. This is because the individual U.S. states continue to adhere to their targets for the Paris agreement and the private sectors continue to benefit from multi-year federal tax incentives and state-level policies for distributed solar panels.
India, on the other hand, has overtaken the European Union in renewable energy capacity. Solar and wind power lead India’s renewable energy sector, representing 90 per cent of India’s growth and is expected to more than double by 2022.
India has also improved grid integration and addressed the financial issues of its utilities. Because of these factors, India’s growth between now and 2022 is, for the first time, expected to be higher than that of the EU, according to the IEA.
The Fourth Wave of environmental innovation is here, enabling the world to measure and reduce pollution. It is transforming markets, creating new industries and shaping the cutting edge of environmental renewal.
If ASEAN does not wake up, China and India will leave this region behind as they ride the Fourth Wave to a cleaner world.

1. International Energy Agency (IEA) 2017 Report
2. Asia Pacific Urban Energy Association (APUEA), Southeast Asia is the global laggard in renewables, but for how much longer? Retrieved  Nov.  23,  2018.
Crispin C. Maslog, former journalist with Agence France-Presse, is an environmental activist and former science professor, Silliman University and University of the Philippines Los Baños, Philippines. He is a founding member and now Chair of the Board, Asian Media Information and Communication Centre, Manila.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk.