Southeast Asian nations are increasingly looking to share power as a result of concerns about climate change.
Malaysia and Indonesia signed a deal in Bali, Indonesia in August to study 18 possible areas where cross-border power lines can be set up.
Those links could eventually create power equal to what 33 nuclear power plants would produce in a year. The links are economically and technically possible, and now are supported by regional governments, said Beni Suryadi a power expert at the ASEAN Center for Energy in Jakarta, Indonesia.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN is a political and economic group of 10 countries across a large area. The group includes small countries such as Brunei and Singapore as well as larger ones such as Indonesia and Vietnam.
Cross-border power purchases accounted for just 2.7 percent of the region’s capacity in 2017, says the Global Interconnection Journal. But those were between two countries, such as Thailand and Laos.
Now, more countries are looking at power sharing as a way to move their economies away from coal and other fossil fuels. Vietnam would like a regional grid so it could sell clean energy from offshore wind to its neighbors. And the Malaysian area of Sarawak is looking to sell its hydropower to neighboring Indonesia.
The plan for a regional grid between the 10 ASEAN members was developed twenty years ago, but progress has been slowed by problems including technical barriers and political mistrust.
The region now recognizes it must move faster. Climate change could reduce the region’s economic growth by more than a third by the middle of the century, a report presented at the 2021 U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland says.
Demand for electricity is rising, and governments have realized the move away from fossil fuels requires an interconnected grid, Suryadi observed. “It has become a crucial need for every country,” he said.
In the past, countries in the region paid more attention to energy security. They used fossil fuels and often built more capacity than they needed.
But renewable energy costs are falling, making hydroelectric, solar and wind power more affordable. All ASEAN countries apart from the Philippines have promised to stop adding carbon to the atmosphere by 2050.
So, arguments in favor of an interconnected grid appear to be winning.
But issues remain.
One of ASEAN’s central policies is non-interference, which means members are less likely to do joint projects. Energy needs within a country sometimes conflict with the interests of an interconnected grid.
Nadhilah Shani, another expert at the ASEAN Center for Energy, said that this creates a difficult position for some countries. The countries could sell clean energy to neighbors for the region to move away from fossil fuels, or they could use those resources to meet their own climate targets.
The region’s lack of a legal agreement for such things as setting submarine power cables is another difficult issue.
Not all the technical problems have been solved. Voltages used by each country can differ, as do the capacities of their grids. Even countries whose grids cross borders, like Thailand, need to upgrade them, said Harald Link, president of Thailand’s Association of Private Power Producers.
“You need a huge amount of electricity— and they want it green. And where do you get it from? For some countries, it is more difficult to make it green,” Link said.
I’m John Russell.
Aniruddha Ghosal and Victoria Milko reported on this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
region – n. a part of the world that is different or separate from other parts in some way
capacity – n. the amount of something that can be produced or managed
fossil fuel -- n. a fuel such as coal, oil, or natural gas
grid – n. a network of electrical wires and equipment that supplies electricity to a large area
hydropower – n. electricity produced from machines that are run by moving water
crucial – adj. extremely important
interference – n. involvement in the activities and concerns of other people
voltage – n. the force of an electrical current that is measured in volts