Fuel Competition in the Expanding Power Market: Renewable Energy in Southeast Asia

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A recent report from the CSIS Energy and National Security Program by Stephen J. Naimoli and Jane Nakano provides a summary of the discussion from a CSIS roundtable held on April 13, 2018, as part of the CSIS-Pertamina Energy Initiative. The discussion brought together government, industry, and policy experts to explore the outlook for the region’s energy mix out to 2040, the state of renewable energy in Southeast Asia, and its role in the region’s energy priorities. This was the first in a series of events that will be convened this year to examine the role of renewable energy in Southeast Asia and its security, economic, and political importance in the Indo-Pacific.

Southeast Asia is one of the fastest-growing regions in the world. The region’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew 66 percent from 2006 to 2015, and if all 10 countries were one economy, it would be the seventh-largest in the world. This growth is projected to increase, averaging just over 5 percent annually from 2018 to 2022. With economic growth comes demand for energy. From 2000 to 2016, economic growth in Southeast Asia drove a 70 percent increase in primary energy demand. Governments in Southeast Asia have implemented a range of policies and incentives to ensure they meet their energy demand. Renewable energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and sometimes hydro and biomass) is capturing an increasing, although not dominant, amount of attention from policymakers, investors, and the private sector as an important part of meeting this demand. Renewable energy’s share of the electric power mix is driven by a range of factors—the economics of power generation, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, energy security concerns, and concerns over local air pollution.

While renewable energy is set to grow as a share of the region’s energy mix, there are indications that its potential contribution is much higher than is currently on track to be realized. Renewable energy increasingly competes on an economic basis in many countries against all fuels except coal, but sometimes political and socioeconomic factors stand in the way of improving their competitiveness in specific markets. The region is also attracting a great deal of outside investor interest. Countries from around the region and ever farther afield are investing in Southeast Asia’s energy sector because of the rapid growth experienced over the last decade and half, and their investment priorities, along with economics, shape their investment decisions in Southeast Asia. Energy policy and investment decisions are also being driven by the shifting nature of supply-and-demand balances in each country and the shifting domestic realities that come from becoming a net importer of specific fuels, such as in Indonesia. Many Southeast Asian countries have integrated low- or zero-carbon renewable energy into their energy planning efforts, and this report examines the dynamics of the power sector in Southeast Asia and how renewable energy competes with fossil fuel sources of electricity. Read the full report here.

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