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Southeast Asia's Renewable Energy Opportunity and Challenges

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

Writer: George K. E. KIONGSON, Irina LIN

Social Media Team: Irina LIN

In September 2023, the Renewable Energy Institute (REI) released a report titled "Renewable Energy: The Top-Priority for Southeast Asia to Fully Blossom" that tackles the potential and challenges of renewable energy in Southeast Asia. The region has rapid demographic and economic advancements in which energy consumption increased by 26%, and half is solely from the power sector [1]. Also, there is a vulnerability regarding energy security, as all Southeast Asian countries except Indonesia and Laos rely heavily on coal imports, consuming more coal than they produce.

The report highlights the potential for domestic renewable energy electricity to replace coal and gas. Southeast Asia has abundant renewable energy resources that can be harnessed economically. The report argues against considering natural gas as a "bridge fuel," as is sometimes advocated by fossil fuel lobbyists. Southeast Asia's estimated renewable energy potential greatly surpasses the region's current total electricity generation of 1,158 terawatt-hours (TWh). Solar photovoltaic stands out among various renewable energy technologies, with Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam taking the lead in manufacturing solar photovoltaic components. Additionally, Southeast Asia has favorable conditions for onshore and offshore wind energy, with Myanmar, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand having the best onshore wind potential. Indonesia has the most enormous offshore wind potential, Vietnam, and the Philippines benefit from higher wind speeds.

The region's other renewable sources, such as hydro, biomass, and geothermal resources, are less abundant but still noteworthy. Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Laos show the most promising hydropower potential. For biomass, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam stand out as having the most favorable potential. Lastly, geothermal energy prospects in Southeast Asia are primarily concentrated in Indonesia and the Philippines.

However, despite the enormous opportunity for renewable energy, the potential of each technology is unevenly distributed across the region. Also, the weak medium-term decarbonization policies are unaligned with long-term decarbonization objectives and coal power lock-in. In contrast, coal power plants are young and expected to operate until the early 2060s, pose substantial challenges that hinder the advancement of renewable energy in Southeast Asia. To fully harness and optimize the region's renewable energy potential, all the stakeholders should cooperate closely to accelerate the growth.

[1] International Energy Agency, Energy Statistics Data Browser: Balances ASEAN 2010 and 2020 Renewable Energy Institute, Renewable Energy: The Top-Priority for Southeast Asia to Fully Blossom (Tokyo: REI, 2023), 35 pp.



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