By Narsingh Chaudhary
Governments across Asia are tapping innovations in generation, transmission and distribution technologies in the power grid to meet increasing energy demand in a sustainable manner. The increased energy demand is a result of rapid population and economic growth in the region. The International Renewable Energy Agency's (IRENA) 2018 Renewable Energy Market Analysis shows that energy consumption in Southeast Asia, for example, has doubled in the past two decades. Industry analysts expect the demand for energy to continue growing throughout Asia in the next few years.
Embracing energy transition is core to market growth. While many economies are incorporating more renewable energy generation into their energy portfolio to address universal electrification and sustainability goals, conventional power generation remains a baseload mainstay for most developing economies as governments strive to bring electrification to remote areas.
In search of innovative, flexible processes and modernized technologies that yield efficient and consistent delivery, investments in both smaller, higher-volume construction projects and large, complex engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) projects support reliable and sustainable energy. Digitalization, automation, analytics and other high-tech practices are providing holistic views of the power infrastructure to increase efficiencies and reduce overhead costs.
Regional governments are making good progress in supplying affordable and reliable energy by advancing the implementation of emerging technologies.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that more than 90 percent of the population in Asia’s developing countries has access to electricity. In 2000, the share of people with access to electricity was 62 percent.
This result can be attributed to the region’s foresight of investing in integrated power infrastructure to rebalance its energy portfolios.
An integrated power infrastructure takes advantage of different generation, transmission and distribution technologies to help utilities overcome the pitfalls of aging infrastructure assets while meeting rising customer demand for energy that is renewable and reliable. Portfolio diversification offers improved operation efficiencies while mitigating extreme weather risks.
The IEA also forecasts in its Southeast Asia Energy Outlook 2017 that demand for natural gas will grow by 60 percent by 2040 due to rising consumption in power generation and industry. LNG production and shipping technologies, particularly FLNG, also are maturing, supporting conventional generation as an important aspect of a diverse energy portfolio.
Viable power generation options depend on factors such as the cost of technologies, local resource availability, topography and population density. Regional governments have discovered that grid-connected generation may be ideal, but at the same time there is a role for distributed power generation.
For example, distributed power generation incorporating renewable energy sources, or microgrids, offers autonomous energy that is efficient, reliable and environmentally friendly for places prone to natural disasters or have little infrastructure.
Microgrids and hybrid systems ease dependence on the national grid while enabling a more reliable and consistent supply of power by stabilizing fluctuations in output from the intermittent renewable resources. By optimizing output and reducing variability, these systems improve the bankability of renewable energy projects.
Harnessing Renewable Energy
With the costs for renewable energy technologies decreasing, renewable energy presents the potential to scale up cost-competitive electrification with a low-carbon footprint. The IRENA forecasts that cost reductions, particularly for solar and wind power technologies, will continue into the next decade.
In anticipation of harnessing a larger amount of renewable energy, regional governments are investing in battery storage systems and conventional gas-fired plants to stabilize the grid by mitigating the intermittency issues of renewable energy.
Adopting battery technology allows the region to store renewable energy during peak production periods and release it at times of high demand, or when the weather is unsuitable for renewable generation from wind or solar.
The quick-start capability of gas-fired power plants balances system loads and maintains grid stability during periods of high demand — when renewable capacity alone is insufficient or when there is not enough wind or sunshine to generate wind or solar power.
Evolving Consumption Drivers
The region’s anticipated demand in electrification also is driven by new technologies.
EVs are just one example. Southeast Asia's growing transport sector, for example, shows potential for increased deployment of renewable energy. IRENA and the ASEAN Centre for Energy (ACE) estimate that by 2025, 20 percent of passenger automobiles could be electrified to meet the region’s growing demand for mobility and sustainability. The region is investigating possibilities for building up its EV charging infrastructure.
In countries where EV uptake is becoming widespread, we are seeing unprecedented market changes as EV owners begin to offer spare battery capacity, or sell unused power, to power companies and distribution companies.
At the same time, the market is redefining traditional and nontraditional clients and their power requirements. Nontraditional clients such as corporations in both the commercial and industrial sector are setting new paths for renewables procurement as they seek greater reliability while contributing to their sustainability goals.
Data centers are an example of a nontraditional client. To provide uninterrupted, reliable services, data centers require uninterrupted, reliable sources of power. Electricity accounts for about 40 percent of a data center’s operating costs.
To ensure uninterrupted service, most data center operators will generate some, if not all, of their own electricity. This usually is achieved by a mix of renewable and thermal energy sources, battery storage and grid connectivity all managed by smart power distribution technology — creating a microgrid.
Microgrids can offer resilience, as well as potential revenue streams as power companies often pay major users to reduce loads and peak times and will buy surplus power generated or stored by the microgrid.
Smart grids Expand Potential
Faced with many moving parts in a regional energy transition, the region must rely on a mix of grid, conventional and renewable power, enabled by new technologies to advance more developed economies and support market growth.
Regional governments are turning to digital technology and smart grids to optimize the impact of individual technologies. Digital transformations address core challenges of grid stabilization, peak load management, system flexibility and reliability in a holistic manner.
Analytics offer competitive advantages that drive lower-cost and higher-value solutions plus bettermanaged project execution.
The large quantity of data collected by smart sensors are particularly useful for renewable energy applications. As wind and sunlight affect power generation production, sensors and smart grids ensure that renewable energy plants are operating to their optimal potential. This promotes grid stability and addresses the intermittent nature of renewables.
On the other hand, incorporating digital transformation, such as predictive asset maintenance, offers forecasting and real-time monitoring. Smart grids are helping operators identify synergies through capabilities such as fault prediction and dynamic maintenance, investment optimization, energy efficiency and better prediction.
While pushing ahead with development, governments are mindful that infrastructure projects — including those in the power sector — are affected by time overruns, placing project viability at risk. Delays in land acquisition and site handover remain key reasons for schedule overruns during the pre-execution phase. To mitigate project risks, they are teaming up with business partners that provide quality EPC solutions at varying scales with consistent execution and safety practices.
Regional progress will continue. However, the energy transformation timeline is accelerating.
Narsingh Chaudhary is Black & Veatch's executive vice president in the company’s Asia power business. Chaudhary joined Black & Veatch in June 2019 and has more than 25 years of experience leading various energy businesses in the Asia region and globally. In his former role with Siemens, he developed and implemented energy projects in multiple countries.
Transformation in the Indian power sector is a process of evolution rather than revolution.
While some changes are radical — the 175-GW capacity target for renewable energy by 2020, or the universal extension of power supplies proposed in Saubhagya — other changes are less substantial, but they nonetheless contribute to a better holistic performance. For example, despite the significant strides in installed renewable energy capacity, coal will remain central to India’s baseload generation for the foreseeable future. About 60 percent of India’s installed power capacity is coal-based. This is set to increase to 70 percent by 2026, according to BMI Research.
The potential to buffer intermittent renewable sources of power is recognized. Oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan noted publicly last year that gas-based power can play a big role in integrating India’s renewables to the grid.
India has surplus generation capacity, yet many Indians lack access to the grid, and communities still suffer frequent power outages. Modernizing the transmission system and improving the financial stability of the distribution companies are central to addressing these challenges. For this reason, Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana (UDAY) — a government initiative to improve the financial stability and operational performance of state distribution companies — is among the power sector’s most significant undertakings.
Malaysia is developing a new roadmap for energy transition called the Renewable Energy Transition Roadmap 2035. The roadmap aims to increase renewable energy in the national power mix to 20 percent of installed capacity by 2025.
To increase electricity generation from renewable energy, the Energy Commission opened up the third cycle of the large scale solar (LSS) scheme in February 2019. To date, the government has implemented two LSS project cycles with an installed capacity of 958 megawatts (MW).
Singapore is investing in the research and development (R&D) of energy storage systems to complement the harnessing of solar energy. The following two Energy Market Authority (EMA) partnerships amount to $12 million:
• EMA-PSA Singapore: To transform PSA’s port operations and help reduce overall energy usage and carbon emissions. The partnership includes a joint R&D grant call for innovative solutions in smart grid technologies and energy management; and
• EMA-Shell Singapore: To nurture local energy startups and help them translate their solutions for the market. This partnership aims to provide capable building and funding for solutions in emerging areas such as distributed power generation, energy storage systems and the Internet of Things.
Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) is tapping on energy and pumped storage to increase the power generation capacity of its main power plants, in the absence of renewable energy. Two pilot projects that exemplify the strategy for battery energy storage systems are the Bamnet Narong power station in Chaiyaphum and the Chaibadan power station in Lopburi, featuring demand side management, power line communication with smart grid and renewable forecast center.
At the same time, EGAT is applying Big Data to systematically store data in power plants. The data is accessed efficiently using artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze and process operations together. This AI system will be featured for the first time at EGAT’s North Bangkok and Chana power plants.
EGAT also has piloted the hydro-floating solar hybrid project with capacity of 45 MW, the first largest hybrid power project in the world, advancing the countries diversity in power generation.
Floating Solar Farms
Southeast Asia is investing in renewable energy plants that can be integrated into existing power grids or function as standalone facilities in the pursuit of universal electrification and sustainability.
One area that has attracted interest is floating solar systems. Floating solar systems, or floatovoltaics, refer to the deployment of PV panels on the surface of water bodies.
With solar energy generation requiring large areas for PV panels to be laid, floating solar systems present a solution that effectively can address land acquisition issues. The business case for floating solar technologies is strong in markets that are balancing high population density and competing uses for available land. Floatovoltaics on a hydro-dam reservoir offers easy access to power evacuation to grid and a hydro-floating solar hybrid solution for improved grid performance.
Thailand plans to build its largest floating solar farm (325 MW) at Sirikit Dam. The Sirikit project is scheduled for completion in 2035. Thailand plans to float 16 solar farms with a combined capacity of more than 2.7 GW in nine of its hydroelectric dam reservoirs by 2037.
Singapore will be deploying a 50-megawatt peak (MWp) floating solar PV system by 2021. Two other 1.5-MWp floating solar PV systems are being implemented on Bedok and Lower Seletar reservoirs. When the floating systems on Bedok, Lower Seletar and Tengeh reservoirs are completed, there will be a total solar capacity of 57 MWp.
Hong Kong successfully installed its first pilot floating solar system at Shek Pik Reservoir in 2017 for supplying electricity to the nearby pumping station of the reservoir. This was followed by a second pilot at Plover Cove Reservoir, which was successfully installed in the same year, for supplying electricity to the nearby air compressor house of the reservoir. Each pilot was designed for a generation capacity of 100 kW. Each of the system can generate as much as 120,000 units (kilowatt hours) of electricity annually.
The Philippines' first and biggest floating solar (FPV) testbed is under construction in Laguna Lake. The project aims to investigate the effectiveness of combining the technology with a screw piling method to withstand typhoons.
Floating solar projects in India include a 10-kW farm in Kolkata, a 100-kW farm by Indian energy conglomerate NTPC in Kerala and a 2MW farm by Greater Visakhapatnam Smart City Corporation Limited (GVSCCL) in Visakhapatnam. NTPC has issued a tender for 70 MW of grid-connected floating solar at its Rajiv Gandhi Combined Cycle Power Plant in Kayamkulam, in the state of Kerala.