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Exclusive Interview:
Dr. Michael Nobel,
Chairman of Nobel Charitable Trust

View Samples AseanAffairs Magazine
  September- October 2009


The great-grand nephew of Sir Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, calls energy efficiency the lowest hanging fruit to obtain real savings in traditional energy expenditure.

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Necessity is the mother of green energy. It has become increasingly evident that the era of clean and sustainable energy is setting in. The global race for renewable and alternative energy is speeding up. Underlying reasons include growing awareness of environmental impact of fossil fuels, the ever-present threats to energy security – be it market volatility, outbreak of war,
natural disasters, eventual depletion of the resources and increasing demand for energy to support economies.

The green evolution is going faster than most expect, with China, South Korea and Japan already making advances on the green technology front. And there are abundant signals that fossilfuel- fed industrial age is coming to an end. (Dr Michael Nobel, the great-grand nephew of Sir Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, shares his insights into the carbon-free future in an exclusive interview given to AseanAffairs. page 54- 55)

Asean’s Green Efforts
In Southeast Asia, as elsewhere in the world, the volatility of oil prices is one of the primary driving-forces pushing the governments towards green energy initiatives. Geopolitical instabilities and constant calls to stop contributing to global warming have encouraged countries in the region to explore the use of clean energy and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. To reduce the dependency on crude oil, Thailand, for example, has laid down a 15-year alternative energy master plan, which is expected to see the share of alternative fuels in the country’s
total energy consumption expected to rise sharply, allowing the country to cut greenhouse gas emissions by nearly fourfold.

By 2023, alternative sources will account for 20.4 percent of all energy consumed, compared with the present 6 percent, according to the Department of Alternative Energy Development
and Efficiency (DEDE). The sources covered include ethanol, biodiesel, compressed natural gas, hydropower, biogas, biomass, wind power and solar cells. The agency expects greenhouse gas
emissions will be cut to 42 million tonnes per year once the target is met.

Meanwhile, Thailand Greenhouse Gas Management Organisation sees brighter prospects for Thailand-based clean mechanism development (CDM) projects.

CDM is a concept that allows developing countries such as Thailand to sell carbon credits to industrialised nations that have to reach emission-reduction obligations by 2012 as agreed under the Kyoto accord. Based on World Bank estimates, the 4-billion-tonne global carbon market was worth $120 billion last year, double the levels in 2007.

The Thai agency has approved 88 CDM projects with annual targeted emissions reductions of 6 million tonnes.

Thailand emits about 344 million tonnes of greenhouse gases every year.

Yet, Thailand lags behind its Asian peers in use of the CDM. As of May 2009, Thailand had 17 projects registered with the CDM executive board, compared with China (553), India (425), Malaysia (46), the Philippines (27), South Korea (27) and Indonesia (24).

Most of these countries have encouraged local businesses to invest in carbon reduction with incentives such as tax holidays and soft loans, as well as providing assistance with the often complex application and certification process.


Energy Network on a Slow Boat
Despite the growing awareness of climate change impact and the efforts made to reduce the dependency on imported oil, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) countries will have to rely on foreign oil for years.

This is indicated by the numerous initiatives the trade bloc has drawn up to reduce the reliance on oil imports. The Trans-Asean Energy Network, which was first conceived in the late 1980s
and later incorporated into the Asean Plan of Action for Energy Cooperation (APAEC 2004- 2009) is one such attempt.

Natural gas forms the key component of the Trans-Asean Energy Network, a regional effort to ensure energy self sufficiency. The network covers the Trans-Asean Gas Pipeline and Asean Power Grid. When the grid was first mooted in 2002, Asean energy ministers estimated the entire grid to be ready by 2020 at a cost of $17 billion.


Nuclear Power versus Green Energy
The 10-nation group is apparently divided into two subgroups. There are proponents of energy efficiency, investment in R&D to seek alternatives to fossil fuels, and sustaining a clean environment.

And there are others believing nuclear power is inevitable if the Asean must reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand are among those planning to tap nuclear
energy to meet growing electricity needs and reduce dependence on oil and natural gas. Their rationale is that energy conservation and renewable energy alone cannot significantly cut emissions and that preparation for its infrastructure will take a long time. But they may be discounting the safety margins and strong opposition from the public.

Yet, opportunities to renew the commitments to green energy are unfolding. The global economic crisis, which has hindered Asean’s development of alternative fuels, is now easing.


Fusionopolis, a green skyscraper in Singapore
Indonesia’s LNG shipments


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