Enter the Green Era
By S Roy, Chairman, Asean Affairs, Thailand

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.

Green Efforts in Southeast Asia
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 is 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. But Thailand has yet to introduce such measures.
Worldwide, around 1,500 projects have been registered, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 220 million tonnes a year. Around another 4,000 projects are waiting to be certified, which if approved would reduce emissions by more than 2.5 billion tonnes by the end of 2012.
In neighbouring Singapore, the government has allocated S$100 million as incentives for the development of green buildings as well as the upgrade of buildings to suit environment-friendly standards. The result is a steady increase in the number of green buildings: from 96 in 2007 to 120 last year. The target is 80 percent of buildings in Singapore to be green by 2030, compared with 4 to 5 percent and 5 percent at present.

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. The network is making slow progress with no plan in place to address potential infrastructure security risks.
Shifting to renewable energy could save countries in East Asia as much as $2 trillion in fuel costs over the next 23 years, or more than $80 billion annually, according to Greenpeace.
The environmental group is stressing that it makes economic sense to shift to renewable energy while this will also help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 22 percent in the same period.
However, energy officials in Asean, China, Japan and South Korea have indicated that shifting would not be easy. With robust economic growth, the region’s demand for oil will continue to increase, especially in the transportation sector. Asean set an ambitious goal and have committed to increase the share of renewable energy in power generation to 10 percent by 2010, which they failed to meet.

Green Divide

The 10-nation group is apparently divided into two subgroups when it comes to green energy. 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 for Asean to renew its commitments to green energy are unfolding. The global economic crisis, which hindered the bloc’s development of alternative fuels, has eased. Possible hike in fuel prices post-crisis will serve as a cause for Asean to accelerate the drive for renewable energy while reducing its reliance on imported fuels.


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