Why South and Southeast Asia are pivotal to global climate and energy ambitions

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Robert Fee
Vice President of International Affairs and Commercial Development, Cheniere Energy

Kavita Gandhi
Executive Director, Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore

Binu Parthan
Head of Regions, International Renewable Energy Agency

Desiree Tung
Deputy Director of External Relations, Energy Market Authority of Singapore

Derek Wong
Senior Director, Government and Public Affairs, Excelerate Energy


Reed Blakemore
Deputy Director, Global Energy Center, Atlantic Council

REED BLAKEMORE: All right, so, I guess, welcome, everyone, to our third set of breakout sessions of the day: Climate and Energy Opportunities in South and Southeast Asia.

I think this is a particularly relevant panel because, obviously, coming out of COP-26, and headed into COP-27 and COP-28, where I think the global South is going to have a voice to say, the—it’s—it’s clear that nowhere is the challenge greater, or perhaps the opportunities richer, than in Southeast Asia.

I think you’re going to see—we all know we’re going to see the majority of energy demand growth come from the region until 2050. You know, major economies in the region continue to show significant economic growth potential, growing populations. I think this is a really dynamic region, and particularly one where, as you look to climate action, you know, an urgent priority continues to be the displacement of coal from the energy mix. And I think we have a number of different pathways we can use to pursue that transition, and that’s all still happening in a period now that we’re finding ourselves in, where the conversation around energy security is also incredibly important.

And so, this is a region now that is really at the starting block of pursuing both energy transition, climate goals, and solidifying its energy security at the same time. And that makes the pathways that it can take extraordinarily diverse.

And to that end, we have a fantastic panel with us today. We have Robert Fee, vice president of international affairs and commercial development at Cheniere Energy. We have Kavita Gandhi, executive director at Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore. We have Binu Parthan, head of regions at the—at IRENA. We have Desiree Tung, deputy director of external relations at the Energy Market Authority of Singapore. And it’s particularly good to see Desiree, because I haven’t—I haven’t seen her since, like, two years ago, before the pandemic started. And I’m going to use this opportunity to head—make sure I get back to Singapore International Energy Week. So I’m looking forward to that. And then lastly, we have Derek Wong, senior director of government and public affairs at Excelerate Energy.

How I want to start this panel—I think I’d like to turn to each of you for some opening thoughts, and then open it up to the audience, of course, for Q&A at some point.

But Binu, I’d like to—I’d like to start with you. Head of regions is an awesome title, to say the least. But it means I’m going to pin you with a bit of a tough ask, which is, you know, can you paint a picture of the region for us? You have a lot of diversity across the various, you know, country contexts, each pursuing their own pathway—again, as I mentioned. Where do you see the development of the region’s energy and—energy security and climate story evolving? And what are the particular opportunities and challenges you see arising?

BINU PARTHAN: Yeah, thanks very much. And again, thanks for having IRENA on this panel.

We just launched earlier today the World Energy Transitions Outlook, which provides a clear pathway for the world to decarbonize, including in this region. And one of the key highlights there is that it is possible to have an energy transition aligned with the temperature goals of the Paris agreement in a manner which there are positive economic, environmental, and social benefits. So it’s not something which adds cost, but there are benefits. For example, things like jobs—we see that there could be significant job growth in the region. So the overall picture is positive.

And I just came here from the MENA Climate Week, where we had one of our members, Egypt, confirm to us today that energy transition will be on top of their COP-27 agenda. So I think there is a clear direction in which the energy transition is happening, and it’s not happening simply because of the environmental challenges are so—the climate change rationale. It’s happening because of the economics and the socioeconomics of it.

Now, for the region as such, I mean, we do work closely with ASEAN. And we are developing an energy transition roadmap for ASEAN-10, which we will publish later this year, which will show a clear pathway for countries in the region to move forward. And taking advantage of the fact that Indonesia is the G-20 presidency, and you will see that energy transition is in their global agenda, and we are working with the G-20 presidency to ensure that this is underlined.

Now, one of the big issues, or one of the main opportunities in the region, has been around coal powering energy. And our cost analysis showed that coal is longer viable as a power option. And for the last seven to eight years or so, renewable energy investments have outpaced coal and other power options consistently. And we are also increasingly seeing in the region and beyond, is that it costs more to keep operating coal-powered plants, compared to renewable energy investments. So until then, things are clear.

Now, when you try to increase the share of renewables in the region and beyond, there are concerns and there are challenges. And obviously, a lot of utilities in the region are worried about the instability of the grid when you go beyond 30, 40 percent or so. So where we see a significant opportunity in the region is the flexibility of technologies. So one is energy storage, and there are opportunities to make the grid a lot smarter and intelligent to address some of this variability. But also, what we see as an interesting option is the regional interconnections, connecting grids across the ASEAN region. There have been a lot of efforts there; it needs to be supported by the political will, to ensure that the countries are connected. So every 1 degree longitude that you go, you do have a saving of about one hour of energy storage or so. And that is something you can achieve by—by interconnections.

And something which we are seeing there’s a lot of interest from the region and beyond, is the role of green hydrogen, and how that compares to other options like gas, et cetera. And here, again, the WETO, which we launched today, we believe that green hydrogen will be an important… technology to storage, et cetera. But again, it may not be the answer for all the challenges that you may have. There are sectors like aviation, navigation, could also be some industries like chemicals or iron and metals, et cetera. So it’ll have an important role for the green hydrogen, as well.

So going forward, I think we are very clear that there is a roadmap with renewable energy at the center of it, with electrification of the end users, particularly transport, driving a lot of demand for electricity, and an important role for green hydrogen and also flexibility technologies. And here, as an example, we are working with the Indonesian government on an Indonesian energy transition outlook, which we hope we will launch in Bali around September. And being the largest economy in the region, we believe that what Indonesia will do could actually be a model for other countries in the region. So we remain very optimistic.

There are certain challenges currently around energy security, which we believe are short-term, and probably driven by more emotional and other considerations. But again, if you take the long—medium- to long-term, the options are very clear, which is electrification, and with that, electricity coming from renewable energy, supported by flexibility technologies and green hydrogen.

So this is where we see the region going, and we will continue to work with all our member countries in the region, to support them on this pathway.

Thank you.

REED BLAKEMORE: Thank you, Binu. I—you know, I—it’s a great macro-level overview of the region. And I think it’s a—it sets us up well to dive into, you know, what I hope is a bit of a country-level case study, in a way.

And I’d like to turn to Desiree. Singapore is a—is a major hub in the region, across any number of areas—you know, economics, innovation, what have you. It’s also one that set several very aggressive, and very ambitious, sustainability targets for itself. Can you walk us through those targets? And I think in particular, what’s of interest is, what is the underlying strategy that helps you reach those targets? And again, I think pulling off of, you know, what Binu just mentioned, you know, how do those issues around climate ambition and energy security—how are those interwoven with those various efforts?

DESIREE TUNG: Thank you very much, Reed. And a big thank you to the Atlantic Council for inviting us back. I think it’s lovely to be back in the UAE. I was just saying, it’s been two years since we’ve been back. So it’s lovely to see old friends. It’s great to be here with Kavita and IRENA, and of course, new friends. I think we’ve just met our friends from Chiniere and Excelerate.

So I think Singapore—like every other nation, we are committed to our climate change goals and cutting our emissions… We are committed to halving our emissions by 2030, peak to 33 million tons of CO2. So, to that end, we’ve recently released the Singapore Green Plan. And this sets out, basically, Singapore’s plans over the next 10 years to really drive the low carbon energy transition. One of the key pieces of that is the energy reset. So the energy reset really looks at our four key supply switches for Singapore.

So the first switch is natural gas. Currently, we’re about 95 percent powered by natural gas. It is the cleanest fossil fuel, and it will remain the mainstay of our generation’s system. But of course, we are looking at—you know, we have CCGT, so we have highly efficient power plants. We are also looking at, you know, how we can drive efficiencies through maintenance, reliability of our plants, and all of that.

The second big switch is solar. Singapore—I mean, those of you—I don’t know how many of you have been to Singapore. We’re a small island. We’re blessed with great food, beautiful gardens, but unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of natural renewable resources. So the most viable option for us is solar. But I think, also, as you know, as a small country, we can’t cover the whole island with solar panels. But nevertheless, we do press on. We have actually increased our install capacity by four times over the last 10 years. So it’s been a huge achievement for us, and we continue to increase the deployment. In fact, we have committed to 2-gigawatt peak by 2030.

So that doesn’t sound like a lot. But the other third piece is, obviously, we’re looking at imports from within the region. So we’re actually looking at low carbon renewable imports. So we’re hoping by 2035, that will make up about 35 percent of our energy mix.

And the final piece that we look at is low-carbon alternatives. So we’ve recently invested over 55 million Singapore dollars into low-carbon research—into hydrogen CCUS. I think that’s one of the key pillars of Singapore, is we’re really looking at, you know, how we can look at research and development, and new technologies. I think at the end of the day, that’s why I think we—we come to events like this, and—and look to build connections. It’s because it’s about the creativity of the human mind, and technologies that’s going to get us there, and really push the needle.

So, yeah. Thank you very much.

REED BLAKEMORE: Thanks, Desiree.

And, I guess I might ask a quick follow-up question, which is, you know, Binu—both you and Binu mentioned, you know, the ability of the interconnectedness of the region in so many ways, right? And does Singapore’s, you know, relatively advanced, you know, economic development—and energy story, in some ways—position it to be a leader in the facilitations, in terms of facilitating those transitions of its neighbors? And what does—what do—what does that inter—international cooperation piece play within your clean energy strategy?

DESIREE TUNG: Absolutely.



DESIREE TUNG: Thank you very much for that.

Actually, international cooperation is a very important part. I think building not only regional but international connectivity is a really important part of the whole energy transition. One of the big pieces that the energy market authority does, is we organize the annual event, the Singapore International Energy Week, which we’ve had the privilege of Atlantic Council, IRENA, as well as SEAS join us. In fact, I know Chiniere also speaks, and hopefully Excelerate, too, will be able to join us. It’s held at the end of October, so it’s been running for the last 15 years. And really, what SIEW is about is really pulling together different players, different stakeholders, to come together, to really look at what are some of the energy issues that impact Asia? And how can we come together, to really kind of push the needle, to bring us to that, you know, next level of the transition? You know, what are the pathways? How are we going to get there? And how can we work together to do it?

REED BLAKEMORE: I’m taking that as an invitation, and I’m going to run with it.

DESIREE TUNG: Absolutely.


DESIREE TUNG: Open invitation, anytime.


I think, you know, I might now turn to Bob and Derek. There is—what Desiree just mentioned, is a part of this process. You know—I mean, to quote you, Desiree, gas, still going to be a part of the picture. And I think when you look in the other parts of the region, you know, again, where you’re trying to quickly displace coal—and that appears to be in a lot of ways, you know, a significant short-term goal, what does the role—what does gas—what role does gas have to play, both in terms of, you know, A, displacing coal; but, B, positioning gas as a way to facilitate additional clean energy transformations throughout the region?

I might start with you, Bob, and then we’ll go to Derek.

ROBERT FEE: Yeah, sure. Thank you.

So one thing I think it’s always important to remember when you talk about, you know, south or Southeast Asia—because we’re focusing on Southeast Asia today—is how diverse the region is. And so we’re able to hear kind of the experience of Singapore. But within the region, we have a vast difference in kind of, where those countries are, in terms of their energy mix, as well as their climate ambitions.

And so, I think that’s a good baseline to remember, that we need to think about what those countries are going to pursue, and they might have different strategies. And so I think part of those strategies, of course, has to be a heavy component of renewable deployment. But because of the infrastructure and the near-term demand for energy, natural gas has to play a role. And you know, I think in Southeast Asia, a lot of the demand drivers are even going to be more pronounced in the next few years, with the current kind of geopolitical situation and demand in the LNG market. And that’s economic growth, and population growth, industrialization, as well as—I think one of the key components on the natural gas side is, you’re going to have a lot of declining indigenous production in the region.

And so in order to meet those economic growth targets and kind of fit in the infrastructure, as well as meet environmental targets such as improving air quality, and climate targets through coal-to-gas switching, you know, natural gas can play that—natural gas and LNG can play that critical role, supplying the region. And you know, I think going forward, one of the, you know—we know how to do this in the United States, in terms of building infrastructure and getting LNG on the water. In the region, we’ve had some difficulties of late in terms of building regasification infrastructure, and kind of having regulatory reforms. And so, I think in order to kind of ensure that we have the coal-to-gas switching benefits in the near term, from a climate perspective, we really need to make sure that we focus on building that infrastructure on the gas side. And then that helps compliment the growth on the renewables side.

REED BLAKEMORE: Derek, I might actually pitch you the same question, which—and I think—you know, Excelerate is an interesting case study here, because as Desiree mentioned, you know, not a lot of geography, you know, to put an import terminal on. And that makes a floating storage option like Excelerate particularly interesting. How are you—what’s your outlook on the region? And I think, again, similarly, you know, how do you see your presence in the region, you know, being a value-add to these clean energy transitions, that are still a significant priority over the long term, especially?

DEREK WONG: Yeah, thanks for that. And I’ll just first echo what Robert just said. South and Southeast Asia is a diverse region. You have a lot of different economies. You have a lot of different types of geography, of island nations, you have nations that suffer from flooding. And so the idea that you have an energy mix and a transition that is specific to—so the country is really important.

For Excelerate, we’ve got almost two decades of experience building, developing, and operating floating LNG terminals. And so we have a fleet of floating storage and regasification units. It’s a bit of a mouthful, so we say FSRUs. But one of the biggest benefits of FSRUs are the flexibility, the fact that they are scalable; the fact that they can be deployed more quickly, and they don’t need the land requirements of land-based terminals. So if you have—if you’re—if you’re constrained, like a Singapore, or other countries in the region that have, you know, chains of islands, you can think about different deployment options, different docking and mooring options, in order to be able to deliver that natural gas in the form of LNG.

And earlier this month—I’m based in Houston, and so CERAWeek came to Houston; it was back in person. And John Kerry, the special presidential envoy for climate change, said very clearly, natural gas is a key component of the energy transition.

Now, obviously, there are—there are ways to make it more efficient, to abate the emissions. But a lot of the countries that we’re talking about are trying to have an offramp from coal. And so, LNG is a great way to bring down emissions, but be able to fuel economic growth. In South Asia, Excelerate has been operating in Pakistan since 2015, and in Bangladesh since 2018. And we’ve seen a difference in the deliveries and the diversity of supply options. When domestically produced gas is on the decline, you need to be able to have that security of supply to accompany the pathways to decarbonization. And so being able to quickly and responsibly build out that infrastructure, I think that’s a really key part of the equation.

REED BLAKEMORE: Kavita, I want to turn to you. And I apologize for making you wait. You know, I’d like you to kind of bring us back out to this perspective on, you know, how do we make this all sustainable, right? How do we make sure that we keep our climate targets at the center of our, you know, of our ambitions, as, you know, as the region continues to grow, and becomes more energy-hungry, natural gas and LNG providing a strong, you know, base of production there. But also, you still need to pursue those renewable energy opportunities, you know, even if it’s limited solar, if—you know, it’s electrification. Hydrogen, as Binu mentioned, is a huge—is a huge piece of that. You know, how do all of these pieces fit together, into a sustainable energy ecosystem?

KAVITA GANDHI: So I think if I take the Singapore example to start with, there’s a need for clear messaging. So in Singapore, like what Desiree mentioned, you know, there’s very clear messaging from the government, via the Singapore Green Plan, which sets the goals. And it’s—like we say, it’s a live document, where it can change, but it always changes for the better. So that’s one thing that I think we need in the region, is very clear policies.

If you ask me, there’s one thing that’s really—could accelerate, would be policies. The minute that you see that there’s a will from the government—if you look at Indonesia, we can see that shift in the last couple of years, and you can see things moving already. And we see it very clearly, because our members—while Singapore is a great market, but it’s not a big enough market. So we look at Southeast Asia as a market for our members. And you can see which are the countries that they are able to deploy projects in.

So I think diversity—and there’s no one-size-fits-all, so it’s going to be different. And even in terms of mix between the type of renewables, or it’s gas, it’s going to be different for each country. That’s what I feel. And we should not try to box it up, or have a formula that applies everywhere.

The other thing I think, which I have seen, working in this space for a long time, is that there’s a lot of need for capacity-building in the countries around us. And as SEAS, we have a program together with the Singapore government, Asian Development Bank, and—and we execute those sort of capacity-building programs, where we work specifically with policymakers. And—and you talked about grid intermittency. I think that is a nightmare for a lot of policymakers in the region. What is going to happen to my grid when you start pumping in all those renewables?

But then we have solutions, like you mentioned. I mean, in Singapore, we’ve—we have a lot of emphasis on demand response. There’s storage technologies, there’s various softwares that are available now to even out that intermittency. So, yeah. So I think we need to talk more about it, and talk a lot more to—I think the private sector is ready, but what is stopping them is very stable, clear policies. That will make it work.

REED BLAKEMORE: I want to draw on an item that’s been mentioned a couple times thus far. And that’s the—that’s the international partnerships and cooperation piece. And I’ll turn—Binu, I’ll toss this to you. You mentioned, you know, cooperation within the region on, you know, interconnections, et cetera. But yet, you know, we’ve just heard from Kavita that, you know, looking outside the region for assistance, for shared learning. And of course, you know, both Bob and Derek, you know, are bringing their resources to the region. How does the international partnership piece work?

And I think, you know, how does the international partnership piece work, which—in which non-regional countries, you know, operate in the region on good faith, right, as good partners? And what are those principles that should be adopted, as folks continue to engage with the region’s energy development story?

BINU PARTHAN: Yeah, at the regional level, just to take an example of Africa—although out of context—we are working with the African Union to develop a continental master plan for electrifying all the countries, and creating a single electricity market. So at the regional level, it’s important to have institutions with the right mandate to create common markets for electricity and energy. And that’s a major important factor. And again, having institutions like, you know, ASEAN, hopefully with the roadmap could do more. And then, it’ll be followed by national policies.

But at the international level—and you made this important point—that we’ve now created, for example, the collaborative frameworks at IRENA, where our 184 members, which account for, like 98 percent of the global energy consumption, where we have this space, where, as you mentioned, Kavita, there are countries in Southeast Asia which are worried about if the renewable energy share goes up beyond a certain point, what do we do? Do we bring in natural gas, or do we bring in some spinning reserve from coal to support that? And they have an opportunity to talk to Colombia as to how they integrate grid-level storage on their supply side, et cetera. So we are creating that framework.

But again, that just two policymakers or regulators talking to each other, that needed to be followed up by action on the ground. And here again, as Kavita mentioned, like, Indonesia has now put in place a carbon tax. And it’s coming right from the top, from the finance ministry. And that’ll give the right signals as to which are the energy options that the country would like to promote. And that actually translates to actual revenues, or incentives for the private sector, and it sends a very clear signal to the private sector, and then they can make these investments.

And so, I think in a sense, there needs to be more cross-fertilization of ideas, like the collaborative frameworks. And just as an example, something which we launched last week is an issue on critical minerals, which we believe that, whether it’s going to be natural gas or electrical storage, will be determined by critical minerals—where they come from, at what price point they are. And I think there is an opportunity to collaborate on that.

So in a similar way, IRENA will create more platforms for exchange of ideas, but again, that needs to be driven in the regions by very strong regional institutions, with the mandate and the drive to implement that, and then to the national level. And then we will have successful cases. And I think in West Africa, we have seen institutions like ECOWAS do that to some extent, and we have this in Central America, also. And we do hope that Southeast Asia can—it has the potential and the leadership in several countries. And if we can do that at the region level and move that to the national level, then we have a very good model in the region, I think.

REED BLAKEMORE: I’m going to resist the urge to jump into the critical minerals bag, because that’s one of my favorite issues. And we’ll just—it’ll ruin the topic of the session. I’ll spend all the time talking about that.

But I think it does bring up an issue that I might—I might respectfully disagree with you, slightly, in reference to your comments about energy security, and whether or not those are, you know, short-term considerations, and just considerations of the moment. Because I think when you—when we start thinking about the, you know, the balancing, you know—balancing which supply chains we are or are not dependent on, whether that be a—you know, a natural gas supply chain, or a—or in minerals and materials supply chain—those are considerations that I think have to meet.

And to be, you know, to be fair to Bob and Derek, I think there is a little—I think there is a justifiable concern, in some ways, that, you know, as the rest of the world begins to think about, you know, LNG as an energy security solution, you begin to—you know, the region can also run into supply—you know, a tightened supply chain of its own.

And how—you know, from your perspective—and I’d also be interested to hear Desiree’s thoughts on this, given, you know, that natural gas is, I think, number-one—switch number one, if I remember correctly. You know, you’re looking—if gas is that solution, you’re looking at a tightened market. You’re looking at a market that, you know, might not offer as much energy security as other options. Or will it? I think it’s an interesting debate.

So I’ll turn to Bob, and then Desiree. And then of course Derek and Kavita, I’d love for you to weigh in.

ROBERT FEE: Yeah, so I think a panelist on the last panel talking about European energy security used a quote that diversity is the only form of security. And I think that’s true in Europe, and that’s true in Southeast Asia, and that’s true whether you’re talking about energy sources, or you’re talking about critical materials. You know, diversity is the only form of security, and you need to pursue all of these different—all of these different policies, and all of these different sources. And I don’t think that they have to be, you know—natural gas infrastructure is going to support renewable development, and so they can kind of—they can work in tandem, especially when the demand is so great.

And I also think it’s important to—I really liked kind of thinking about this from, you know, adding the climate perspective comment that Kavita mentioned about policy and messaging—is we need to be, I think, consistent about how we think about these issues. You know, in the last few years, particularly in the West, we’ve had this pretty aggressive shift on natural gas. And I think that that, you know, at least in the West, kind of misses the role of natural gas in Southeast Asia and the rest of Asia.

You know, in COP-26 in Glasgow, we just talked about, and reached an agreement, to phase down coal. We didn’t reach an agreement to end coal. And so thinking about, kind of, are we ending coal and gas at the same time, I think, is going to leave nations not only insecure from an energy perspective, but also, you know, not able to meet their economic demand.

And so I think, you know, again, thinking about the diversity of these countries, many of these countries have natural gas as a key part of their climate commitments. Now, some of them have different climate commitments than Singapore, which is more advanced, or European countries—India talking about, kind of, net-zero by 2070. But that has to be aligned with their development. And so I think that the climate aspect actually goes hand in hand with the energy security aspect, if you take a, you know, realistic view of the market.

And I don’t think that doesn’t mean that we have to be ambitious. I think that that—we just have to think about where that comes from. So you talk about critical materials and where those come from, they have supply chain issues. You know, I think the onus is on the producers, on the suppliers—for us, Chiniere and the United States—to think about how we improve our supply chain, and reducing methane emissions, increasing the transparency around the quantification of greenhouse gas emissions, that then benefit our consumers of our product in Southeast Asia.

You know, upstream methane emissions are 30 percent of the emissions chain—or, sorry, upstream of kind of the combustion of natural gas is 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Methane is a huge component of that. If we’re able to reduce methane emissions upstream in the US, that does have tangible benefits for Southeast Asia in their—in their consumption of LNG, and globally.

So I think the—I don’t think that those have to be, you know, exclusive of one another. But I do think that we need to be both ambitious and realistic about who should bear what burden, as we think about achieving climate goals, while also meeting energy demand.

REED BLAKEMORE: Desiree, I’m going to—I’m going to pick on you again, because you’re our—you’re our country-level representative here.

You know, energy security playing a role, we’ve talked about, you know, the various security considerations within, you know, both supply chains. And I think, Bob, you correctly outlined how, you know, cleaning the supply chain is equally as important a responsibility on the supply side, as it is on the demand side.

So how does—how is Singapore thinking about these issues? And I—you know, I think, you know, how is it thinking about these issues in the context of the region, as well?

DESIREE TUNG: Absolutely.

I mean, I think one of the things that we’ve all become acutely aware, is how sensitive the energy market is to geopolitical. I think the one big theme that I take away from here is not only is everyone driving toward the path of sustainability, but I think energy security has certainly come to the forefront.

I mean, in Singapore, when we look at energy security, I agree with your comments on diversity. I mean, even though we are, you know, going to be powered by gas, we are looking at imports. We are looking at solar. We even have geothermal, if you’re not aware. We are also tapping into geothermal. Those of you who have been to Singapore, we actually have a hot spring. If you come and visit us, you can boil an egg. It’s a nice tourist thing to do.

But I mean, from a policy standpoint, we do look at what we call the energy trilemma. I think you can’t look at energy security in isolation. I mean, when you look at policy, you also have to look at sustainability, and at the end of the day, we’re also looking at cost. So I think the three things need to be looked at in balance. I mean, I think when you look at the region, I think international cooperation is a key part of it, as well. You know, Singapore, we are very open in working with our, you know, international and regional partners, both in sort of ASEAN, APEC, G-20. I think this is where international organizations such as IRENA also have a big part to play, and SEAS within our ecosystem. So, yeah. So that’s kind of our take.

But I think one of the other areas—I think Kavita and I were also talking about—related to energy security, actually—is not as, maybe, as a sexier topic, but also energy efficiency is something that we’re pushing a lot in Singapore. It also underpins, because in Singapore we price electricity right, so we don’t subsidize. So it’s about sending the right price signal of our consumption. But I think maybe, Kavita, you can add to that.

KAVITA GANDHI: Yeah. So, exactly. I think you said it. Diversity is the best security. I think that’s the mantra for the day.

So I think in Singapore, we are looking at every option that’s available, starting with energy efficiency. So electricity has never, ever been subsidized, even though being the association, there was a time when the whole world was offering feed-in tariffs, and Singapore was not. And we were literally telling the government, you know, our members are going to die if there’s no feed-in tariff. But you know, there was no—no going, there was no distortion of the electricity market.

And eventually, you know, the prices became very competitive, and now, we’ve looked at every option, you know. So there’s 35 square kilometers of roof space in Singapore. We’re going to make that’s scoured with solar panels, and not just any solar panels. We are pushing at efficiencies. We have a lot of dollars going into research and development. We are looking at floating solar. We are looking at BIPV. We are looking at every surface that we can cover with some renewable.

And I think the other thing that works very well in Singapore is the cooperation, the way the government and the private sector works together. So I think before people invest in a specific technology, they are very, very sure that they can go in and make the big investments there, and that there will be more flipping and flopping in terms of the message that’s coming.

I mean, carbon tax is one such example, where it was declared that we will have carbon tax, and we’ll increase it at a certain pace. The pace got picked up this year, which was very happy news for all our members, and it’ll continue to grow. And I think that’s what is providing the space for renewables to play in Singapore.

So I completely understand that every country in the region is not like Singapore. But I think what is interesting is that all the countries are at different stages of development. And we have so much to learn from each other. I mean, Singapore doesn’t have everything. We don’t have the market. We don’t have the big market. We need to depend on Indonesia, maybe Thailand, Vietnam for the markets. We may have certain advanced technologies or certain solutions that have been tested in the Singapore market—maybe can be applied in these countries. And we are constantly looking to work with organizations, like the ASEAN Center for Energy, or Asian Development Bank, World Bank, to see how we can take some of these solutions to the region.

And that’s an effort that goes at every level, at G2G level, you know, where the energy market authority is working with the different electricity authorities in the region. And we as an association are trying to do a lot of that work at the private sector level, as well.

REED BLAKEMORE: Thank you, Kavita.

I think, you know, first off, totally agree, energy efficiency, vastly under-talked about, particularly when you’re talking about, you know, limiting demand growth or the severity of demand growth, at least, it’s a—it’s a critical solution.

I think, Derek, I said I would come to you on this supply chain issue, so I don’t want you to, you know, be left out of this. And I think—and particularly, you know, when you talk about Excelerate’s business model, I think you’re talking about a flexibility of solution, right, with that floating storage option. How does that flexibility play into this discussion around energy security and supply chains?

DEREK WONG: Absolutely.

So, you know, getting back to this diversity brings security argument, I heard yesterday from the Albanian minister for infrastructure and energy. Albania is a country that is largely dependent on renewables, almost 100 percent hydro. And she was talking about the need to diversify, because if you have a particular dry season, you’re worried about blackouts and brownouts. So as countries think about the targets for renewables and the continued intermittency and storage issues, how can other sources, like natural gas or LNG, be an onramp, or even a stabilizer, to meet seasonality of demand?

And our experience in Brazil—which, again, has a lot of hydro—has been that they’ve relied on LNG to be able to meet those times of the year. Last year, there was severe droughts, the worst droughts in 90 years in Brazil. And so there were a lot—there was a lot of LNG coming in, and the sort of security of supply that our FSRUs were providing, really helped Brazil navigate through that period.

And if I—come back to the region, in Bangladesh, LNG has only been a part of the energy mix since 2018. And today, LNG accounts for about 25 percent of natural gas supply. But because of the experience of having that security of supply and the reliability, the Bangladesh government is able to make certain decisions around canceling planned coal-fired power plants, increasing the distribution of gas, and allowing that to accompany their renewables targets. So, really being able to plan, based on that idea that you have—you can secure the energy transition, that’s a term I’ve heard a bit this week, that’s important.

And the way we think about it at Excelerate, because we operate our FSRUs as a fleet, we could, you know, start with a smaller vessel that has, you know, less storage, less regas capacity, and then scale up, and maybe do a swap, or expand the capacity as the needs change for the countries where we operate.

REED BLAKEMORE: You mentioned, you know, gas as a ramp-up. And as we kind of talk about this, you know, the intersection of energy security and climate action, you know, I continue to actually return to a comment, Binu, you made. And hydrogen seems to sit at the nexus of that.

You mentioned green hydrogen in your, you know, in your initial remarks. You know, and I don’t want to have a conversation about, the, you know, all the colors of the wind, when it comes to, you know, hydrogen. But I think, you know, can you—tell us more about the hydrogen potential in the region? You know, especially given that, you know, at least in the short term, we see a lot of gas potential in the region. And you know, that opens up blue hydrogen. That opens up additional storage opportunities through hydrogen. Could you speak a little bit to that, please?

BINU PARTHAN: Yeah, no, absolutely.

I mean, first of all, we did publish a report on the geopolitics of hydrogen. But an important point is, we don’t really see green gasses and green hydrogen traded in the current way it is being done now, with somebody producing gas and then it’s being supplied elsewhere. So hydrogen is primarily going to be something which will be produced—hopefully from renewable energy, the green hydrogen—locally, and as a means to balance the grid, plus decarbonize some of these hard-to-abate sectors. And I think the share of green hydrogen which will be supplied around the world will be a very small amount, so I think that’s important to make that distinction.

And within the region, I think the potential or the opportunities are literally small compared to what is happening globally, where we see that Africa to Europe or Middle East to Europe are the major green hydrogen supply points that we see, particularly in the short term or so.

But also, I just wanted to make a point regarding energy security. In an interconnected grid, where you connect across countries in the region, those—when you look at a particular country, small or big, and you only look at your electric grid, which is constrained by your national boundaries, that actually accentuates your energy security. In an interconnected grid, these are not an issue, or non-major issues.

Today, France, for example, is having major issues with its nuclear power plant, and the electricity for that country comes from renewable energy from up north. And that’s happening because Europe has an interconnected grid. So I think interconnections is going to be important. And that will give you a lot more flexibility and energy security.

And again, it’s important to take a longer-term perspective, to 2040, 2050, where some of these options are much clearer. When you look at a short-term energy planning, some of these energy security issues of supply of your fuel actually comes up much stronger. But again, when you talk about supply of a particular equipment or a generating option—which has got some security issues, though—but again, once it’s installed, then it can… use local resources to generate electricity for the next 20, 25 years. So there is a distinction between security of fuel supplies, and the security of the initial renewable energy conversion equipment. And they are, by orders of magnitude, very different.

But I think the important thing to understand is that if you look at the longer term, 2050, we are moving from a mechanical world, which is powered by direct fuel combustion, to an electricity-powered world. And this is really where the energy security paradigm will change. And there, the interconnection across countries is very important. Having a common electricity market, like in Europe, is going to be very important. And there will, of course, be importance of diversity there. But again, if you look at the longer term, but of course, make sure that the short-term actions are consistent with that, then we may have a clearer view on that.

ROBERT FEE: If I can make a quick comment, I think, you know, I generally agree with what you’re saying. But I think we do need to be considerate of the fact that interconnectivity can also bring its own challenges.

And just thinking about the gas market this past year, and what’s going on in Europe, so one, obviously, the interconnectivity of the gas market in Europe is leading to this. But prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the LNG and global gas market was already experiencing a significant tightness, because of global interconnectivity, and then weather events that then affected electricity markets. So kind of low hydrogen in Brazil—sorry, low hydro in Brazil, a cold winter in Europe, less wind in the North Sea, all of that can contribute then to a shortage.

And so, I think going forward, both in the short and long term, there’s going to be no silver bullet. And I think certainly, interconnectivity brings a lot of benefits, but we also have to think about what are the challenges that those could do, particularly in a, you know, really, you know, interconnected electrified market. And so I think having, again, kind of that diversity aspect, whether it’s fuels or electricity, having that diversity and multiple redundancies is going to be important.

I’d also say that, I think, you know, you never know you need energy security until you already have needed it, right? And so, you know, to use the example of Germany, on LNG terminals—where I think Excelerate would be very helpful—you know, Germany could have—is talking about bringing those LNG terminals online now, and they could—they had been talking about it for a number of years. And so, you know, making sure that you have that infrastructure today to meet those needs, and I think we’re going to be into a really acute challenge in the next few years, given the situation in Europe, and how that will cascade to the rest of the world.

And then, you know, in the future, you know, if hydrogen is able to be commercialized at scale, then we can think about we repurpose natural gas infrastructure for, kind of, other gasses, whether they are any color of the rainbow.

REED BLAKEMORE: We have about five minutes left, and I don’t see any questions in the audience, so—which is disappointing, guys.

Oh, right there, yes.

Q: You’ve got to ask first.

REED BLAKEMORE: You got to—I thought I asked for questions earlier on. I thought we had a shy crowd.

Q: I guess, just going off of what you just said, talking about LNG as sort of this energy security solution that you’re thinking about moving forward, is there, like, an understanding, or a thought given to how you design LNG infrastructure in the present, so that it’s functional as that solution in the future? Like, I’m just talking about CCGT turbines, the utilization rate on those, and, like, the flexibility of those turbines, even though they’re more efficient in, like, a baseload capacity, they’re less efficient than OCGT as flexible capacity. And you’re building infrastructure that’s going to be there for 30 years, so you build CCGT that’s effective as a baseload today, becomes a flexible—a flexible fuel in the future, and that has the potential to basically be a stranded asset, or an asset that becomes less and less effective, because of—just the usage profile of this infrastructure is different.

ROBERT FEE: Okay, that’s a great question.

I think—so, I’d break the two questions up. In terms of how you ensure whether or not natural gas and LNG infrastructure can be used for hydrogen in the future, I don’t—definitely do not have an answer for you on that. I think it’s something that we and others are looking at.

I heard recently at CERAWeek, that hydrogen being the smallest atom, leaks as much as methane, and it could—although it’s not directly warming, it could have kind of indirect warming effects. I don’t know anything about that. That’s the extent of my knowledge. So I think, something that we need to look into.

You know, in terms of, you know, stranded assets, I think if you—if you build the asset and think about, from a company perspective, right, you know, we are going to build infrastructure in a way that makes sense, and we can get a return—and get a return on that investment, so it’s paid for. And then in the future, if you’re able to then switch the—the profile of how you use it, then that’s going to be a different commercial case. And so I think that businesses can handle those risks with clear and consistent government policy.

REED BLAKEMORE: We have Phil Cornell in the back.

Q: Thanks, very much.

I was very interested to hear about some of Singapore’s sort of diversification options. And one of the most interesting, I think, that’s out there is the sun cable project and the proliferating kind of energy interconnections that are going on. And in fact, they’re happening sort of across the region. That’s a major change of policy in a place like Singapore, and obviously it raises questions in Bangladesh and others, where we’re seeing a lot of political implications, really, of grid interconnection.

I just wanted to—you know, maybe you could speak a little bit about that. What do you think is the future of a regional grid, and what are some of the challenges?

DESIREE TUNG: Thank you very much for that question.

Actually, a regional grid has been something we’ve been talking about in ASEAN for many years. We’ve been talking about regional interconnectivity on a power basis, as well as the trans-ASEAN gas pipeline.

So one of the projects that Singapore is working on is a pathfinder project, which involves importing electricity from Laos, through to Thailand, to Malaysia, to Singapore. So we actually do have an interconnect with Malaysia for security reasons. But as I mentioned earlier, we are actually now looking at actively importing this renewable or low-carbon energy from within the region.

So of course, you know, we are open to all options. I mean, I think sun cable was also mentioned, the opportunities within, you know, moving from Australia to Singapore. I think in addition to that, we’re also looking at—I mean, you brought up hydrogen, for example. I mean, in Singapore, we can’t produce the hydrogen. So we’re also looking at what are the opportunities to import hydrogen. I won’t get into the colors of the rainbow, I know that’s a big debate. But I mean, all of these, you know, underpin, I think, what we’ve been talking about, which is diversification, energy security.

And I think for Singapore, we are open to all options. And we are a price taker, we import all of our energy. So I think whatever to us is reliable, secure, competitive, and is also sustainable, is going to be an option that we’re going to want to address.

KAVITA GANDHI: Maybe I could just add something.

So, yeah, there has been a lot of discussion in Singapore about importing clean energy. And I think some of our members have been involved in that. And there are RFPs out for that.

So one of the things we’ve done before that can happen is talk a little bit about standards and renewable energy certificate standards, and all our measurements and verifications, so that what we get into Singapore is truly clean energy, because that’s another area that can be a little bit controversial. So we want to ensure—and we’ve just—I think we are the first country in Asia to launch the REC standard. And when we import clean electricity, we are looking at how that complies with that standard. That means that electrons that are flowing in are truly clean.

REED BLAKEMORE: Okay, I asked for questions, and I got enough questions to take us over time. But I do want to wrap up the panel with one lightning round. We’re going to start at one end; end down here. And so I want each panelist to say—you know, this is, I think, regardless of how you land on the debate between, you know, which supply chain offers more security, which part of the energy mix needs more examination, you know, what the innovation horizon actually looks like—it’s a dynamic region, right?

So I might, you know, start by saying to each one of you, like, what about the region most excites you, right? And what do you think is the—is the next big thing to happen in the region?

DESIREE TUNG: Well, I think what excites me about the region, you know, is that it is a very dynamic and exciting region. I mean, I think we know, you know, as Asia is where there is a lot of growth, I think energy demand continues to grow.

I think one of the key takeaways that I want to leave everyone with is that, you know, the end goal of moving towards the energy transition is not something we can do single handedly. It is a collective goal that we have to work towards together. Which is why I would like to invite all of you to join us in Singapore at the end of October, where we run the Singapore International Energy Week. It really is that platform to bring everyone together, to really kind of bring the brightest, most creative minds, to really find the solutions to some of the energy challenges that we have out there, not only in Asia, but as well as globally.

KAVITA GANDHI: Okay, so she has had the first stab, so.

So, I think what excites me most is that a big part of the clean energy is going to be produced in our part of the world. And there’s so much opportunity, and I think it’s just something that’s waiting to take off. And that’s very exciting.

And also, the number of technologies and new solutions: Actually, it’s not only technologies; it’s also business models that are coming out, which are very interesting, like solar leasing, where you don’t need to own the system; you just buy the clean electricity.

I think there are going to be many such innovations, both on the technology side and on the market side, which will really drive this forward.

DEREK WONG: Yeah, I would say innovating to manage growth. You’ve got a really dynamic region, population growth, economic growth, and some constraints. And so it’s going to take a lot of innovation and technology and out-of-the-box thinking to really be able to manage that growth.

BINU PARTHAN: Thank you.

We’ve been very impressed with the just energy transition mechanism, which the region is showing how you can create a financing mechanism, now with the ADB and the Indonesian leadership as to make sure that the energy transition is orderly, that there is financing for some of the assets which are likely to be stranded.

And again, this is very different to the South African just energy transition partnerships. So the region is probably showing a more market-oriented way to transition, and we find that quite exciting. And we will hope that the lessons from the region in this just transition can be applied to other regions as well. So we are very excited about seeing that just energy transition efforts. Thank you.

ROBERT FEE: So, personally, I’m going to go to something that Desiree said, and that was the food. Incredible diversity. Very delicious.

But professionally, the demand, I think, from the region—obviously, from my corporate hat—incredible demand for natural gas and LNG, demand for energy. There’s a demand for solutions. It’s going to require—no one supply chain is secure. You need everything to get even close to meeting the demand in the next coming years and decades. And so there’s going to be a number of opportunities or solutions that are going to be required.

REED BLAKEMORE: All right, well, there you have it.

And it looks like everybody showed up for the last, like, three minutes of the panel. So to our panelists—Desiree, Kavita, Derek, Binu, Rob—this was wonderful. Just as a logistical announcement, we’re going to be convening at 4:30 in the hall next door for our next round of plenary sessions, so why don’t we head all over there?

But for now, I’d like everybody to thank our panelists for a wonderful session, and thank you.

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Image: A man rides a motor tricycle, loaded with sacks of recyclables, amid dense smog in Lahore, Pakistan November 24, 2021. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza