Solar powering renewable targets in ASEAN

AS a region familiar with the fearsome potential of natural disasters - 80 per cent of the Asean region is surrounded by water and is prone to water-related disasters - the heat has been on, both literally and figuratively to tackle climate change.

One of the ways economies are doing this is by pouring more investments into renewable energy, improving their urban planning, and reducing consumption.

According to the report Southeast Asia's Green Economy: Opportunities On The Road To Net Zero, South-east Asia needs US$2 trillion of investment this decade to cut emissions and remain competitive globally.


Released in September, the report, by Bain & Company, Microsoft and Temasek Holdings, also noted that acting now could lead to about US$1 trillion in economic opportunities with new growth areas contributing about 6 to 8 per cent to the region's gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030.

It also picked up on 3 areas the region should focus on: transiting to green energy; valuing nature; and transforming the agri-food sector to make it more efficient, less polluting and less environmentally damaging.

Within the renewable energy space, solar power is one of the fastest growing energy sources in the region largely due to how quickly it can be rolled out, said Jasper Wong, head of construction and infrastructure, sector solutions group at UOB.


It also helps that the cost of solar installation has dropped significantly. According to Data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), solar photovoltaics showed the sharpest cost decline over 2010-2019 at 82 per cent.

Concentrating solar power ranked second at 47 per cent, followed by onshore wind (40 per cent) and offshore wind at 29 per cent.

"You can roll out rooftop solar in 3 months or less. Ground-mounted solar panels, depending on how big the size is, can be done within 18 months," said Wong.

"Meanwhile, a 600 MW gas-fired power plant will take three and a half to 4 years before it can generate electricity," he said.

"Solar is quite interesting in that once you finish a section, as long as the power is connected to an inverter and the grid, you can start sending power to the grid. It can be scaled up thereafter. That's the beauty of solar projects."

A hot market

South-east Asia is prime for renewable energy growth, said UOB. With countries in the region having renewable energy targets of up to 37 per cent of total energy mix by 2037, this translates to more than 125 gigawatt of renewable energy capacity installation between 2020 and 2040.

Solar is expected to be one of the fastest growth areas at 6.5 per cent per annum accounting for close to a third of the total new renewable energy capacity installed, said Wong.

Indeed, their solar financing programme U-Solar has facilitated the generation of 210 gigawatt hours of solar power across Asean as at August 2021, since its launch in October 2019.

This has helped reduce more than 113,000 tonnes of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions - equivalent to having close to 1.87 million new tree seedlings grow over 10 years or taking close to 25,000 cars off the road for a year.

Their U-Solar Programme is available in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. They currently have 15 partners, and are onboarding "1 or 2 more" in the first quarter of next year.

Their programme has attracted numerous awards including the Asset Triple A Country Awards for Best Green Loan in Thailand (Sustainable Finance) in 2020; a Special Award for Sustainable Financing (Conventional Financing) at the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources Malaysia's Energy Energy Awards 2020; and the Asian Banking & Finance Wholesale Banking Awards' Singapore Domestic Initiative of the Year in 2021.

U-Solar was also selected as a winner in the Sustainable Solutions, Non-SME Category in the 2021 Singapore Apex Corporate Sustainability Awards.

Just as importantly, the impact is being felt on the ground.

Charlotte's Beauty Lounge in Jakarta, Indonesia, for instance, installed 6 kW solar system on their rooftop and saw their electricity bill, which was about S$500 per month, halved.

"Plus, because they only operate 6 days a week, they sold the electricity they generated back to the grid. So on top of (the savings), they were able to sell back to the grid and get certain rebates from the electricity company for selling green power to the community," said Wong.

The green way forward

In preparation for the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) which commenced on Oct 31, Asean member states released a joint statement that reaffirmed their commitments to tackle the climate emergency.

They also highlighted that the region had achieved 21 per cent energy intensity reduction, surpassing its aspirational target of 13.9 per cent renewable energy share.

Earlier this year, Singapore launched the Singapore Green Plan 2030, the national roadmap towards sustainable development and net-zero emissions.

Solar energy solutions provider Sunseap Group has secured a S$85.8 million loan for its SolarNova 4 project to install solar photovoltaic systems across more than 1,200 public housing blocks and 49 government sites.

The loans are provided by UOB and DBS Bank, utilising Sunseap's Green Financing Framework. SolarNova 4, which has a capacity of 70 megawatts-peak (MWp) (potentially up to 102 MWp).

It is estimated to generate 96,775 megawatt-hour (MWh), equivalent to powering up to 20,400 public housing 4-room flats and potentially offset more than 68,583 tonnes of carbon emissions per annum.

"This is quite significant because given Singapore's size, you don't usually see a lot of ability to scale up for rooftop solar," said Wong.

The country has turned to creative ways to harvest more solar energy. These include the world's largest inland floating solar farms at Tengeh Reservoir, and trialling the use of vertical solar panels.

Separately, the Energy Market Authority has granted in-principle approval on a pilot project to import 100 MW of solar power from Indonesia to Singapore.

Neighbouring countries like Malaysia and Thailand have also traditionally been supportive with their sustainable policies, noted Wong.

Indonesia meanwhile, has unveiled an ambitious 2021 electricity supply business plan (2021 RUPTL), the country's first-ever shift from relying mostly on fossil fuel generation towards renewables.

Vietnam notably made substantial progress to its energy capacity since 2018, with a large component of it being renewable solar power. Last year, they pulled off a 25-fold increase in its solar capacity, with incentives for homes and businesses to install rooftop solar panels leading to the boom, as reported by the World Economic Forum.

"We have financed 24 MW in Vietnam already, for local Vietnamese corporates on a rooftop basis," said Wong.

"This is something we want to do more and we're looking at helping UOB Vietnam scale up their solar lending programme."


Source: The Business Times (Singapore)


December 23, 2021