Many Southeast Asian countries have abundant sunshine and large rivers and therefore huge renewable energy potential. Despite this, the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) collectively use less than 20 percent of their potential natural energy resources annually.
Expanding access to renewable energy requires planning, research, partnerships, and other work. The five-year USAID Clean Power Asia project is working on all the above so that ASEAN countries, especially those in the Lower Mekong region – Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, and Vietnam – increase the percentage of renewable power they use. USAID funds and Abt Associates leads this project.
“USAID Clean Power Asia specifically focuses on bringing greater quantities of renewable energy into the region’s electricity grids,” said Lindsay Foley, project director and an associate at Abt.
Since its launch in 2016, the project’s efforts to support the expanded use of renewable energy have included a research partnership in Thailand and laying the groundwork for many more Cambodian households to connect to the country’s electric grid.
Researching Clean Power in Thailand
USAID Clean Power Asia and Chulalongkorn University – which has deep technical expertise in improving energy planning and policy – signed a memorandum of understanding in January 2017 to collaborate on renewable energy planning and policy development in the Lower Mekong.
This collaboration will produce more data on clean energy resources such as solar, wind, small hydropower, and biomass — as well as research and analysis on key policy and planning issues — and in turn, better equip government ministries and agencies to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and improve energy security. First up, the partnership will research the impact of a distributed solar energy pilot program in Thailand.
“This partnership will combine U.S. and Thai expertise to identify innovative, cost-effective strategies to increase the amount of renewable energy in Thailand and the region,” said U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Glyn T. Davies.
Increasing Clean Solar Energy in Cambodia
The Cambodian government has committed to connecting 70 percent of the country’s households to the national electric grid by 2030, though today, only 60 percent of villagesare connected. Solar power is an option for Cambodia, which faces higher demand for electricity as its population grows. However, the country needs proper planning and investments to ensure an orderly move toward renewable energy.
USAID Clean Power Asia is collaborating with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to help Cambodia widen access to electricity through investment in renewable energy. Together, they will analyze best practices from several countries that have successfully increased their use of renewable energy. Among other research, they will estimate how much solar energy can be added without making major changes to its grid.
At a solar workshop held in March 2017, USAID and ADB gave an introduction to solar technologies, economics, and policies to Cambodia’s Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME); the regulator, the Electricity Authority of Cambodia (EAC); the utility, Electricite du Cambodge (EDC); and the National Council for Sustainable Development (NCSD), which acts as a secretariat for a newly formed Sustainable Energy Working Group. This workshop included a presentation on past experiences with rooftop photovoltaics in Thailand, Australia, and the U.S., supported by a team from the
National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the U.S. Department of Energy’s premier renewable energy research facility.
Estimating the Impact of Renewable Energy on Lower Mekong Electric Grids
The Lower Mekong needs solid data on renewable energy’s potential. USAID and NREL are engaging relevant government bodies to collect data and feed it into NREL’s Renewable Energy Data Explorer, a web-based tool that helps power sector professionals estimate renewable energy’s potential and identify the best locations for renewable energy zones.
USAID Clean Power Asia convened energy ministry staff, transmission owners/operators, and major utilities at workshops to advance this agenda. One workshop presented new approaches to planning for higher levels of variable renewable energy – such as wind and solar – including setting renewable energy targets, and scoping generation and transmission needs, as well as increasing flexibility of the grid. Another workshop provided basic training on the Data Explorer for Lower Mekong countries in earlier stages of incorporating renewable energy into their power systems.
“This planning for future energy generation and transmission needs should ensure a robust and flexible grid that can handle higher levels of renewable energy,” said Foley, USAID Clean Power Asia project director.
Visit the USAID Clean Power Asia web site.