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Making light work of solar energy logistics

Published Mon, Mar 22, 2021 · 01:53 PM

As the world’s fifth-largest economy with a gross domestic product of US$3 trillion, Asean currently stands at a crossroads in terms of its energy future. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the region forecasted a 50 per cent rise in energy demand compared to a decade earlier due to its fast-expanding economies and population growth. 

Now, as the region emerges from the pandemic – affordable, secure and environmentally sustainable energy underpins its recovery. With the declining cost of renewable energy generation via methods such as solar photovoltaic (PV), Asean has been presented with a key opportunity to meet its growing electricity demand in a cost-effective and sustainable manner.

Member states have started to explore ways in which they can scale up the use of solar energy – setting the aspirational target of securing 23 per cent of its primary energy from modern, sustainable sources by 2025. In countries such as Singapore, the government has put in place incentives and plans to increase solar energy deployment five-fold by 2030.

Despite the accelerated renewable energy deployment in line with the region’s goal, significant scale-up is also needed in the transport and logistics of renewable materials such as PV panels. Each Asean member must do its part – with regional cooperation being essential to expand energy access.  Partnering up to power the solar journey 

Geographical and technical conditions are some of the biggest challenges faced by renewable energy project developers in the region. Specific to Indonesia and the Philippines, the archipelagic nature of both countries results in difficulties within the transportation infrastructure and the overall solar energy supply chain. 

As Asean ramps up its efforts to achieve its energy targets, industry players will need to transport more high-value and oversized solar panels and materials across the region at a faster pace. Combined with unpredictable delivery routes to remote installation sites, working closely with on-ground partners that are equipped with both knowledge of transportation routes and country-specific import and export restrictions will be key. This enables a more efficient, cost-effective fulfilment of solar materials between factory and plant site. 

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Governments can also play a part by putting in place favourable policies to support the large-scale renewable energy projects. For example, Vietnam and Malaysia have introduced numerous plans and tariffs to encourage investment in renewable energy and related infrastructure. Such initiatives can help to propel solar energy generation to greater heights.

Harness data to maintain supply chain flexibility 

Due to the frequent adjustment of global tariffs and trade restrictions for renewable energy, the solar energy industry often faces a fluctuating need to adjust solar plant capacities and obtain auxiliary plant materials according to demand. For large-scale solar power plants, each step of the shipment must be planned according to budget and deadlines to ensure that heavy equipment reaches the site safe and sound. 

Attention to detail, safety, and on-ground logistical flexibility are also required for the necessary goods to move smoothly through the supply chain. Risk management and visibility within the supply chain can help provide aid for these challenges. Risk management planning includes selecting the right network of solar panel suppliers and third-party partners – including working with logistics experts who understand the requirements involved with delivering delicate, high-tech products such as solar panels. 

Indeed, transport of these panels can become increasingly complicated – with well-produced fragile PV panels ending up mechanically damaged, scratched or simply non-functional during the transport process. Thus, having access to technology built by and for supply chain experts with full visibility into the supply chain will be key for companies and customers alike when navigating a challenging logistics landscape. 

With current supply chain disruptions affecting solar cells and module delivery from China, and other pandemic-induced economic uncertainties, companies may find it challenging to complete solar projects before fixed deadlines. By adopting supply chain technology with the real-time data analysis of global and regional trade lanes, along with an end-to-end visibility platform for inventory control and route optimisation solutions, companies can make smarter business decisions while maintaining flexibility for their shipments. 

Lighting a path towards a greener future 

Long hailed as a model for outstanding regional partnership, ASEAN is no stranger to inter-country co-operation. In a bid to meet the region’s ambitious renewable energy target, member countries will have to double down and play their part – through both regulatory initiatives and public-private partnerships. 

Indeed, by working together to leverage technology and mitigate different risks throughout the supply chain, the region will be able to catalyse the growth of the renewable solar energy sector.


The writer is director of sales & Southeast Asia, C.H. Robinson.


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