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Energising Asean's power sector with technology
TECHNOLOGY is fast becoming the bedrock of energy and power-related projects in Asean. Catalysed by ambitious goals, such as expanding the region's renewable energy to 23 per cent by 2025, the power and energy industry is ripe for disruption.
However, as cities drive their manufacturing sectors towards Industry 4.0 and ready themselves for smart and sustainable urban development, it remains to be seen if the biggest technology trends of the year ahead will prove to be friend or foe to the power industry in this critical era of disruption.
A MORE COMPLICATED LANDSCAPE
The stride towards renewable energy is set against a backdrop of dual challenges - that of digital disruption, and an unequal distribution of resources and expertise. Adding complexity is the region's ageing power infrastructure and varying priorities when it comes to sustainable development.
All of these may prevent countries from keeping up with surging appetites for data and connectivity.
Although Asean is keeping a keen eye on renewable energy, the intermittent nature of this energy source comes with its own set of infrastructural and business challenges. Renewables can cause gaps and fluctuations in energy generation and supply, an issue the power industry is still working to overcome.
Furthermore, with the effects of climate change, energy supply may become even more difficult to anticipate. In order to build balanced power grids and ensure a steady, continuous supply of electricity, much remains to be done to ensure that renewables continue to be seen as a cost-efficient and reliable alternative.
The proliferation of Internet-enabled devices across the region, fuelled by an increasingly connected and mobile population, also places additional pressure on the grid.
With the impending arrival of 5G, the amount of data created, processed and stored will continue to grow exponentially. As a result, computing and data processing are increasingly done in closer proximity to end users in order to decrease network congestion and reduce latency, through a process known as "edge computing".
Edge computing can help avoid delays or system failures, which could have a significant impact on the growing number of critical services delivered over 5G networks such as healthcare or transport.
Digitising these critical services and delivering them over these networks, in turn, make power infrastructure and facilities key targets for cyberattacks - as seen in the series of catastrophic cyberattacks that took down a power grid in Ukraine.
As Asean embraces digitalisation, governments and businesses will be faced with the unprecedented challenge of ensuring that the very power that makes these networks possible does not buckle under these attacks.
Cybersecurity considerations must remain at the forefront of all digital initiatives in the energy and power sectors, if the region is to achieve its Industry 4.0 objectives.
In the face of these emerging challenges, new technologies and innovations are also shaping the way power is managed. From IoT-enabled power plants to generating electricity from the momentum of waves, governments and organisations are exploring diverse and creative ways of meeting the surging energy demand.
A key example of an innovative approach is the adoption of battery technology to balance the frequency of power grids round the clock - storing energy during peak production periods, and releasing it at other times. With their ability to react instantaneously to local changes in energy supply and demand, batteries have showcased huge potential to be more than just backup energy sources.
Heavy investments are already made to deploy Energy Storage Systems via batteries, with Singapore's Energy Market Authority leading the way through public-private partnerships with PSA and Sembcorp.
Taking this concept one step further, idle batteries - such as those in the Uninterrupted Power Supply in data centres - can take on a dual role of backup power supply and distributed energy resource to support the grid. Excess power stored in these batteries can be sold back to the grid when needed, changing the way data centres and power grids interact, and thereby better advancing the region's clean energy goals.
The very same 5G technology and edge computing that will place demands on existing power infrastructure could also hold the key to transforming power management for cities of the future. Additionally, the potential of remote and mobile power management can be realised through the provision of digital infrastructure required for technologies such as machine learning, advanced analytics and IoT communication.
Engineers can use analytics to oversee infrastructure remotely, safely and round-the-clock, with minimal disruption to operations. In due time, the process could even become self-optimised, predicting periods of peak energy demands or other incidents before they happen.
These approaches are especially critical as South-east Asia becomes a data centre hotspot, requiring even more power capacity and a stable supply at all times.
The sustainable development of the Asean power landscape hinges on its ability to turn challenges into opportunities.
While technology may appear as a panacea for a range of issues and challenges, businesses and governments must tread cautiously and avoid diving head first without the proper preparation and understanding.
If managed well, the adoption of new technologies has the potential to herald an era of unprecedented innovation for the power sector, accelerating connectivity and expanding access to economic opportunities and transformative services.
- The writer is Vice-President of Sales, East Asia at Eaton.