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Delivering Last Mile and Safe Energy Access to Millions in Southeast Asia

Industry Insights
Typography

Southeast Asia requires a cost-effective energy solution that can be delivered to 650 million people, many of whom live on remote islands and in mountainous areas.

Only 78.7 percent of households in this region have electricity, with about 100 million people unconnected. Energy demand has risen by 60 percent over the last 15 years and is expected to increase by about the same amount by 2040, as the region's booming economy triples in size and the population grows 20 percent. Rising incomes in the region translate to rapid urbanization, higher ownership of homes and increased demand for cooling. Electricity will account for the most significant share of rising energy use.

Industry watchers predict that renewable energy will cost less than fossil fuel by 2020, so Southeast Asian governments are considering renewables as part of their energy mix. Renewables have the potential to deliver more power, as well as to supply universal and uninterrupted power to remote areas, islands and towns where grid connection is difficult. The climate in the region is favourable for solar and wind energy generation, and Southeast Asia could become a hub for the clean energy industry.

Energy Architecture: Challenges, Risks and New Approaches

Renewable energy output, especially from solar and wind farms, can be unpredictable. These intermittent sources of power can cause damaging jolts to electric grids.

Traditionally, the solution is to use "spinning reserves" -- a backup network of fossil-fuel generations designed to meet demand peaks. Increasingly, Energy Storage Systems provide a more viable solution to store and distribute energy during on/off-peak periods. Advances in technology hold the promise of making batteries a vital component of our energy portfolio. In addition to ESS’s load balancing benefits, stationary batteries -- particularly Lithium-ion -- also allow excess energy to be fed back into the grid.

Investments in recent years in technologies, supply chains and production facilities have brought the price of Li-ion batteries down to the point where scalable solutions are possible. Meanwhile, new uses for batteries are also emerging.

Homes, Schools and Offices: Batteries now included

In Southern California, Tesla's Powerwall batteries are powering hundreds of homes. In Hawaii, which has one of the highest electricity rates in the U.S., the company recently deployed Powerwalls to cool more than a thousand classrooms in Hawaii, without significantly increasing energy costs for public schools.

Southeast Asia is similar to Hawaii; the region is dotted with islands and has a tropical climate. The region also has among the highest electricity rates in the world.

For isolated communities in Southeast Asia, microgrids represent a viable and green alternative to the traditional centralized power grid.

For example, Indonesia’s Sumba Island is a leading example of how to integrate energy storage into microgrids for remote electrification. The island’s mountainous terrain and isolated villages make it challenging for the island's utility company to install conventional power lines and deliver electricity to its 650,000 inhabitants. Before the introduction of microgrids and energy storage in 2013, only 25 percent of the population had access to power.

Working with Asia Development Bank and other external groups, the local government developed power generation facilities. The goal was to meet the growing demand for electricity with 100 percent renewables, including a wind farm, several solar photovoltaic plants, and micro-hydro power plants. Authorities commissioned a 400 kW flow battery ESS on the island in late 2013 to efficiently integrate new renewables and improve the grid’s stability and power quality.

Sumba’s model of utilizing both the national utility and the local cooperative can potentially lead to both sustainable employment and continued opportunities for domestic clean energy.

Power on the Go, Go, Go, but Safer?

The economic and environmental benefits make the business case for battery usage in Southeast Asia region compelling. However, some ESS applications have emerged in advance of sufficient safety standards, creating new risks and requiring new safeguards.

The rapid commercialization of battery technologies such as Li-ion also calls for development of safety standards. As battery technologies continue to evolve, there is a need to develop consensus-based safety standards to reflect the state of technical knowledge.

As more and more utilities, commercial buildings and homeowners install ESS to either deliver electricity to remote areas or to provide power on site, this ongoing modernization of a grid creates the need for safer energy systems.

Through open cooperation among a range of stakeholders, we have developed and released the Standard for Energy Storage Systems and Equipment in 2016.

UL9540 addresses critical issues associated with ESS. They include battery system safety, functional safety, grid connectivity, interconnection with premise wiring systems, environmental performance, containment and fire detection and suppression. This new standard is intended to safeguard the uses of emerging ESS technologies across different types of systems including microgrids, a variety of usages and functions, and a range of potential system users.

Last Mile Access Leads to Improvement in Livelihoods

The future for energy storage technologies is bright.

Microgrids have become a game changer for renewable energy, and Southeast Asian countries are expected to invest $13.6 billion in smart grid infrastructure through 2024. More importantly, the ability to deliver energy access at the last mile has and will continue to create new forms of employment, and ultimately, improve the lives of the many inhabitants of this region.

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