Asia, Clean Coal Technologies, Emissions Control, Hydroelectric, Solar, Strategic Development

“Sustainability is about more than CO2 – it’s about economic growth”

The boss of a Malaysian power firm today said that “sustainability is about more than CO2 – it’s about economic growth”.

I had asked a group of panellists at debate at POWER-GEN Asia in Kuala Lumpur whether it was realistic to expect power-hungry Asian nations to balance energy demand with sustainability.

Torstein Dale Sjotveit, chief executive of Sarawak Energy Berhad, replied that “people have a very narrow mindset in terms of sustainability”.

“For me, sustainability means a balanced mix between economic growth, technology and environment. It’s not about just about making a better environment, so to speak.”

He said the average emissions per capita in ASEAN nations was six tonnes. “In Norway it’s about 13, in Australia its 26, and the US is 22. So the western world really has to take a big chunk of the challenge of solving the CO2 issue.”

On whether solar was a solution to electricity demand, he said that to replace one of his hydro plants which generates 20 TWh per year with solar, “it will take 500 square kilometres for the solar panels, it will cost more than 100 billion Ringits [$31bn], and then after five years you have to spend 20,30, 40 million to replace all the batteries.

“So sustainability is about more than CO2. It’s about economic growth in Asia.”

Charanjit Singh Gill of Tenaga Nasional Berhad, added that solar “is not the magic pill” for large scale power generation. “It plays it role but it’s a supplementary role.”

It was suggested that if a storage solution could be found for solar, it would take away the intermittency issues of renewables.

Ahmad Fauzi Bin Hasan, chief executive of Malaysia’s Energy Commission, said: “If you really want to go for energy storage, there are options, but they are not economically feasible at the moment.”

He said that “coal is the way forward”, with the proviso that they employ CCS and IGCC.

Wouter van Wersch of Alstom said that storage “will be a key game-changer – the new technology is going to come”. He added that the so-called prosumer market – consumers that produce their own electricity – would also be a similar game-changer .

“As soon as the consumers themselves play an active role in the managing of the energy, this is going to be a drastic change for our industry. Of course we are not there yet, it will take some time, but in the medium term and the longer term it will have an effect.”

However Wersch was keen to stress that Asia was the go-to destination for power firms. “The 21st century is clearly going to be the Asian century – the market is here and the resources are here.”

Precergy managing director Adrian John said: “When we talk of sustainable power growth and the strategic and technology challenges that Asian countries are facing, we are really talking about how countries can balance the interests of all stakeholders while ensuring timely investment in power infrastructure that underpins continued economic growth and social development.”

He said that from a strategic perspective “the greatest challenge is for policymakers to create stable and attractive investment environments that appeal to a balanced cross-section domestic and international investors. Without this, we see ambitious annual and long-term capacity targets missed time and again as projects struggle to get financed and reach final investment decision. In light of this, major issues of fuel subsidies and tariff cross-subsidisation that often deter investment and impact market efficiency must be addressed.”

On choosing technology, John stated that “the challenge is for countries to provide reliable and secure electricity supplies to growing populations and economies while not contributing unduly to climate change or other localised environmental issues such as air pollution or flooding. In this context countries face the difficult decisions of whether to simply focus on maximising their domestic fossil fuel or hydro resource endowments or to invest in currently more expensive but less environmentally damaging technologies such as wind and solar.”

Video News Dailies from the first two days of POWER-GEN Asia