The hot topics debated at Asia Power Week included digitalization, cybersecurity and the roll-out of more renewables, writes Kelvin Ross

The challenges and opportunities facing the energy sector in Asia were highlighted and debated at Asia Power Week in Bangkok in September.

With Thailand once again hosting the annual event, the country’s plans to develop its power sector were in particular focus.

Delivering on the keynote speeches, Saharath Boonpotipukdee, deputy governor for renewables at the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, said that the country is moving to a smart energy system with a focus on renewables.

And he added that the energy policy “would be balanced with economic development”.

Stressing Thailand’s signing of the Paris Climate Agreement at COP21, he said the country’s strategy was in the next 20 years to cut electricity, heat and biofuel consumption. Renewables, he said, would be key, and highlighted wind, biomass, solar and waste-to-energy as having key roles to play.

He also spotlighted the work being done on smart energy, notably a pilot project in Mae Hong Son province which was developing four strategies – smart energy, smart system, smart city and smart learning.

And he said: “We have to prepare for energy storage and the electric vehicle infrastructure – we have to prepare for more and more electric vehicles in Thailand.”

Yet he added that EGAT realised that there would also, for some time, be a reliance on coal. “We will do our best for conventional power and also our best for renewable energy in the new world.”

Thailand’s vice-minister for energy also highlighted the country’s ambitious energy programme.

General Surasak Srisak said the 20-year strategy was intended to cut energy consumption by 10 GW by 2036.

He said this would be done by a shift to clean energy, greater use of efficiency measures such as LEDs, and improving infrastructure.

And he added that by 2036, Thailand planned to have 30 per cent of its energy mix accounted for by renewables, including biomass, biogas, solar and wind.

“We can see that renewables are needed,” he said. “The role of renewables will be intensified.”

He also stressed that the 20-year plan would include projects to accelerate smart grid, microgrid and energy storage development.

Meanwhile, the huge electrification task facing Indonesia was put into stark focus by the president of the country’s energy company Ciberon Power.

Heru Dewanto told Asia Power Week that the country has 13 million people with no access to power, and 17,000 schools have no electricity.

Indonesia is made up of around 18,000 islands and its people account for 45 per cent of the total population of the ASEAN region.

Dewanto was unapologetic about the fact that bringing power to this population would rely heavily on coal, but he stressed that “for us it’s about providing electricity for all – it’s about growing a nation. And it has to be reliable and it has to be affordable.”

The topic of tackling island electrification was also addressed by Kenji Ando, president and chief executive of Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems, and he said “distributed energy will be the key”.

Yet he said that the future of power infrastructure in Southeast Asia needs a combination of technologies.

“The best energy mix in every country should have gas, coal, nuclear and renewables. Renewable growth is commonsense in the world, and nuclear is a very important resource in the future.”

The role of digitalization in the power sector was a recurring theme during the three days of Asia Power Week.

It was debated in a panel discussion moderated by Dale Probasco of global consulting company Navigant, who said: “We can’t look beyond three-to-five years because the technology is evolving so fast.”

And as big data infiltrates so many aspects of the energy industry, he stressed that “it’s nice to have a lot of data – but if you don’t understand it, it’s not going to do you a lot of good”.

Pete Davies, head of Digital Engineering Solutions at Uniper Technologies, said that to fully exploit digitalization in the power sector, “a different style of leadership is needed. We have to devolve our decision-making. The type of people that will change the industry are digital natives and we need to attract these people.”

And contrary to many opinions, he predicted: “I don’t think that the Googles and Amazons will enter our space because the margins are just not there. I think they will leave us alone.

“It’s about cheap power: electricity is electricity is electricity. It’s about price. You are still offering the same product. It’s not like Amazon where you can offer a range of different products.”

During the conference sessions, a leading cybersecurity expert warned that “there’s no real cyber insurance out there – it’s not protected”.

And Vikram Kalkat of the Kaspersky Lab also said that similarly, there was no single technology or software that could deter hackers.

“There is no product out there that can give you full protection. We need a mix of services and products.”

Kalkat said that “the key becomes the human being – will you react correctly to alerts.” He said there are four industrial cybersecurity risk stages: avoid, accept, transfer and mitigate.

And he added that “there are a lot of attacks happening in outdated infrastructure” and stressed that “the next form of protection is going to come from digitisation”.

Kaspersky Lab has organized ‘hackathons’ to test the strength of industrial defences and he said that “the next generation surprises us – we already look outdated.”

He explained that during one such exercise, the hackers took two hours to initiate an attack which it was thought would take them two days.

However, Kalkat stressed that “the hacker doesn’t attack with a single button. It requires hours to prepare and a few different stages. Even though we see Jason Bourne do it in a couple of minutes, it takes a hours.”

He said the top five countries in which Kaspersky believed a cyberattack was most likely to happen were Vietnam, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Indonesia.

And in the Asia Pacific, he said 41 per cent of cyberattacks “are hitting manufacturing, making it the most vulnerable sector”.

ABB used Asia Power Week to launch a solution that it says automates “security best practices for power generation automation in response to increasing security demands on the vital energy sector”.

ABB’s Cyber Security Workplace provides a suite of security applications and automation to reduce cybersecurity risks, increase system reliability and to minimize efforts in sustaining and maintaining security best practices.

“Industrial control systems that increasingly use open standards and commercial technology have introduced major operational benefits, but also cyber security concerns,” said Kevin Kosisko, managing director of ABB’s Power Generation & Water business, which is part of the Industrial Automation division.

The company says the solution is capable of demonstrating compliance with international standards, national regulations and recommended security best practices.

And it added that with the new solution in place, “power generators can easily enforce corporate industrial control security policies and maintain enhanced visibility to security status reporting without burdening plant personnel with time consuming routine security maintenance”.

“ABB’s security solution gives customers a way to embrace foundational security practices while minimizing time demands on plant personnel, who are facing growing demands associated with security, regulatory compliance and corporate risk,” adds Kosisko.

ABB says the cyber solution has been designed to fit into existing plant level business processes and to address foundational security controls without impacting safety, reliability or availability.