With rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, the East Asia and Pacific region has been on a trajectory of rapidly rising energy demand.
The Covid-19 pandemic has dampened this growth as countries implemented Covid-19 containment measures. The pandemic has highlighted the critical role for reliable power supply in delivering essential healthcare services, such as vaccine storage, while energy access remained an issue for developing economies in the region.
While fossil fuels retain the largest share of the region’s generation mix, in many countries coal generation was the most affected by demand reductions over the last year. The momentum of divesting from fossil fuel generation continued to grow in 2020 as more countries announced pledges to achieve carbon neutrality and deliver green recovery packages. Japan pledged to reach a net zero emissions target by 2050 and cut emissions by 46-50 per cent by 2030. South Korea committed to terminate public overseas coal finance and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
China announced plans to become carbon neutral by 2060 and peak coal consumption by 2025. In 2020, the country added 13.76 GW of new hydropower capacity, including 1.2 GW of pumped storage from the last four units of the Jixi project. At 1.8 GW, Jixi is China’s largest pumped storage project by installed capacity. The majority of the additions were in south-western provinces such as Sichuan (4.13 GW) and Yunnan (3.4 GW). The 10.2 GW Wudongde project is scheduled to be fully operational by July 2021 and will be China’s fourth-largest and the world’s seventh-largest hydropower project upon completion.
Pumped storage continues to be a significant focus in China’s energy transition. In the 2021 Energy Work Plan issued by the National Energy Administration, nationwide medium and long-term planning for pumped storage is emphasised. This is coupled with the consolidation of pumped storage pricing mechanism released in April 2021 that suggested all pumped storage plants in China to adopt a two-part tariff mechanism based on capacity and energy tariff after 2023.
Malaysia has stepped up its renewable energy ambitions and now recognises “large hydropower” as part of its renewable energy definition, in line with practices adopted by other countries internationally. Malaysia also rolled out large-scale solar tenders as part of a green stimulus package. The construction of the 1,285 MW Baleh project continued to progress and is scheduled to be completed in 2026. Other projects in the pipeline in Sarawak are Limbang 2 (130 MW), Belaga (160 MW), Linau (182 MW), Trusan 2 (240 MW), Baram 3 (300 MW) and Pelagus (465 MW), and Kota 2 (12 MW).
The Philippines government has declared a moratorium on new coal power plants and, to boost private investment in renewable energy, opened up to full foreign ownership in geothermal and hydropower in its latest tender, which included 17 potential hydropower projects with a combined capacity of 80 MW.
Thailand plans a transition away from coal, reducing it to only a 5 per cent capacity share by 2030. The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand has completed the construction of the 2.5 MW Klong Tron project. In addition, it is constructing the 14 MW Pha Chuk project which is expected to be operational by December 2021. Thailand is implementing a 16-year programme to retrofit floating solar on nine hydropower plants, aiming to achieve a total installed capacity of 2,725 MW. The first project in this programme, a 45 MW hydro-solar hybrid project at Sirindhorn dam, was near completion in 2021.
The ASEAN regional grouping of governments has put forward an ambitious joint ministerial statement of achieving 23 per cent renewable energy by 2025. The proposed ASEAN Power Grid aims to foster regional interconnection and economic growth, which has been taking shape under the Lao PDR-Thailand-Malaysia power integration project. The Lao People’s Democratic Republic continued to advance its plan to export 20 GW by 2030, with a 728 MW Phou Ngoy project newly announced. Cross-border hydropower will therefore continue to play an important role in decarbonising the South East Asian power grid.
In Viet Nam, the 26 MW Pa Hu project has begun commercial operations. PC1 began operation of the three hydropower plants—which have total capacity of 54 MW 2020, including the 30 MW Mong An hydropower plant the 18 MW Bao Lac B, and the 6 MW Song Nhiem 4 projects. Due to the pandemic, the construction of Ngan Truoi project was delayed. The 480 MW expansion of Hoa Binh Hydropower Plant has started, which after completion will reach a total capacity of 2,400 MW. Another 180 MW expansion of Yaly hydropower plant is scheduled to begin construction in the second quarter of 2021.
In Australia, the Snowy 2.0 pumped storage project reached key construction milestones including fasttracked planning and environmental approvals granted as part of green recovery efforts, and the commissioning of the first tunnel boring machine. On the island of Tasmania, the state government announced a 200 per cent renewable energy target by 2040. The Tasmanian state government together with the Australian federal government also signed a bilateral emissions and energy reduction agreement to progress the Marinus Link and Battery of the Nation projects. The 250 MW Kidston pumped storage project in the state of Queensland has also begun construction.
In Papua New Guinea, the 180 MW Ramu 2 hydropower project, costing US$902 million, will be the country’s largest energy infrastructure investment and will have a crucial role in creating a stable national grid and lowering electricity tariffs. Fortescue Metals Group also signed a hydropower generation agreement with the country to assess the feasibility of potential projects to develop 25 GW of hydropower resources.