The Philippines is currently hosting the 35th Asean Ministers on Energy Meeting (Amem), which formally opened on Wednesday. Under the theme, “One Asean Community through Resilient and Sustainable Energy”, the Amem consists of three meetings—the Asean Ministers of Energy Meetings, the Senior Officials Meeting on Energy and the Asean Center for Energy for technical support consultations and dialogue. The meetings will cover the Asean Power Grid, Trans Asean Gas Pipeline, Coal and Clean Coal Technology, Energy Efficiency and Conservation, Renewable Energy, Regional Energy and Planning, and Civilian Nuclear Energy. An exhibit on power and electricity at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City complements these events.
Apart from host Philippines, Asean member-states participating in the 35th Amem are Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia and Indonesia. Energy Undersecretary Felix B. William Fuentebella said, “The event is in line with Asean’s goal of boosting the region’s gross domestic product from an average of 4 percent to more than 6 percent as proposed in the Asean Plan of Action for Energy Cooperation.”
At present, Southeast Asia is one of the fastest-growing regions in the world, based on real GDP growth. The launching of the Asean Economic Community is seen enhancing the region’s economic performance. But Asean’s high economic growth will come at a cost: The increasing energy demand will drive up energy security risks.
Experts cited the uneven distribution of energy resources and different levels of economic development among Asean members as factors that complicate efforts to effectively use energy resources to meet demand not just between, but also within countries. In particular, the power sector’s problems of sustainability, availability and affordability of oil, gas and coal pose power-supply challenges among Asean members, which is what the ministers will hopefully resolve. As the growing regional power demand results to increased competition for available energy resources and tightens the availability of conventional fuel supply, sustainability concerns call for increasingly cleaner energy supplies.
The challenges facing Southeast Asia’s power-demand stem from the need to secure resources for generation, to invest in additional capacity and grid development, and to do all these in sustainable and cost-effective ways. The Philippines, for example, need to surmount geographical challenges to power up rural areas. To complicate the situation, the country’s three major grids are all nearing or already at their critical level due to low generating reserve margins and aging generation. Although 95 percent of Philippine communities have access to electricity, rotating brownouts is still a common problem.
Hopefully, the Asean ministers meeting in Manila will pave the way for a regional interconnected power system, which could help enhance the development and economic integration of member-countries. A study made by the International Energy Agency said the development of the Asean Power Grid (APG) would ensure mutually beneficial regional electricity security and sustainability, connecting those countries with surplus power-generation capacity to those who face a deficit. It added: “The APG could help all Asean members meet rising energy demands, improve access to energy services and minimize the costs of developing energy infrastructure.”
However, participation of the Philippines in the APG will be limited. That’s because interconnection with neighboring countries will require significant investment. We are not saying this is not feasible at all because we also need to realize that the country’s participation in the Asean Power Grid will have long-term benefits.