Asia’s Diverse Power Challenges Offer Great Opportunities

While Asian countries tackle different priorities in the power sector, it is clear that smart grids could unlock many opportunities for the region.
Published: Thu 25 Jun 2015

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There is a misconception that Asia is one region with the same challenges and opportunities but it is actually a large and diverse region with both developed and developing countries with varying electricity needs. This statement made by Sonita Lontoh, head of global corporate marketing at Trilliant, was certainly echoed at Asian Utility Week 2015, held in Bangkok’s Convention Centre.

During the two-day event, Engerati interviewed over 30 industry experts from various countries in its live studio which was located at the event and it was made very clear that priorities and challenges range significantly across the region.

No “one size fits all”

One of our interviewees, Ms Lontoh, pointed out that when it comes to grid modernisation efforts, there is no “one size fits all” solution as each country and utility works within a different regulatory construct.

Smart grid drivers also vary but generally in developing Asia, growing economies are becoming increasingly hungry for power. Other smart grid drivers include the need for improvements in power reliability, electrification rates, and a reduction in non-technical losses.

Ms Lontoh says that it is important for vendors to understand utilities’ specific contexts and work with them to deploy a smart grid that meets the needs of today but that will also evolve with them over the years.

Grid modernisation-a journey with many roleplayers

With massive urbanisation trends in Asia, policy makers and utilities have to upgrade their infrastructure in order to handle this massive influx and this modernisation should be viewed as a journey. Says Lontoh: “Utilities should think and plan long-term and utilities, vendors and policy makers should work together to find a common ground and move forward together.”

Ni Ming, Chief Expert, NARI Technology, told Engerati that utilities should view the smart grid as more than just technology-it is also about government policy and market mechanisms. He explained that in order for smart grid deployments to be successful, utilities should work alongside government and policy makers.

Renewable power opens up opportunities

Mathias Steck, Senior VP and Regional Manager, APAC, DNV GL points out that South East Asia has the ability to build up generation very quickly and at relatively low cost. Much of this renewable power can be developed close to load centres which eliminates high transmission development costs.

Steck says that renewable power opens up many opportunities, especially for those areas with extremely low electrification rates. Many countries are looking to the smart grid and renewables as affordable and sustainable solutions to help electrify remote regions.

He adds that while governments in the region generally understand the importance of sustainable power, often policy and regulation can be obstacles to growth because decision makers don’t often see the full picture. However, the general consensus is that countries in the region realise that renewables is the way forward and that many opportunities are certainly up for grabs.

The need for smart grids

Martin Hauske, managing director, smart grid services, Asia Pacific, Accenture, says that the region’s need for a smart grid is growing rapidly as it enables utilities to do more with less and will prove to be more cost-effective in the long run.

He says that while renewable integration calls for tighter control, the smart grid will also give utilities a deeper understanding of their grid assets. He adds, “As Asia develops more energy services and increases its renewable energy integration, a smarter grid will become ever more critical. Storage and smart grids will reduce renewable integration costs as there will be more control.”

Mr Hauske points out that one of the biggest challenges in Asia is providing cost-effective power to large and remote areas in the region. For this reason, microgrids will come in to play and will make a big difference.

“There is a definite need for higher reliability of data monitoring and analytics to manage these assets and consumption more effectively.”

More focus on energy efficiency in Asia

Hauske says there is a major opportunity in improving energy efficiency through better customer engagement but many parts of Asia need a new communication infrastructure to enable the effective deployment of smart technology.

He adds that the region is not yet ready to cut the cord with their utilities so these service providers should take advantage now and play a proactive role with the installation of smart technology and energy storage at both customer (and grid) level to encourage the growth of home generation and better energy efficiency. When it comes to smart technology and customer engagement strategies, Asia finds itself in a good position to learn from the mistakes made by Europe and US for instance.

Another challenge in the region seems to be a lack of skills in grid operations, communications and IT. “Skills in these three areas are critical for IT/OT integration and these will enable utilities to carry out a successful energy transformation. It is important for utilities to start developing internal talents and also help regulators understand the new challenges utilities face during the transformation period,” says Mr Hauske. He recommends that utilities employ the services of competent partners to guide them through this process.  

Making data work for Asia

David Socha, Utility Practise Leader, Teradata, says that as there are parts of Asia that can still learn a great deal from other countries when it comes to data analytics. He explains that with data analytics, the region can improve its asset management and customer relationship. “Customers’ expectations continue to grow and effective data analytics will help to improve this relationship between the utility and its customers.”

Mr Socha says that Asia still sees a skills shortage in data analytics. Smart meters are creating large quantities of data and this has opened up the need for data analysis skills. While skillsets can be hired, he suggests that utilities find tools to help them automate data scientist-like processes. He adds, "Asian utility companies should not wait to implement these tools or hire the skills until after the smart grid is rolled out. It is critical to get value from this data as quickly as possible in order to truly benefit from the smart grid investment.”  

Over the next few weeks, Engerati will be publishing the live studio interviews in order to showcase the region’s exciting power journey.