Balancing the Energy Trilemma for Just Energy Transition
The energy trilemma is at the heart of what it means to deliver a just transition in Asia. This essential balancing act looks to walk a careful tightrope through a net-zero journey, accelerating energy sustainability, maintaining energy security, and ensuring energy affordability for the people and nations across the region.
Asia is home to a remarkable 60% of the global population, reflecting the huge diversity of cultures, geographies, and crucially—development—that is on display across this vibrant, ambitious region.
The energy transition solution that works in an mature and land-limited city state such as Singapore—a densely populated country where average national annual income is US$42,000 per capita—will be vastly different to one which incorporates the vibrant cities of Vietnam alongside its rural heartlands—with more than six out of ten citizens still living in rural areas, an average national income of ~US$2,250, and significant high-capacity land for solar and wind power generation.
A just energy transition is about recognizing that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to balancing the energy trilemma. It is about developing deep market understanding to deliver a nuanced, strategic solution that meets the needs of the local landscape.
This is the mission for Energy Asia – to chart pathways for a sustainable Asia. The focus is to provide a platform for stakeholders across the public and private sector to develop actionable and pragmatic solutions that can empower a just energy transition across the region.That comes down to the unique weight of the three corners of the energy trilemma in each market.
- Energy security. Providing a secure, stable supply of energy that maintains vital services, industries, and access to citizens. This is a critical element of national energy policy, and key to ensuring a robust energy ecosystem.
- Energy affordability. Maintaining affordable energy access to live, work, and travel, particularly for vulnerable communities. This is a key consideration for meeting social and economic needs, and a critical element of ensuring societal support for an energy transition.
- Energy sustainability. Ensuring effective use of sustainable, low-carbon solutions in a transition away from reliance on more polluting energy sources. This forms a vital foundation of the transition to a net-zero future.
It’s vital to understand that the energy trilemma is not a conflict—it is a balance. The falling cost of renewables and low-carbon technologies now provides a remarkable opportunity to transition countries and their respective economies towards a net-zero future. What is different is how respective nations thread the tightrope forward to ensure sustainable, long-term benefits while maintaining equitable opportunities for citizens. Affordability can be a particular concern in Asia, where recent global market disruptions have created a challenging new dynamic in some markets.
Affordable electricity particularly, is a critical concern for developing countries, and one which must be considered carefully against an evolving net-zero journey. Global partnerships offer an important opportunity to balance this aspect against the critical need for low-carbon energy solutions, with the recently established Just Energy Transition Partnership providing a welcome example of how collaboration can catalyse change.
Under this agreement, US$20 billion of capital will be mobilised over the next five years to fund a just energy transition in Indonesia, helping accelerate the journey to net zero in a nation which is pivotal to mitigating global carbon emissions. Not only does the Just Energy Transition Partnership offer a welcome pathway to just transition in Indonesia, but provides an important benchmark of what can be achieved in collaboration.
The energy trilemma and emerging technologies
Key emerging low-carbon technologies such as CCUS and hydrogen will be a critical part of Asia’s net-zero journey, but ones which unlock new dynamics in efforts to balance the region’s energy trilemma.
With falling cost of technologies, the ‘scales’ of balance for the energy trilemma will shift, meaning countries must be ready to adapt to chart the best path forward.
CCUS is likely to form an important pillar in Asia, as the considerations of local market demographics mean that a switch from coal to gas unlocks huge opportunities for power generation that significantly improve on energy sustainability.
S&P Global analysis shows that electricity generated by open cycle gas turbines offers 23% less CO2 per MWh generated compared to coal, while a combined cycle gas turbine emits 49% less CO2 than coal.
“Asia as a whole very much still relies on coal, and that makes coal-to-gas switch a very important measure to reduce carbon emissions in this region,” said Jenny Nguyen Yang, Senior Director, Asia Gas and LNG, S&P Global Commodity Insights, speaking at CERAWeek.
It’s important to recognise that business-as-usual comes with its own costs. Unabated carbon emissions spell a significant economic shock for the region. On a severe increase of 3.2°C, Asia is projected to see a 26% dip in GDP, while Southeast Asia fares even more poorly, with an expected hit of 37% to GDP. Energy affordability must be balanced against these complex questions, which is why the economic case for sustainability, security, and affordability are so inherently interlinked.
Energy Asia is a platform to inform and engage these complex conversations, bringing together industry stakeholders, thought leaders, investors, policymakers, and technologists, so that all corners of the energy trilemma can be addressed through close collaboration and careful planning. That means charting a sustainable pathway for Asia, with a balanced energy trilemma that delivers a just transition for all.