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Shaping the future of Emerging Asia with clean energy

CLEAN water, sanitation, health care, transport, lighting, cooking, heating - these are energy-driven elements essential to human well-being, as well as a country's economic activity and social development. But they are not accessible to the world's energy poor, most of whom are living in Asia and the Pacific.

Today, more than 700 million people in the region have no access to electricity, even though electricity demand in South-east Asia alone is set to triple by 2040. With the threats of climate change in the picture, world leaders and international organisations have recognised the need to ensure access to energy for all, in addition to curbing the ill-effects of widespread environmental dangers.

Environmental deterioration due to pollution, deforestation and land degradation has been increasing in the wake of industrial revolution and rapid urbanisation growth in developing nations. This is exacerbated by a dependence on fossil fuels, which has become the lynchpin of economic growth in these countries in the past decade. In 19 out of 25 cities in Asia, including the Philippines and Indonesia, coastal flooding has led to fatality and economic losses. Over 5.9 million people are predicted to be affected by floods every year until 2100, according to a 2017 report by Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Asia, the region with the highest rate of greenhouse gas emissions, has potential to improve prospects and quality of life for millions of people. Governments in the region have recognised near-future implications of climate change and expressed stronger political will to re-appraise their approach by implementing sustainable and more secure energy policies; in addition to the use of renewable energy from clean energy sources that have a lower environmental impact and are almost infinite in supply.

It is time for countries, organisations and corporations to expedite the development process towards a sustainable future with renewable energy sources. Special focus should be given to those living in isolated, rural areas where energy poverty is still rife, and ironically where electrification rates are lowest.

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Further to providing clean and sustainable energy solutions for communities, we should promote community participation, and recognise that significant effort is required in strengthening local capacity to manage and service energy access solutions, especially for those living in remote areas. ADB found that most of the successful case studies shared a common thread - communities reacted positively to renewable energy systems with very high payback rates, while local households or village leaders even operated the technology themselves.

One such success story is a government-funded project in Indonesia. In 2016, Indonesia's Directorate General of Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation (EBTKE) and other government partners provided over 250 villages and 37,500 households with electricity, through 100 per cent renewables. Not only does this eliminate their dependency on diesel - a highly polluting source of energy - the off-grid solar and battery storage systems also allow them access to energy around the clock, while containing costs.

Similarly, 12,500 households in 100 villages in Cambodia have been electrified via solar home systems, as well as over 1,000 households in five villages in Myanmar via microgrids, in Schneider Electric's projects throughout the region. While these countries face similar challenges with access to energy, energy profiles in terms of use and resource endowments vary across the region, hence solutions need to be customised according to their regional, economic, political and cultural distinctions.

As energy demand and population are set to grow in this region, there is an urgent need to improve the efficiency of solutions and effect real change in the long run. On top of continued development in innovation and technology, today's youths are the world's greatest assets to accelerate the path towards a green and sustainable future.

The Schneider Foundation and Schneider Electric recently announced a partnership with Indonesia's Ministry of Education and Culture (Kemendikbud RI) and the French Ministry of National Education (MENES) to improve the quality and skills of electrical specialists in the country. Supported by a 1.5 million euro (S$2.4 million) grant from the Schneider Foundation, the partnership has set a common goal to develop an international class curriculum and educational system that link the academic world to industry needs, and help prepare over 1,500 Indonesian students to work in the electricity sector every year, from 2018.

The world has established that energy is focal to shaping a sustainable and equitable future, as well as combating poverty and driving human development. While targeted initiatives such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement drive a universal framework to achieve shared goals and commitments, it is also the responsibility of corporations that have the necessary resources and innovations to make decisions in the direction of clean energy development.

By working with communities, governments and corporations, we have the power to bring safety and security to people, improving productivity and living standards while lessening reliance on fossil fuels for the benefit of our environment. Now more than ever, all players need to work together to empower communities with access to safe, reliable, efficient and sustainable energy, as well as training, that will foster safer and cleaner living environments.

  • The writer is president, East Asia and Japan, at Schneider Electric