Workshop on the electricity future of Myanmar and the Greater Mekong Subregion
Report

March 2, 2016

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[Date] January 28, 2016, 13:30-17:30
[Venue] Conference Room, 3rd floor, Ito International Conference Center, Hongo Campus of the University of Tokyo
[Language] English
[Hosted by] Policy Alternatives Research Institute (PARI, The University of Tokyo)
[Supported by] Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA)

Program

Opening address by Prof. Ichiro Sakata
Keynote speech by Prof. Hisashi Yoshikawa
"Social Issues in Based-load Power Plant Development in Thailand"
by Aj Thitisak Boonpramote
Coffee break
Keynote speech by Prof. Daniel Kammen
“Removing Social Barriers in Myanmar: Lessons from China”
by Kensuke Yamaguchi
“Distributed-renewable scenarios for rural electrification:
a preliminary analysis”
by Masa Sugiyama
“Tools for Integrated Energy Planning in Borneo, Southeast Asia”
by Rebekah Shirley
“Building Energy Resilience in the Greater Mekong Subregion”
by Noah Kittner
Discussion on going forward Moderated by Prof. Yoshikawa
Closing remarks by Prof. Yoshikawa

Report

With the adoption of the ‘Paris Agreement’1 at COP21 in Paris in December of last year with the aim to reduce global warming, global interest in sustainable energy systems is running high. Though the economic futures of the “rising nations” remains unclear, in particular that of China, the ASEAN region and the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) has become a focus of attention. The GMS is an area of significant interest for Japan and the United States both diplomatically and economically.

In line with this awareness of the issues and based on the research results of both PARI and the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, (RAEL) at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), teams, the joint PARI-RAEL workshop was held on January 28, 2016 with the aim of discussing future cooperative efforts.

The Director of PARI, Prof. Ichiro Sakata, provided the opening remarks on the goals of PARI, and explained the significance of the joint research project between PARI and the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA). Subsequently, PARI Prof. Hisashi Yoshikawa gave a presentation on research and activities undertaken thus far, their present status and chief results, and also outlined future directions for research and other activities2 . Prof. Daniel Kammen, Director of RAEL at the UCBerkeley, also participated from New York via Skype. Prof. Kammen points out that the Mekong region, along with East Africa, is an area of high priority for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and furthermore discussed the possibility of large-scale, low-carbon grid systems within the region, made possible by connecting multiple small-scale grids3 .

The University of Tokyo has thus far worked with the Energy Research Institute of Chulalongkorn University on data collection in the GMS4 . Head of the Department of Mining and Petroleum Engineering, Chulalongkorn University, Aj Thitisak Boonpramote provided a current overview of thermal power generation in Thailand. Thermal power generation is the mainstay source of electricity in Thailand, and is unlikely to be replaced by sustainable energy sources that some hope will provide a regulated energy supply. Nevertheless, in the context of cost reductions in renewable energy generation as well as increasing environmental awareness, there have been greater calls from citizens advocating for renewable energy. The situation regarding the stability of electricity supply also merits some concern. It was emphasized that discussing future energy systems with the diversity of interested parties in society will require the collection and release of scientific data by intermediary, third-party institutions if any misapprehensions are to be resolved.

It goes without saying that there is significant space for universities to contribute as candidates for this type of institution. PARI has held regular stakeholder meetings in conjunction with ERI, and has conducted studies of large-scale hydroelectric generation in Myanmar. ERI Visiting Researcher Kensuke Yamaguchi presented the results of these efforts. The most serious problem for Myanmar’s large-scale hydroelectric generation is the fact that projects are given authorization without the benefits of projects being sufficiently shared amongst local residents. Without debate around the sharing of benefits, citizens are unlikely to assent to these projects. The possibilities for micro-grids should be explored considering these challenges associated with large-scale hydro-power – precisely the point overlooked within past World Bank local electrification plans5 . PARI Assistant Professor Masa Sugiyama discussed the cost competitiveness of micro-grids against conventional grid extensions.

RAEL Researcher Rebekah Shirley presented to the workshop on RAEL initiatives in the states of Sarawak and Sabah on the island of Borneo, Malaysia. In Sarawak, demand for electricity is outstripping supply and, considering the impacts on biodiversity caused by large hydroelectric projects, the use of micro-grids to supply renewable energy may be the most appropriate structure for electricity supply. The results of this research have also been presented to local government representatives, strengthening the momentum for a review of plans for large-scale dams. Subsequently, RAEL Ph.D. candidate Noah Kittner provided the workshop with an overview of similar research on the use of micro-grids in Laos. Investment in large-scale electricity systems is expected to progressively increase in Laos as the country seeks to obtain foreign currency via electricity exports. Comparing these large-scale systems with micro-grids requires analysis of the environmental and economic strengths and weaknesses of micro-grid systems.

If small-scale grids are joined up and receive appropriate financing, it may be possible to assemble large-scale low-carbon grid systems. In addition to the research in Malaysia, RAEL has studied financing models for linked micro-grid systems in Indonesia and Albania. Financing such projects in reality, however, frequently involves complex political considerations such that any policy proposals based on purely technical solutions are unlikely to be effective. Furthermore, where systems are to be joined across borders, such as in the Mekong region, due consideration must be given to the diplomatic relations of countries involved, including recent movements by China. Arranging system connectivity across local, national and regional scales will involve extremely complex work. As part of these efforts, PARI will hold a meeting with regional stakeholders at ERI in Bangkok on March 25, and make preparations for joint research projects in partnership with RAEL to begin in earnest from July onwards.

Footnotes

  1. As part of the international framework around efforts to tackle global warming after 2020, 196 countries including the United States and China agreed to limit global temperature rises to within 2 or 1.5 degrees compared to the pre-industrial revolution average temperature.
  2. For more details on past activities, please visit
    http://pari.u-tokyo.ac.jp/unit/gepea.html
  3. For more details on the activities of RAEL please visit
    https://rael.berkeley.edu/
  4. For more details on the activities of ERI, please visit
    http://www.eri.chula.ac.th/eri-main/
  5. Micro-grids are clearly mentioned in the CEBU Declaration made by the APEC Energy Ministerial Meeting in October 2015.
    http://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/files/000111233.pdf

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