Gas to lead transformation in energy mix

By Myrna M. Velasco

SINGAPORE – With rising sea levels and a warming planet, the transformation of the global energy mix to cleaner sources is expected to be led by the gas sector while renewables will continue to gain traction, according to a US energy official.

Kurt Donnelly, deputy assistant secretary for Energy Diplomacy of the US State Department, said that as “customers look for reliable and flexible electricity – and renewables today cannot fully provide that until the commercial maturity of storage solutions, the best solution to cleaner energy transformation is natural gas.”

Donnelly emphasized that “electricity demand globally is expected to double or triple from what we have today,” and the natural consequence of that will be the need for a lot more fuel for electricity generation going forward.

He also noted that fossil fuels will still have a place in the transformative phase of the energy sector onward to 2050, and that coal cannot still be totally phased out but gas will be taking a larger pie in the mix. Renewables, in the meantime, will be on an accelerated pace of installations in the future.

“Certainly energy needs to be cleaner but we also need solutions that will be sustainable,” said Donnelly. He said gas will be the leader in that transition pathway given the abundant supply sources and with its costs that had already gotten so much cheaper.

The view of the US State department had been echoed by a study done by global think tank International Energy Agency (IEA), which noted the rising reliance of many Southeast Asian countries on fossil fuels.

For ASEAN countries (Philippines, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) to “come out cleaner” on their deployment of energy technologies, the IEA prescribed that they must seriously deal with “legacy issues” such as addressing the higher emissions spewed out from older technologies in coal-fired power facilities which are not only an assault to the environment but they are also less efficient when it comes to electricity generation.

As noted by Keisuke Sadamori, the IEA’s director of Energy Markets and Security, “based on today’s policy settings, Southeast Asia’s overall energy demand is set to grow by 60-percent between now and 2040,” but in parallel to that, he emphasized that this region has also been relentlessly increasing its oil and coal imports and the “troubling signs” are now manifesting.

“All fuels and technologies play a part in meeting the projected increase in oil -- surpassing nine million barrels per day (mb/d) by 2040 or up from just above 6.5 mb/d today. (While) coal demand rises steadily,” the IEA study has stipulated.

The Paris-headquartered global think tank noted that “if the region continues on this track, the consequences would be troubling,” while emphasizing that the projected growth in fossil fuel consumption in this part of the world “would drive a two-thirds rise in CO2 emissions – reaching almost 2.4 billion tonnes in 2040.”

And while renewable energy installations in some power markets are picking up, the overall energy supply-demand balance for most countries in Southeast Asia is still for them becoming net importers of fossil fuels.
“Oil is the largest element in the regional energy mix, and coal – largely for power generation, has been the fastest growing,” IEA said, stressing that “this has underpinned the region’s development and industrial growth, but has also made air pollution a major risk to public health and driven up energy-related CO2 emissions.”