The Asia Clean Energy Forum (June 3-7, 2024), hosted by the Asian Development Bank along with its co-organizers the United States Agency for International Development and the Korea Energy Agency, brings together clean energy practitioners from across the region—including government agencies, private sector, equipment and service providers, financiers, philanthropic organizations, researchers, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders. The theme of this year’s ACEF is “Accelerating the Clean Energy Transition and Ensuring Energy Security and Affordability – Time for Urgent Action Now.” WRI experts will be presenting on a variety of energy topics throughout the forum.

 

Episode 1: ACEF 2024 Preview

Ahead of the Asia Clean Energy Forum, or ACEF for short, WRI examines the purpose of the premier conference of clean energy stakeholders on the continent. Marlon Apanada, WRI’s Southeast Asia Engagement Lead, for Energy & Climate explains why the tripling of renewable energy and how Asia develops its critical mineral sector are the two key talking points for 2024.

Episode 1 Transcript

Daniel (0:06 – 2:44): You are listening to WRI’s Big Ideas into Action podcast. I’m Daniel Baker, your host, editor, and producer of this episode.

After more than 40 years, WRI has earned the trust of organizations that turn evidence-based research into positive change for people, nature, and climate.

Today, we turn our ears to Manila...the site of this year’s Asia Clean Energy Forum – or ACEF for short –  which is hosted by the Asian Development Bank. Along with its co-organizers the United States Agency for International Development, or the more familiar name of USAID, and the Korea Energy Agency, ACEF brings together clean energy practitioners from across the region—including government agencies, private sector, equipment and service providers, financiers, philanthropic organizations, researchers, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders.

The theme of this year’s ACEF is “Accelerating the Clean Energy Transition and Ensuring Energy Security and Affordability – Time for Urgent Action Now.” Woah...that is a mouthful!

WRI experts will be presenting on a variety of energy topics throughout the week-long forum. You can find details about their presentations on WRI’s events page on our website....wri.org/events. In fact, we’ll be bringing you daily recaps throughout ACEF. And that gives me a perfect chance to plug this podcast feed. Make sure to subscribe to WRI’s Big Ideas Into Action Podcast on Soundcloud, Apple, and Spotify – and stay up-to-date on all things energy in Asia!

But instead of hearing me drone on about ACEF, it's time to bring on one of my colleagues who knows a whole lot more about Asia’s pursuit of a clean-energy-fueled future than me.

Joining me today is Marlon Apanada, WRI’s Southeast Asia Engagement Lead, for Energy & Climate. Thank you for making time to speak with me and our listeners about ACEF!

So Marlon, how would you describe ACEF to our listeners; someone who cares about climate change but isn't necessarily familiar with the intricacies of the international energy landscape?

Marlon (2:45 – 5:10):  So ACEF is the Asia Clean Energy Forum and it is Asia's largest, clean energy convening, hosted at the Asian Development Bank in Manila, Philippines. So it's been an annual event [and] it has grown from a small gathering into this almost like the forum or meeting point of choice for all clean energy stakeholders in Asia, because of several things. First, it's been run for close to two decades now, so it's been an institutional presence in Asia. Second, it's hosted by the Asian Development Bank and it is the multilateral development bank that is catering to Asian economies, right? And third, Asia is the center of the center of the global energy transition and all the attendant topics related to it; whether it's on finance, whether it's on technology, innovation, grids, the role of the civil society, private sector involvement, all these kinds of things. It has been the go-to catchment of all these topics throughout the years, so it is quite a brand in Asia.

And since it is almost always scheduled around [the] first or second week of June, it is a good midpoint between the past COP, Conference of Parties events, and so it's almost like a wrap-up to previous COPs and a preparation for the upcoming COP. And it is also an event that's hosted by such a big entity, [with a] big presence in Asia like the Asian Development Bank now. At its peak, before the pandemic, there were 10,000 people over a week that would go to Manila, just to attend these events and now...and now since the in-person convening has resumed after the coronavirus break, the relevance of ACEF has been bigger than ever.

Daniel (5:12 – 6:13): Gotcha. So you kind of got ahead of me a little bit, which is awesome, as far as why does ACEF matter to the broader energy community. As you said it's kind of the COP for energy in a way, or the COP before COP, as a little halfway point. And for those who may be less familiar, COP stands for Conference of the Parties and it is the big, international convening, primarily by governments, but there is a huge private sector role as well. This year will be COP 29. But anyway, back to ACEF, as far as the energy landscape goes, so we kind of know what it means for the energy landscape with Asia being kind of the center of the transition, but why does ACEF matter for WRI, in particular? Why is this such an important conference and event for WRI's energy program to not just go to but to present at?

Marlon (6:16 – 9:49): The reason for its relevance and importance to WRI is both strategic and historical. Firstly, let's talk about historical, because WRI was a knowledge partner of the Asian Development Bank in years past, during previous editions of the Asia Clean Energy Forum, so there's almost like a connective tissue to the historical plans, [and] priorities of WRI because we were a co-convener, a knowledge partner there. And it's also strategic because ACEF being held at ADB really represents the cutting-edge topics that are most relevant to clean energy stakeholders in Asia. So for this year, the big topic is around the tripling of renewables that was agreed by countries in Dubai at COP 28 the 28th Conference of Parties. What does that mean, right? What is the role of private sector finance, public sector finance multilateral donor finance. How do we get there? And since the tripling [of] renewables will need investments on grid, who will be involved in investing on those grids? Will there be sovereign loans involved? Will there be private finance involved? What is the role of a multilateral development bank like ADB there?

Another big topic is in critical minerals, right? The transition to clean [energy], whether it's in the power sector or transport will require a few so-called critical minerals, or transition minerals that they call it. And based on working groups and studies by different entities, like the G20, G7, it has been identified that there's only like 10 to 15 countries which are the critical, the hotspots for these critical minerals, and a significant number of them are in Asi a. How do we elevate this conversation on critical minerals to ensure that the global energy transition happens, unfolds without significant impact on biodiversity and people? The next topics are on technologies, innovations. So it represents the topics, the talking points, the issues that are most relevant to stakeholders.

And they are going to be tackled either in plenary presentations, deep-dive workshops, side meetings, side events, or even like breakout groups because everyone is in Manila right, across different jurisdictions in Asia – and whether it's in China and India, whether it's Southeast Asian economies, whether it's in the advanced economies in East Asia, such as Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, everyone's there at the Asian Development Bank. And this is where the topics that are most relevant get tackled, and there's a pro and con to it, because you really cannot tackle everything over a week. So it's almost like really just a blitz toward these topics and making sure you just have those touch points.

Daniel (9:50 - 10:08): Does WRI have any specific priorities for this week or topics that they're interested that might not fall under those two...I'll say two broader categories of the critical minerals and tripling of renewables. Is there anything that WRI is specifically trying to get out of ACEF?

Marlon (10:09 – 12:13): What WRI really wants to get out of ACEF is I believe three things. One is to really just socialize the depth of knowledge that we have developed across several topics, right? So whether, you know critical minerals, industrial decarbonization, faster in scaling deployment of renewables, we have such deep knowledge and we have invested a lot of time, talent, and energy to produce these topics. This is a significant, if not one of the most relevant, opportunities to socialize [that]. So just socialize the knowledge so that it is not just contained internally in the institution. So that's the first piece.

The second piece is really thought leadership and driving conversations forward. Because these topics around tripling renewables and the requirements thereof critical minerals, and the need for unprecedented levels of alignment across different private [and] public sectors, right, will not move itself, right? WRI will have a role in making sure the conversation gets covered and the direction of travel of the conversation is where we are at, right? Because we are always pointing to the avoidance of the 1.5 degree warming scenario, while making sure that we have significant and real considerations for people, and planet, and nature, right?

The third piece is really just the people within WRI; touching base with other WRI experts. So it's a way for us to touch base to really have in-person dialogues and exchange notes and strategies across the different levels and the broad spectrum of expertise that WRI hosts across countries. That's what ACEF offers.

Daniel (12:14 – 13:27): Awesome! And before we wrap up, I wanted to step back a little bit beyond WRI or step out, excuse me, of that framing and as this is a sort of midway point to the next COP – and it is such an important event as far as the energy transition goes around the globe – what are your or WRI’s expectations for what we expect to come out of this event. Whether that is an international agreement, perhaps that's about the ramping up of renewables paired with the ramping down of fossil fuels; whether that has something to do with, as you're talking about, critical minerals; whether that is dealing with possibly labor rights as it relates to making sure that it's done in a just and equitable way, as far as sourcing those minerals. But what are the big things that WRI expects to to come out of ACEF?

Marlon (13:27 – 14:49): Right, so ACEF is not an agreement producing event or there's no expectations around coming up with a ministerial declaration on something, right, or a new agenda for whatever, right. So given that limitation, what we don't want is [for] this to just be another talk shop right? Because ACEF has been there for quite some time. What we also don't want is that we are just recycling talking points from last year. Given that, what WRI really expects to get out of it are the bilateral, small-group meetings that need to happen while ACEF is happening, so that we can develop action points for specific issues and create institutional alignment and collaboration opportunities outside of ACEF.

 So that's a reason why it's very important for us to be in the same place and agree on what we want, and that's the relevance of ACEF.

By accident or by design, it's in Manila and I'm in Manila, so I'm the one that's hosting people and colleagues in the city that I'm based.

Daniel (14:50 - 15:02): Consider our expectations tempered a little bit as far as any big agreements or announcements coming out of ACEF. So Marlon, thank you so much for your time today, really appreciate it.

Marlon (15:03 – 15:19): Hey, yeah and thanks for the questions. It made me think about ACEF. I mean it's been happening year in and year out, and then having this thoughtful and conscious consideration of what this event really represents for the institution and for the topics that we are covering.

Daniel (15:20 – 15:37): Don’t forget, we’ll be bringing you a few daily recaps during the conference. So stay tuned to WRI’s Big Ideas Into Action Podcast on your favorite podcast streaming platform. For Marlon Apanada, I’m Daniel Baker. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you on the other side of ACEF.

 

 

Episode 2: WRI at ACEF 2024 – Behind the Scenes Part 1

After the first couple of days at ACEF 2024, WRI experts talk about how their work ties into the forum’s overall goals – specifically about how India’s goal of installing 500 GW of clean energy capacity and Indonesia’s plan to decarbonizing difficult to abate industries can be achieved in a manner that doesn’t leave anyone behind.

Nada Zuhaira, a Net-Zero Research Analyst with WRI Indonesia’s Energy program and Sandhya Sundararagavan, the Energy Transition Program Head for WRI India’s Energy Program, take you behind the scenes of the Asia’s premier clean energy gathering and share some highlights about who WRI is keeping an eye on; from companies to countries, everyone has something valuable to bring to the discussion about the clean energy transition.

Episode 2 Transcript

Daniel Baker (00:05 – 2:00)

You are listening to WRI’s Big Ideas Into Action podcast. I’m Daniel Baker; communications manager here at WRI and your host, editor, and producer of this episode.

Last week, we previewed the Asia Clean Energy Forum – or the more common short-hand of ACEF – with Marlon Apanada. If you haven’t heard that one, hit pause and go back to our previous episode on whatever podcast streaming platform you’re listening to us on.

If you’re pressed for time – there are a couple of important things to remember. Number one: ACEF is not like COP. Don’t expect major agreements to be signed or announced. Number two: the focus for ACEF this year is on the global goal of tripling of renewable energy by 2030 and ensuring that while Asia is a hot spot for the critical minerals needed for a successful energy transition...the transition must happen without significant impact on biodiversity and people.

Now...onto the show. Joining me from Manila, Philippines – home of the Asian Development Bank, the host of ACEF – are two of WRI’s finest energy experts...

Nada Zuhaira, a Net-Zero Research Analyst with WRI Indonesia’s Energy program and Sandhya Sundararagavan, the Energy Transition Program Head for WRI India’s Energy Program. Nada and Sandhya – thanks so much for joining me today!

Now, we're a couple of days into ACEF 2024. Sandhya, what are a few of the big things that WRI is looking out for at this conference?

Sandhya Sundararagavan, WRI India (2:00 – 3:27)

Hi Daniel. So, I think from India's perspective, India’s ambitious 500 Gigawatt target has actually opened up lot of opportunities for the states to design decarbonization pathways and move towards [a] clean energy transition. And the ambitious renewable targets and implementation or clean and energy measures, especially at the subnational level, will be steps in the right direction to align with India's long-term vision as well as the international commitments. I would say that's one of the important things in terms of how to align the subnational targets and policies to international commitments.

The second most important thing is going to be the role of new technologies and clean energy transition and how will, actually, they be considered in the holistic planning exercises. So, technologies could include energy storage, green hydrogen, distributed rooftop solar, electric breakers. All these are going to play very crucial roles and private sector participation and innovation is key -- and this is also one of the themes at ACEF.

And finally, the flow finance I think that's super critical to achieve this RE [renewable energy] target. India, along with other nations, they need to move towards go beyond the conventional utility-scale projects and it needs to be more like an economy by transition in the sectors, which have received limited institutional financing so far. So de-risking the financing through innovative arrangements. I think that's going to be extremely useful.

Daniel Baker (3:27 – 3:53)

Now we're going to take a little closer look at the presentations themselves that you two led.

Nada, your presentation covered financing innovative, clean energy solutions and hard to abate sectors -- part of a WRI Indonesia study mapping the needs and preferred solutions for decarbonizing these industries -- can you share some of the key lessons from this work. And how it kind of related to the presentation today?

Nada Zuhaira, WRI Indonesia (3:53 – 6:07)

Hi Daniel, so at ACEF, I presented at the thematic track session 4.2 about the energy efficiency and renewable energy in the industrial sector. This is like an abstract based session, so we must start  with an abstract first to be selected to speak here. To give you, like, an idea of the session, all panels in this session wants to optimize the adoption of EE [energy efficiency] and RE in the industrial sector, which is aligned with this year's theme, right, about accelerating the clean energy transition. But of course, critical changes and challenges arise, right, be it relating to technical, financing, policy and governance and also awareness  raising. So we, me included, kind of brought our own answer to address those challenges. And the answer that I brought is regarding a framework – a framework where we are developing to guide government towards building an ideal net-zero ecosystem for decarbonization, based on the industry's perspective. So like the framework we covered three aspects to provide holistic changes which are the tech and infrastructure, finance and investment, and also I mentioned reduction governance. And it is divided into, like, a face-based approach, including the establishment phase, development and testing, and in the end long-term implementation.

And I must highlight that for Indonesia, it is very important to have a face-based approach because there are quite like huge discrepancies between actors big and small, multinational and nationals. So, having a face-based approach, will give them time to calibrate both knowledge wise and financial wise. So for example, if you want to understand about how this framework works, in the tech and infrastructure aspect, like we talk about the R&D [Research & Development] process of the finance solutions, like how to provide it diversely in the market; how to increase its quality. But in the financial aspect, we will talk about how to finance those adoptions, be it like creating market-based instruments or non market-based  like government subsidies, and how to balance it. And finally in the emission reduction governance aspect, we will talk about how to really enforce or to really give a push in the companies to adopt it in the first place by creating standards. So yeah, in WRI Indonesia, we really try to see everything together.

Daniel Baker (6:07 – 6:26)

With all the talk of financing and markets, it’s pretty clear why ADB, the Asian Development Bank, is leading this forum. And just to clarify a little earlier, you mentioned RE and EE . For our listeners that's renewable energy and energy efficiency correct?

Nada Zuhaira, WRI Indonesia (6:26 – 6:27)

Yes, true.

Daniel Baker (6:27 – 7:00)

So, that is a pretty big focus for these industries, and I wanted to see how this work ties in to one of those major goals that Marlon laid out in our ACEF preview.

Now one of them is how Asia is trying to triple renewable energy by 2030. So, if Indonesia is trying to decarbonize these industries that are, you know, historically very difficult historically to reduce emissions for, how does that help Indonesia and possibly the whole continent, reach those various climate goals?

Nada Zuhaira, WRI Indonesia (7:00 – 7:35)

Yeah, we're thinking that this framework can help Indonesian governments to know about the checklist to be able to prepare our country in meeting that goal, meeting that target. Because for now, Indonesia's government still kind of works in a sporadic way, where they conduct research separately and then create a financial instruments separately, but they don't still have standards and et cetera. We created a framework to serve it together in order for the government to be able to reach those big targets in an effective and efficient manner.

Daniel Baker (7:35 – 8:03)

So in a way, WRI is a big helper as far as these national goals go. And that’s a great transition to speaking about another country. Sandhya, your presentation centered around India's ambitious goal to install 500 Gigawatts (GWs) of renewable energy and the intricacies  of the planning process to get there. So, what should our listeners know about the progress that's being made toward that goal?

Sandhya Sundararagavan, WRI India (8:04 – 9:46)

Sure, thank you so much Daniel. Ad yes I'm representing the WRI India Energy team and at ACEF I shared my thoughts on the role of Integrated Resource Planning (IRP) in clean the energy transition. And what is IRP? It's basically an approach that meets the estimated long-term requirements for electricity services with a least cost combination of supply and demand. So, it's primarily a process and an approach which helps in setting that long-term vision for resource development. And it helps in addressing how a utility will actually meet its future demand.

So, in India right now with the long-term goals and ambitions – both in terms of emission reduction and 500 GW of non-fossil fuel capacity -- the utilities have actually started thinking of how to use IRP to evaluate and communicate potential strategies for delivering reliable supply of the lower system-wide cost. So there are frameworks and regulations, and especially some of the states have come up with the draft resource adequacy regulations, and I think it's all progressing towards the right direction; in terms of how this tool can actually help in [the] clean energy transition and help in addressing some of the challenges that the developing nations face.

And if you ask me challenges, it's primarily on the unpredictable demand, limited access to  capital, limited energy supply options, and quickly evolving technologies. These are some of the challenges that the countries are facing on a, you, know, on a regular basis. So, I think adopting these IRP processes will actually help them in addressing these challenges and meet their own goals that they have set, the targets that they have set. And it will also help in meeting the overall international climate commitments.

Daniel Baker (9:47 – 10:05)

And one of the big themes in the energy transition is making sure that no communities are left behind. So in India specifically, how does India's goal of this 500 GW, how does that line up with commitments to ensure that a transition doesn't leave anyone behind?

Sandhya Sundararagavan, WRI India (10:05 – 11:57)

I can tie this up with the objectives that were laid down at ACEF, right? ACEF 2024 is primarily looking to improve governance approaches, regulations, policies, and energy planning methodologies to address the barriers to clean energy development. We have this in a fast-growing renewable energy capacity, spread across various sub-nationals right?

So, I mean, the process obviously has become pretty complex. The power sector itself requires that level of transformation, right? And the theme that we spoke about was primarily what are those well-designed approaches that we need for optimal planning of electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure? Because you need the infrastructure with increased pace of renewable energy addition in the system, right. And so it needs to be done in a very sustainable manner and I think the state- level policymakers, planners, distribution and transmission utilities, they all have to actually come together to understand and plan those future capacity additions so that there is no unutilized capacity, so that there are no losses, so that we provide that reliable, affordable power. That's important in terms of, you know, not leaving people behind, because I think the common goal is to ensure that we also have a resilient infrastructure which actually caters to all -- and [that] we also provide electricity, like I said, affordably, reliably, sustainably to everyone.

So, that's the idea behind this particular session which spoke about how planning is extremely critical. And electric utilities of 2030, they will have this renewed focus right? So, renewed energy planning approaches is going to be very crucial when we talk about the country’s energy transition and to support clean energy transitions in the future energy portfolio.

Daniel Baker (11:59 – 12:32)

Again, it’s pretty clear that both governments and state actors, as well as companies, whether they’re utilities or technology providers, both are going to play a major role in Asia are able to meet various targets that are being set.

So now the next question is for both of you, and we’ll start with Nada: Is there a company or an organization that you've come across in your first few days at ACEF that listeners should be on the lookout for as far as, ‘hey, that is a company or an organization that is going to make a big difference.’?

Nada Zuhaira, WRI Indonesia (12:33 – 13:50)

 I think I'm really mesmerized with one company. It's an Indian company actually; Idam Infrastructure Advisory. So, this company creates like a knowledge management platform for all decarbonization related knowledge. So, you want to understand about the policies, you want to understand about the cutting-edge technologies, you want to understand about guidelines, tools, etc. They collect it in like a one-stop shop website for all industries in India to be able to use. And I think it's really interesting because, they hold up the principle that how we should democratize knowledge, in order for removing barrier(s) to entry through industry decarbonization efforts, and I think that's really interesting.

Sometimes in Indonesia itself, this notion of the industrial decarbonization is something that can only be talked about or be tapped into by big industries that have privilege in terms of money and knowledge, and et cetera, but we know that [the] climate change issue doesn't leave anyone behind, right? Everyone is impacted. So I think it's really important to ensure that all companies can transform, be it big or small companies, and democratizing knowledge is the key.

Daniel Baker (13:50 – 14:17)

 Democratizing knowledge, democratizing technology, all of that, I think that's going to be a really big theme throughout this forum, and really for the whole energy transition.

So now over to you, Sandhya. If there’s a company or organization, poerhaps even a person, that listenres might want to know about who WRI might want to be collaborating with more, moving forward?

Sandhya Sundararagavan, WRI India (14:18 – 15:46)

I would be a bit more inclusive here because each country, they have tried different approaches, in terms of developing their electricity transmission and distribution grids. So, you know, the panelists that were there, like represents from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, France, even for that matter Tonga they really shared nice experiences in terms of what approaches they take in terms of planning along with deploying market-based trading, on the kind of industry engagement.

I just want to tie in with and second the thought that Nada mentioned that developing countries are facing higher risk in terms of vulnerabilities, right? So, I think energy planning and access to financing is going to be critical, and that needs to be tailored to countries’ needs as well. So, apart from the policymakers and government representatives who spoke in the plenary session, representatives from these different countries, the experience that they shared was really interesting.

I wouldn't say there is one person here. I think there are multiple people we could actually connect [with], because the common goal is to ensure resilient and sustainable power grids for the Asia and Pacific region. So yes, I think we have a lot of opportunity in sharing lessons, sharing knowledge about business models about financing options that are out there, what are the technological solutions. You know, what kind of industry experience we can learn from. I think all of these are needed for this clean energy transition in Asia and [the] Pacific region. So yes, [there are] multiple people who are actually playing that role.

Daniel Baker (15:46 – 16:07)

That’s a really great, holistic way to look at things, Sandhya. Thank you so much, and you too Nada. Really appreciate you both so much for joining me today and letting our listeners know a little bit more about what’s going on at ACEF, on the ground in Manila, a little peek behind the curtain.

Sandhya Sundararagavan, WRI India (16:08 – 16:10)

Thank you. Thank you so much.

Nada Zuhaira, WRI Indonesia (16:10 – 16:12)

Thank you Daniel! Thank you Sandhya.

Daniel Baker (16:13 – 16:59)

Again, I want to say a big thank you to Nada and Sandhya for helping us take a look back at the first few days of ACEF 2024. The forum continues through June 7th, and we’ll be back with more WRI experts bringing you the latest from Asia’s premier gathering of clean energy minds.

Don’t forget, you can follow our coverage of ACEF on WRI’s events page on our website....wri.org/events. And don’t forget to leave us a 5-star rating on whatever podcast streaming platform you listened to this on. 

From my colleagues at WRI, my name is Daniel Baker. Thanks for listening!

 

Episode 3: WRI at ACEF 2024 – Behind the Scenes Part 2

As ACEF 2024 wraps up, WRI brings you a closer look at the innovative aspects of agrivoltaics that China is tapping into to reach its goal of tripling renewable energy by 2030. Looking beyond the clean energy conference, Shengnian Xu, a research associate in WRI China’s Energy program, sees WRI being well-positioned to help lead the global discussions around critical minerals...a topic that dominated the discussions at the Asian Development Bank’s weeklong event.

Episode 3 Transcript

Daniel Baker (00:05 – 1:47)

You are listening to WRI’s Big Ideas Into Action podcast. I’m Daniel Baker; communications manager here at WRI and your host, editor, and producer of this episode.

This is our second on-the-ground recap of the Asia Clean Energy Forum – or ACEF for short, live from Manila. During the first episode, we discussed Indonesia’s strategy to decarbonize heavy-emitting industries and India’s goal to add 500GW of renewable energy capacity.

If you didn’t get a chance to listen to either that episode or our ACEF Preview, I’d recommend starting there! You can find those episodes on our website: wri.org/podcasts

As a quick reminder there are three big themes at this year’s ACEF: First, Asia is trying to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030. Two, critical minerals are essential to the clean energy transition and Asia will be a key player in the mining and use of those ingredients. Finally, it’s a forward thinking forum where innovation and new technologies are at the forefront of many discussions.

Now, onto today’s episode...and a closer look at China’s role in the clean energy transition.

Live from Manila, talking to us on the last evening of ASEF is my colleague from WRI, Shengnian Xu, a research associate here at WRI's energy program in WRI China. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Shengnian Xu, WRI China (1:48 – 1:50)

Hi Daniel. Glad to be here.

Daniel Baker (1:51 – 2:32)

Having heard from a few other WRI researchers so far, we know that one of the big themes this year at ACEF is the goal of countries to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030. You presented on agrivoltaics today, a new and really cool innovative approach to...increasing renewable energy across China. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about first, what the heck agrivoltaics is in the first place, but two, how it kind of relates to, again, that really big goal to triple renewable energy by 2030?

Shengnian Xu, WRI China (2:33 – 3:26)

So agrivoltaics is a concept of solar PV installations at the same site of agriculture So it is a dual use of land. As you may know, solar PV projects require a lot of land and sometimes inevitably, invade the agricultural land .

So, for the triple RE (renewable energy) target, we need a lot of solar PV installations and we need a lot of land. A nd sometimes we need the agricultural land because it's very close it's close to the community society, close to the demand side. So this is good to use that kind of land simultaneously as the agricultural activity going on.

Daniel Baker (3:27 – 3:56)

The concept of tying the, or really putting the, supply of renewable energy closer to demand, why is agrivoltaics such a good way to get that done rather than trying to find other places to put solar panels or wind farms or anything like that? How come agrivoltaics is such a productive use of space?

Shengnian Xu, WRI China (3:58 – 4:36)

Actually in China, the agrivoltaics installation capacity is only like maybe 10% of that. So it's not a huge component of solar PV project, but it’s one important one, still. The project size can be as small as 10 kilowatt and reach to 1 gigawatt. And it can be used toward various agricultural activities.

Daniel Baker (4:37 – 5:22)

Maybe a better question to get into the aggregate takes is the idea of co-benefits. And one of the major themes that we've been hearing at ACEF is that the clean energy transition needs to be good for not only nature and climate, but also people. Can you elaborate a little bit more on agrivoltaics and how it is not just a great way to add renewable energy capacity to a system, but also why it brings a lot of additional benefits to the community?

Shengnian Xu, WRI China (5:23 – 6:03)

Yeah, usually when we develop agrivoltaic projects, the community will be involved, and the farms will be involved, and the revenue will be shared with the farmers there. So, this project can improve the local community's livelihoods. So, it's a good way to provide equal revenue share to the local communities, to the farmers, during the huge, like, fast development of renewable energies and this energy transition and the triple RE target achievement.

Daniel Baker (6:04 – 6:39)

China, obviously, being the global leader at this point in clean energy, they've been dealing with some various challenges, and again, you mentioned air pollution, and also how ADB, the Asian Development Bank, who is the host of ACEF, how they have worked with China to start cleaning that up, because of the air pollution [and]  quality of life, really big issue. So can you tell our listeners a bit more about that intersection between what ADB did working with China  to improve air quality?

Shengnian Xu, WRI China (6:40 – 9:10)

They held a China's special event, a one-day event, and it's designed to share the Chinese experience and actions supported by ADB. One of the biggest topics or issues they have been supporting in China, during the past decade, is about is about air quality improvement in the greater Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei region. This used to be a severe problem in China, especially in the northeast region of China; people tried to flee Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei like10 years ago because of the air pollution – especially the foreigners, during that time...because the number of these air pollution [PM2.5 particulate matter] can be 500 and sometimes during the various severe days it's reached out to 1,000. You cannot see anything there, especially during the heating season of the winter time.

So, the ADB supported the Chinese government to do the air quality improvement program in this area. They showed one example in Shandong province. It's called the District Clean Heating and Cooling Solutions for the Net-Zero Emission Future of China. So, they helped to build the first coal-free clean heating demonstration county in China. They used 33,000 air-source heat pumps there. And they also helped to build the one net-zero village in another province, in Shanxi Province. This is a very good example of how they use energy storage, solar PV, and all kinds of energy efficiency improvements there. So, this is a one example of a future net-zero village for other areas, other provinces in China.

Daniel Baker (9:11 – 9:46)

An entire village being net-zero, that is really inspiring to hear. You also touched on the coal-free clean heat. And that, I'm sure, is something that a lot of countries are aspiring to, because globally, there's still too much reliance on fossil fuels, in particular, coal is very prominent in Asia. Western countries as well, but as we're talking about ACEF and the clean energy transition in Asia, how prominent is coal in discussions at ACEF?

Shengnian Xu, WRI China (9:46 – 10:22)

Coal power plants are mentioned because ADB also has its own energy transition for the coal power plant; it's called ETM mechanism. So, this is about to call early retirement, similar to the JETP, the Just [Energy] Transition Partnership, but it's not a major topic here. ACEF, I think it's more about innovations and solutions so we can achieve the triple RE target in the future.

Daniel Baker (10:23 – 10:38)

OK, that's super fair. As we're approaching the end of the conference, is there something that you learned that really stuck out that you think is going to really help your research moving forward?  What's been the standout?

Shengnian Xu, WRI China (10:39 – 12:02)

During the ACEF meetings, critical minerals was mentioned almost everywhere. And as you know, critical minerals and supply chain it's one of the most important pillars in the WRI energy global program. As we already have a lot of colleagues from different offices in different countries, Indonesia and Europe, and India, China, and the DC office. So I think we are forming a team, you know, to touch this topic and to make our efforts.

Then another thing. I’ve seen a lot of innovations have been created by a lot of, like, local NGOs. They share their insights. There are special ones in the in Philippines about the EV boat. So, they help to build the EV boat with the solar panel on the top, so they can save a lot of, like, energy with zero emissions, and the cost is lower. So, it's it's like an EV but like in the water. Definitely some innovation for the island countries.

Daniel Baker (12:03 – 12:19)

Yeah, that's super cool. Was that for a particular size of boat? Because I know the shipping industry is responsible for a large chunk of emissions on the ocean. Were they for bigger ships or right now it's kind of starting on the smaller side?

Shengnian Xu, WRI China (12:20 – 12:24)

The smaller side, like the village people, farmers, fishery for their like fishery.

Daniel Baker (12:25 – 12:41)

Gotcha. All right. Well, we'll keep our eyes on the water and critical minerals. Shanyin, thank you so much for taking time out of your evening live from Manila, wrapping up ACEF with us, and hope to continue the conversation at another time.

Shengnian Xu, WRI China (12:42 – 12:44)

Good talk to you, Daniel. Thank you.

Daniel Baker (12:45 – 13:30)

Again, I want to say a big thank you to Shengnian Xu for giving us the inside look at ACEF 2024 and the global leader in renewable energy...China.

We’ll be back next week to examine the immediate impact of the forum...and see if Marlon’s prediction for us not to expect any major agreements to be reached held true.

You can revisit all of our ACEF coverage on wri.org/podcasts. Don’t forget to leave us a 5-star rating on whatever podcast streaming platform you listened to this on. 

From my colleagues at WRI, my name is Daniel Baker. Thanks for listening! 

 

 

Episode 4: Impact of the ACEF 2024

Looking back on the Asian Development Bank’s Asia Clean Energy Forum (ACEF), WRI experts, Marlon Apanada and Jennie Chen explain the important role that WRI plays as a thought-leader, as well as convening stakeholders and implementing innovating solutions to help Asia achieve its clean energy transition goals.

Apanada and Chen explore pre-conference predictions and anticipate upcoming major regional agreements that will impact the future of renewable energy on the continent, as well as how WRI’s work aids Asia in meeting these goals while ensuring benefits for people, nature and climate.

Episode 4 Transcript

Marlon Apanada, WRI Climate & Energy (0:00 – 0:27)

And as a thought leader on how to balance energy transition, energy security, and energy affordability, WRI is a respected institution that has been given the trust and mandate by various important stakeholders, to usher and guide other stakeholders, [to] navigate the complexities of such ambitious but much needed goals.

Daniel Baker (0:32 – 1:48)

You are listening to WRI’s Big Ideas Into Action Podcast – and the final look back on ACEF 2024, as part of our coverage of the Asia Clean Energy Forum. My name is Daniel Baker; the host, editor, and producer for the whole series.

Before it all began, we heard that the focus of this year’s conference, hosted by the Asian Development Bank or ADB for short, was the goal of tripling renewable energy and the role of critical minerals in the clean energy transition.

During the week-long conference, we heard from researchers based in China, India, Indonesia about their work – ranging from greening heavy-emmitting industry to achieving ambitious national-level targets.

Now that the proverbial dust has settled, it’s time to pause and reflect. For that, we welcome back Marlon Apanada, Southeast Asia Engagement Lead for Energy & Climate at WRI, and for the first time, hear from Jennie Chen, Senior Manager for Clean Energy in WRI’s Energy Program – who you might remember from WRI’s famous Stories to Watch from this year.

Marlon and Jennie, thanks for joining me today!

Marlon Apanada, WRI Climate & Energy (1:50 – 1:53)

It's our pleasure, Daniel, and happy to be back.

Jennie Chen, WRI Energy (1:54 – 1:58) 

Hi, Daniel. Thanks for having me and good to see you again, Marlon.

Daniel Baker (1:59 – 2:06)

All right, first off, Jenny, this was your first ACEF experience. What were your impressions from the week-long conference? How was it?

Jennie Chen, WRI Energy (2:07 – 3:04)

I work in policy to facilitate improving and expanding the way that we share electricity across broader regions through electricity markets and infrastructure. We want to do this so we can efficiently transition from fossils to renewable energy. While I sit in Washington, D.C., many of the concepts, challenges and solutions are common across the world. ACEF was a one-stop-shop for me to connect face-to-face with our regional partners working on the same mission, to improve and expand on the Southeast Asian power grid. But at the same time, it was really wonderful to learn more about similar issues that other regions across Asia were also facing.

And of course, it was alway s great to see some of my WRI colleagues from China, India, Indonesia, Southeast Asia as well, presenting on the work that they do and attend their sessions as well.

 Daniel Baker (3:05 – 3:16)

Yeah, that's great to hear it left a good impression overall. And Marlon, this was certainly not your first rodeo, as they say. How did ACEF 2024 stack up to previous years?

Marlon Apanada, WRI Climate & Energy (3:17 - 4:29)

This year's ACEF was indeed special because it comes off big urgent calls for global action at COP28, at the conference of parties in Dubai, right? And we are now at this very tipping point of urgent action because of the need to decarbonize our world, to be aligned to the 1.5-degree warming trajectory.

So, 2024 marks the 19th year of the Asia Clean Energy Forum. So it's close to celebrating its two decades of being this premier regional forum. And the world in 2004 was very different, right. At that time, renewable energy was still not as competitively priced as today. Battery energy storage solutions were just pipe dreams at that time. So this year lent a certain sense of urgency, a sense of action, and a sense of collaboration compared to years past.

Daniel Baker (4:30 – 4:49)

Oh, that's great to hear for a gathering of really the leaders in this field. And ahead of ACEF Marlon, you said that WRI was closely watching you know the national commitments to tripling renewable energy by 2030 – that's a number we've heard throughout the series – was any progress made on that front?

Marlon Apanada, WRI Climate & Energy (4:50 – 6:16)

In the context of Asia, which is the center of the center of the world in terms of shared decarbonization goals and climate imperatives, the need to decarbonize and accelerate the clean energy transition will need to be balanced and will be framed as a way to secure energy supplies and to ensure affordability, given the needs of the population and the businesses here.

Tripling of renewables will be a key strategy towards that, right? So I believe that was achieved in this year's ACEF, but it also recognized that tripling of renewables will have intended and unintended consequences and impacts to nature, people, and planet; which is really what WRI is all about.

So, the concept of the guardrails to ensure that nature, people, and planet are considered in this massive rollout of renewables. We're looking at an additional, at least 20 gigawatts of new RE [renewable energy] that will need to happen, over the six-year span marching onto 2030. That needs to really consider its impact to minerals, to biodiversity, and others. And I believe that was surfaced and in fact elevated in this year's ACEF, which is very important to WRI.

Daniel Baker (6:17 – 7:05)

Yeah, and I think one of the things that stands out for that goal is the cooperation that's going to have to happen between the countries, which leads to the next question. And in a separate conversation that listeners will hear in an upcoming WRI podcast series, Beni Suryadi from the ASEAN Center for Energy, said that in the Southeast Asia region in particular, countries are embracing the regional integration through the Asian power grids to optimize resources and match with demand.

Jennie, you presented on grids during this conference and that's kind of your specialty as far as electric transmission. What can you share about the future of electricity grids in Asia?

Jennie Chen, WRI Energy (7:06 – 9:10)

Demand is growing worldwide, actually, due to data center growth; we're all on the internet doing everything online now. Electricity demand is also growing due to the electrification of transportation, of industry, of buildings, and we know that manufacturing is also driving increased demand. So, for example, semiconductors are needed and in many electronic parts can be very energy intensive to manufacture; crypto mining, Bitcoin, is also very energy intensive.

So, the private sector also recognizes some of this and they have goals, corporate goals to decarbonize their entire supply chains. Many of these companies have operations based in Southeast Asia. And the decision-makers in Southeast Asia are coming around to better understand the impacts of these new trends on the electricity grid in the region.

Upcoming, something to look out for later on this summer and early fall, is a renewal of a very important agreement in Southeast Asia on the ASEAN power grid. There is a memorandum of understanding between the ASEAN member states that is up for renewal, and how we structure the new agreement into a framework agreement that enables Southeast Asia to build strong institutions, infrastructures, as well as markets for electricity sharing will very greatly impact the ability for the region to cost-effectively integrate more renewable energy.

So look out for some more information and news later on this summer. ah There's going to be some big meetings in Vientiane. There are going to be some very important meetings in Laos, where decision-makers look to finalize some of the language to to that very important agreement.

Daniel Baker (9:11 – 9:50)

Again, it's really great to see a reinforcing of cooperation and collaboration between these countries as they are all kind of reaching and trying to achieve similar goals.

Marlon, back to you. Ahead of ACEF, you mentioned that it was not necessarily a conference for major deals or announcements to be made. We want to look back on that prediction. Did that hold true or is there anything that came out of ACEF 2024 that people who are following the energy space should be aware of in the lead up to COP 29?

Marlon Apanada, WRI Climate & Energy (9:51 – 12:27)

Alright, thanks Daniel and yeah, I want to pat myself on the back and say that, you know, my prediction was kind of correct, but indeed there’s a lot more to that, right, beyond just the formal announcements. Because ACEF is truly one of those platforms for energy stakeholders to continue collaborating and piece out certain topics that were already announced in prior conference of parties, or prior COPS, at clean energy ministerials, at the G20 meetings of the 20 most advanced economies in the world.

So, ACEF this year was also about that; a continuation and a teasing out, and providing more specificity and structure to things that are already ongoing. So as mentioned by Jennie, the ASEAN power grid agreements and the memorandum of understanding that needs to be renewed across the different member states will happen at the separate forums led by the ASEAN Center for Energy in Vientiane, Laos, but the conversation continued and all these bilateral meetings happened during ACEF.

So, another example is this announcement and collaboration on critical minerals that was first surfaced during the presidency of India of the G20 that the Asia Clean Energy Forum provided space for stakeholders to provide more specificity and granularity on this topic. The question on the topic that first emerged at the G20 in Indonesia as well, in 2022, around industrial decarbonization and the role of corporates was given prime space to be tackled and connected to the question of energy finance at ACEF as well.

So, you have three major topics: regional interconnectivity and enhanced power grids, on critical minerals, on industrial decarbonization, all of which are WRI topics and WRI subject matters of our expertise that were tackled at ACEF. And while there are no new declarations or announcements, the conversations continue so that stakeholders are all aligned leading up to the next conference of parties this year.

Daniel Baker (12:28 – 13:24)

That sounds great, and I'm really glad that you brought up critical minerals, as well. In one of our daily recaps, the second one we did with Shengnian Xu from WRI China, he mentioned that WRI expects to be a major player, at least behind the scenes, when it comes to deciding the future of critical minerals on the continent.

So, this question is for both of you, and really speaks to the nature of ACEF, and also what WRI does as a convener of stakeholders. One of the things that we do is bring together stakeholders, sometimes behind the scenes and not in the flashiest of ways. So, what kind of role do you see WRI playing in the clean energy transition in Asia overall? And so with that framing in mind we'll start with Marlon, first.

Marlon Apanada, WRI Climate & Energy (13:25 – 15:56)

So WRI is a recognized thought leader, convener, and implementer in the region in Southeast Asia and beyond, not just here, but also in other important geographies. And as a thought leader on how to balance [the] energy transition, energy security, and energy affordability, WRI is a respected institution that has been given the trust and mandate by various important stakeholders, to usher and guide other stakeholders, [to] navigate the complexities of such ambitious but much needed goals.

We have demonstrated that over the past several years. In fact, our WRI Indonesia team is part of the Secretariat of the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) in Indonesia. In Vietnam, we are set to partner with a national ministry in order to enable foreign direct investors [in the energy] transition and [to] decarbonize at a much faster rate. And in the Philippines, we are a trusted partner of the government to ensure that on the demand side, commercial and industrial energy users are able to transition alongside their supply chains.

We are also a convener. We have demonstrated that with the Asia Clean Energy Coalition. We are part of several networks that work with governments, philanthropies, and other civil society organizations to have a coherent, inclusive, sustainable way of managing the transition in Southeast Asia and beyond.

And now we are also becoming implementer, right? This is a new field for WRI, having our core strength, but now we are really doing on-the-ground scoping and implementation of energy transition goals. So, we're looking at the example of clean heat and thermal carbonization in Indonesia among supply chain factories of different multinational brands. We are doing the greenhouse gas accounting. We are doing the engagement for them to do scope one, scope two, [and] scope three decarbonization. And we're looking at ways to finance these solutions.

So WRI will have a thought leadership, convening, and an implementation role in this transition as we share the aims towards energy transition, energy affordability, and energy security.

Daniel Baker (15:57 – 16:44)

Jennie, back to you with a similar question and in particular, [I’m] happy to focus on your area of expertise with the grids because I think, you know, this might be a niche framing for energy nerds out there, but I think the grid is just often overlooked as arguably one of the most important aspects of any country's or regional goal to decarbonize because, you know, it's really the system that drives everything behind the scenes, very fittingly. So, as we talk about the electric grid, what is WRI's role in particular in Asia moving forward to help the continent reach its clean energy goals?

Jennie Chen, WRI Energy (16:45 – 18:40)

Daniel, you hit the nail on the head. Regional transmission planning, regional electricity markets, these are words that make a lot of people's eyes glaze over; essentially what does this all mean? There are a lot of details and many pieces that need [to be] put together to build an efficient grid and market system to really optimize how we generate and use energy, and maximize the amount of variable renewable resources that we can integrate onto the grid.

So, there are a lot of issues to discuss, but obviously we can't do this in isolation as a think tank. We work a lot with partners, a lot with stakeholders. So as Marlon mentioned, in convening a lot of these important stakeholders, we're not only developing solutions together, building consensus, and, you know, essentially doing the thought leadership in conjunction with others, but also in convening, we can also help disseminate information and bring others on board, and help others understand the benefits of regional electricity grids.

Of course, with a system so large, it is very difficult to convey the benefits to everyone and sometimes there are stakeholders that feel that they gain less than others, or they might feel like they're losing something in the process. And so how we distribute the overall benefits is also really important, to work out and ensure that everyone feels like they're getting a fair share of the economic benefits, the societal benefits from an expanded grid and market structure.

So, a lot of this fits together and just because there are a lot of details to this, a lot of consensus building, a lot of it necessarily has to be done behind the scenes. But it's very important work, and work that we really enjoy doing.

Daniel Baker (18:41 – 19:08)

Great to hear a succinct explanation of how WRI works behind the scenes, both at the country level and on a specific topic. Now, before we wrap up, this is for both of you. What's something new that you've learned or that you found particularly interesting at ACEF?

Now, it doesn't have to relate to WRI's work, but you do get bonus points if you can make that connection, of course. And for that, Jenny, we'll actually start with you on this one.

Jennie Chen, WRI Energy (19:09 - 21:43)

Everyone's just very generous with knowledge-sharing and welcoming of people that they haven't saw [or] met before, and open to new cultures. I very much enjoyed my time at the conference. The city was also very nice. It was very hot. It does tend to be very polluted; the air that people are breathing is not very nice. And so it really reminds me of all the important work that we do at WRI in ensuring that clean energy has equitable outcomes; that we're promoting energy that does not pollute the air, like the fossils that we have. We're promoting clean transport for people and it's a very stark reminder of all of the important work that many of my colleagues at WRI do.

One of the things that I thought that was really interesting was that in building out the grid, there are more advanced transmission technologies, and we don't always implement them, and this is a phenomenon that I see throughout the world. And it's understandable because, you know, many owners and operators of the electricity grid are mostly concerned about reliability. They tend to focus on implementing or building with the same kind of technologies that have always worked out for them. And so they tend to view newer technologies a little bit more skeptically. And these technologies can more efficiently transmit electricity with less land, with less materials.

And the interesting thing about Asia is because it's so densely populated, it's often difficult to expand the amount of land that we use to...to expand the grid. And so out of necessity or because we're trying to integrate so much electricity so quickly, newer technologies are being implemented a little bit more quickly in Asia than in some of the other parts of the world, because in some places it's the only solution.

I also have been hearing a little bit more about other greenhouse gases that are in electric infrastructure itself, like SF6. Some of these are greenhouse gases that are much more potent than carbon dioxide or methane. They exist in switch gear, for example, and I was very pleased to hear mention of some of these problematic gases and the attempts to replace these gases with less harmful gases. That was another nice mention of newer technology uptake and in Southeast Asia.

Daniel Baker (21:44 – 21:50)

And Marlon, your turn. Anything new that stood out from the conference that you want to share?

Marlon Apanada, WRI Climate & Energy (21:51 – 23:32)

So, being a longtime observer of the Asia Clean Energy Forum, this was the first ACEF where the entire five-day agenda was packed and there was no more space for side events from external organizations like WRI. But it was interesting to note that we can actually still pull off a sideline event, but still gets the attention and attendance of key participants, that really allows our different experts who are already there in Manila to come together, present, and engage with on-the-ground stakeholders. So we were able to pull off and have a rather successful and very well received expert's dialogue on corporate and industrial decarbonization.

The other realization that I got was, well, we're truly fortunate that we have a presence in Manila. ADB, the Asian Development Bank, will be very important in the whole climate action and energy transition story because they provide the concessional financing and they work with governments to enable governments access [to] technologies, financing and other sorts of capacity. Whether it's destiny, or by design, or by accident that we are, I'm located in Manila, that's great to realize that we have this connective issue to the Asian Development Bank; being an anchor actor in the energy transition story in Asia. So I'll leave it with that, and we still get bonus points because those are connected with our WRI work.

Daniel Baker (23:33 – 24:34)

Absolutely. Winners all around. Again, I want to say a big thank you to both of you, Jennie Chen and Marlon Apanada, for helping us look back at ACEF 2024 and how we were able to put it in the broader Asian context for the clean energy transition.

Thank you to all of our listeners and previous WRI experts for making this series possible. We hope that you have a better understanding of WRI's role in reaching critical global energy goals.

Don't forget, you can listen back to all of WRI's ACEF coverage on wri.org/podcasts. As I mentioned, we'll continue the energy conversation with a brand-new series called Turning Up Clean Energy in Asia. So stay tuned to WRI's podcast feed for more.

And don't forget to leave us a five-star rating on whatever podcast streaming platform you listened to this on. Every review counts. For my colleagues at WRI, my name is Daniel Baker. Thanks for listening.