SINGAPORE, Nov. 2 (UPI) -- Southeast Asian nations should make it a priority to implement a region-wide energy grid, government officials said.
Ministers from Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore attending the Singapore Energy Summit said that while such a power grid was important for the region's energy security, it should be carried out in phases.
S Iswaran, a minister in the Singapore Prime Minister's Office, said an ASEAN grid should be carried out in phases because some countries were already connected on a sub-regional level. ASEAN nations include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore Thailand and Vietnam.
Cross-border energy flows that currently exist include natural gas piped from Malaysia to Singapore and hydropower that Laos sells to Thailand.
Yet obstacles to ASEAN energy connectivity remain, such as inconsistent pricing policies, uneven market liberalization and lack of clear political direction, the ministers said.
While the idea of an ASEAN-wide grid "can be quite overwhelming and daunting," Iswaran said, thinking of it instead "as a connection between geographically contiguous ASEAN member states in order to serve each other's needs, then the logic is quite compelling."
Iswaran said Singapore was considering importing electricity, including renewable sources which could be fed into the country's system. Natural gas, imported mostly from Malaysia and Indonesia, fuels 80 percent of Singapore's electricity needs.
Iswaran stressed that government policies need to be structured in a way that encourages private sector investment.
"Governments can conceive (of the plans) but we really need the private sector to come in to execute," he said.
Malaysian Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Sri Idris Jala said natural gas was more likely to be the driver for an ASEAN grid rather than electricity trade, noting that pipelines are less complicated than connecting electrical power on a grid.
Although the Philippines would likely be the last nation connected to an ASEAN grid because of its remote location, it still supports the concept as a way of increasing the diversity of the region's energy supplies, said Secretary of Energy Jose Rene Almendras.
Feed-in-tariffs, he said, were necessary in the Philippines to encourage clean energy alternatives to diesel generators typically used on the country's islands.
The Singapore Energy Summit is part of the fourth annual Singapore International Energy Week in progress until Friday under the theme "Securing our Energy Future," with some 16,000 industry leaders, policymakers, energy experts and professionals attending.