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Asia heat waves are undoubtedly putting the region’s renewable power fleet to the test and causing discomfort to millions of people. The extreme temperatures, surpassing 40 degrees Celsius in some areas, arrived earlier than expected, leading to widespread infrastructure damage and power outages.
These challenges highlight the urgent need for backup power supply, upgrades to transmission systems, and reforms in tariff structures to ensure the reliability of renewable energy sources and prevent any slowdown in their adoption.
China has already dealt with the repercussions of the early heatwave by keeping backup coal and gas-fired plants on standby. This made them ready to meet the sudden spikes in electricity demand, according to Rystad, a renowned consultancy firm.
In India’s leading solar power-producing state, Rajasthan, officials have been receiving “early warnings” about potential technical difficulties that may arise as renewable energy usage expands, as reported by a federal power ministry official. However, ensuring the reliability of the grid amidst rising temperatures will come at a cost.
India, in its efforts to address higher power demand, has decided to extend the lifespan of coal-fired power plants, while China is constructing new ones to ensure an adequate backup supply. Unfortunately, these measures may lead to increased emissions in the absence of proper regulations and policy reforms.
The vicious cycle of heat waves causing higher energy demand and subsequently contributing to climate change is a cause for concern. Malavika Bambawale, APAC managing director at Engie’s sustainability division Engie Impact, emphasizes the importance of breaking this cycle.
One of the major challenges lies in the absence of incentives for running coal or gas-based power plants for only a few peak hours a day in many Asian countries. Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Clean Energy and Air, suggests that the absence of proper tariff structures may lead grid operators to rely heavily on fossil fuel plants.
Recognizing the need for flexible generation, China and India have been exploring various strategies to incentivize it. India recently announced plans to reduce power tariffs during the day, when solar power is readily available, and increase them during peak night hours starting April 2024.
Despite the challenges, Asia has experienced remarkable growth in green energy capacity. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, the region witnessed a 12% increase in green energy capacity in 2022, the fastest rate among major regions.
Wood Mackenzie predicts that the share of renewables, including hydro, in Asia’s power mix will double from 2011 levels to 28% this year. Wind and solar power, which accounted for only 1% in 2011, will contribute 14% to the total mix.
However, the state of Rajasthan in India serves as a cautionary tale. Voltage fluctuations caused by the inconsistent nature of solar power output have become increasingly difficult to control. Vietnam provides another cautionary example. During a recent heatwave, over half of Vietnam’s installed capacity became unavailable, resulting in widespread blackouts. The low water levels at hydropower dams and the failure to fully integrate newly installed solar capacity were the primary causes of this energy crisis.
In conclusion, as Asia heat waves put the renewable power fleet to the test, experts emphasize the importance of strategic planning and coordination. By strategically placing solar farms and other renewable energy sources closer to population centres, the stress on the grid can be reduced, and the reliability of the system can be improved. Furthermore, investing in advanced technologies and storage solutions is crucial for managing intermittent renewable energy sources.