Mine the gap: Pursuing growth through a transition from dirty to clean data

AAYLF delegate from Australia Ian Buck explores the rise of ASEAN’s digital economy and future opportunities for data and energy sectors in the region. 


If I asked you, what is the most valuable resource currently being mined? You may think of resources used in construction, electronics or energy. If you thought of a resource that has come directly from the ground, you’d be wrong. According to the economist, data is now the world’s most valuable ‘mined’ resource [1]. They are intrinsically linked with potentially dire environmental consequences if growth is not managed sustainably [2]. 

Rise of the ASEAN’s Digital Economy

The fourth industrial revolution is transforming our primary economies into digital economies. ASEAN now has a population of 630 million people, globally the third largest labour force [3], and its digital economy is projected to grow by 500% to be worth over US$200 billion by 2025 [4].

Digital economies and businesses rely on mining customer data and increasingly cryptocurrencies for ecommerce. With a growing consumer class [5], more people and businesses are online, leading to an explosion of data generation which offers a plethora of opportunities for new personalised services and offerings.

Digital consumption is set to have a bigger impact than aviation on our planet. Image: Andrzej Krauze via The Guardian

Coming back down to the ground

As data mining and cryptocurrency use is growing, so are the requirements. With every mobile phone, IoT device and cryptocurrency, exponential amount of data is created and requires to be sent through to servers and stored in data centres with ample energy to run. This is where the connection from the data mine to the physical mine comes in. 


ASEAN and Australia’s energy relationship

As the digital economy grows, as does the demand for minerals and energy to build technology and power it. Coal is the backbone of the ASEAN region’s energy mix, at 32% in 2013 growing to 50% by 2040 [6]. Meeting this energy demand may lead to an increase in price as competition for energy increases with still 120 million people living without electricity across the region [7].

Australia has supported Asia and the ASEAN region through this growth period as resource-based economy, contributing to 50% of our national export earnings[8] and looks to continue to serve their energy needs through the provision of coal [9].


The Cost

However, coal comes at a high price. South East Asia is the epicentre for climate impacts and security risks globally [10]. The growing frequency and severity of the effects of climate change may affect interstate relations through humanitarian crises, migration, and/or a need for greater imports of vital goods. These forces will destabilise the region unless we act to build resilience in these communities [11].  If we are not able to support affected nations suitably, we could see climate security ramifications with large migrations of people [12].

The ASEAN region faces a dual challenge, it must adapt to climate change due to existing emissions in the atmosphere, and simultaneously look to transition to cleaner forms of energy. This is the ASEAN-Australian opportunity.


Australia needs to find new revenue drivers to diversify its economic base [13] and the ASEAN region needs more energy to fuel its growing digital economy and accelerate its clean energy transition.

Australia is a global leader in deploying renewable energy, growing at a per capita rate ten times faster than the world average [14]. Through initiatives like the Australia-Singapore Power Link [15], we can use this capacity and expertise through linking to an ASEAN-wide power grid to provide access to more reliable energy supplies and establish ‘microgrids’. This will in turn provide energy security, reduce emissions and provide significant investment to the region while providing new sources of growth for Australia [16].

Through the transition from dirty data to clean data, Australia and the ASEAN region can ensure economic prosperity as we move towards the fourth industrial revolution. 


More to explore