Power to ASEAN: Energy Security in Southeast Asia

AAYLF delegate from Australia Kate Fletcher explores environment as the fourth pillar of ASEAN-Australia cooperation. 

In August this year, I was in Jakarta, the capital city of ASEAN’s largest member, Indonesia. It was around midday on a Sunday, when suddenly the air-conditioning switched off. Losing power briefly is not unusual, but fast forward to about 9pm that evening, and my accommodation had put candles all throughout the hallways to illuminate the continued pitch-black darkness. I couldn’t charge my phone, so turned it off to save the last 10% of battery for an emergency. Passengers had to be evacuated from Jakarta’s new mass rapid transit (MRT) system, the airport and hospitals were just continuing to function thanks to back-up generators, cellular phone networks were disrupted, and traffic was in disarray as traffic lights went out. The usual hustle and bustle of Greater Jakarta was eerily quiet as up to 10 million people spent over 8 hours without any electricity [11].

Energy security is defined as having economical access to fuel and energy resources [2]. Southeast Asia’s energy demands have grown 60% over the past 15 years and is forecast to grow by another two-thirds by 2040 [3]. ‘ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together’ addresses the issue of energy security in the ‘Economic Community Blueprint’ in section C.4, outlining energy connectivity and market integration throughout ASEAN [4] as key. Energy security is crucial to ensure ASEAN’s continued economic growth and to ensure living standards continue to improve.

In 1999, the ASEAN Centre for Energy (ACE) was established to represent ASEAN Member States’ (AMS) interests in the energy sector. An enhancement in 2015 means ACE serves as a think tank to identify innovative solutions, a catalyst to strengthen cooperation and a data centre and knowledge hub [5]. However, in March 2019, ‘Renewable Energy Transition’ Report (released by KPMG) found that there are still 70 million ASEAN citizens without access to reliable electricity[6].

These energy reliability issues are pressing within themselves. However, as we become increasingly aware of the impact climate change will have on the ASEAN region, it is crucial to look to renewable energy sources. Currently, AMS are heavily reliant on coal and oil as energy sources [7]. In 2017, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and ASEAN set a target of securing 23% of its primary energy from renewable sources by 2025 [8]. In addition to this, AMS are setting their own renewable energy targets [9] (see below). ACE has highlighted that cost-reductions on renewable energy would be one of the major benefits of renewable energy cooperation in ASEAN [10].

It’s hard to not notice the acute effects of climate change at home in Australia. Simply watching the news highlights that bushfires are more intense [11], and droughts are lasting longer [12]. As climate changes in varying ways throughout the world, Australia and ASEAN can work together to increase investment into renewable energy sources to mitigate this. The ‘Plan of Action to Implement the ASEAN-Australia Strategic Partnership’ encourages the promotion of energy security “through the development of renewable and alternative energy sources”, indicating a step in the right direction [13]. As the leaders of tomorrow, we owe it to future generations to invest in energy security to increase living standards and continued growth, but also to do this sustainably to alleviate the ever-growing threat of climate change. So, what would we, as young people, recommend?

  • Investment into research and development into renewable energy technology – furthermore, localised R&D can create more effective solutions for specific climates throughout the region. 
  • Continue to advance free trade agreements and promote investment in renewable energy, so Australia and AMS can work together to contribute to different stages of construction of mechanisms to harness renewable energy technology. One of the primary causes of delay for renewable energy development is costs [14], so lowering these should be a priority.
  • Communicate and exchange best practices, successful strategies and technical advice to ensure all Australia and the entirety of ASEAN is fully equipped to transition from non-sustainable energy sources to renewable energy.


  1. “Jakarta Comes Back Online After Power Blackout Hits 10 Million People For Nine Hours”. 2019. ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-05/power-returned-to-jakarta-after-blackout-hits-10-million-people/11382670
  2. Senderov, Sergey, and Sergey Vorobev. 2018. “Ensuring Energy Security In ASEAN Countries: Current Trends And Major Challenges”. E3S Web Of Conferences 27 (02002): 1-14. doi:10.1051/e3sconf/20182702002.
  3. “Keeping Southeast Asia’s Energy Secure”. 2018. The ASEAN Post. https://theaseanpost.com/article/keeping-southeast-asias-energy-secure
  4. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations. 2015. “ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together” (pg. 83). The ASEAN Secretariat, Jakarta: The ASEAN Secretariat. https://asean.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/67.-December-2015-ASEAN-2025-Forging-Ahead-Together-2nd-Reprint.pdf
  5. “Introduction – ASEAN Centre For Energy”. 2019. Aseanenergy.Org. https://www.aseanenergy.org/about-ace/introduction/
  6. Thomas, Jason. 2019. “ASEAN Fast Becoming A Renewable Energy Hub”. The ASEAN Post. https://theaseanpost.com/article/asean-fast-becoming-renewable-energy-hub
  7. “Keeping Southeast Asia’s Energy Secure” The ASEAN Post.
  8. “Joint Statement Of The First Dialogue Between The ASEAN Ministers On Energy Meeting And International Renewable Energy Agency”. 2019. ASEAN. https://asean.org/joint-statement-of-the-first-dialogue-between-the-asean-ministers-on-energy-meeting-and-international-renewable-energy-agency/
  9. Ariffin, Eijas. 2018. “The Need For Renewable Energy Cooperation”. The ASEAN Post. https://theaseanpost.com/article/need-renewable-energy-cooperation.
  10. Ibid.
  11. “Australia Bushfires Are ‘Hotter, More Intense'”. 2019. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/av/49659128/australia-bushfires-are-now-hotter-and-more-intense.
  12. Freund, Mandy, and Benjamin Henley. 2019. “Recent Australian Droughts May Be The Worst In 800 Years”. Climate And Energy College, The University Of Melbourne. http://climatecollege.unimelb.edu.au/recent-australian-droughts-may-be-worst-800-years.
  13. ASEAN. 2015. “Plan Of Action To Implement The ASEAN-Australia Strategic Partnership (2015-2019)” (pg. 7). ASEAN. https://asean.org/storage/images/2015/November/ASEAN-Australia/ASEAN-Australia%20Strategic%20Partnership%20POA%202015-2019-Final.pdf.
  14. Pickford, Andrew. 2017. “The Transformation Of ASEAN: Energy Security Implications”. Indo-Pacific Energy Security Program: Volume 2. Perth USAsia Centre. https://perthusasia.edu.au/PerthUSAsia/media/Perth_USAsia/PUAC-Energy-Security-Vol2-ASEAN.pdf.

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