10/13/15 : Daniel Bresette

Energy Efficiency: A Winning Strategy in Southeast Asia

Thanks to the generosity of the U.S. Department of State, the hospitality of the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore, I had the great privilege to travel to Singapore in September as part of a small group of energy efficiency advocates and practitioners to share experiences with delegations from across Southeast Asia. It was a fantastic professional and cultural experience. 

This year’s trip was a continuation of a similar workshop held last year, but with a specific focus on the opportunities and challenges of energy efficiency financing. My contributions to the official program included a presentation on innovative financing mechanisms; moderation of a panel discussing the importance of codes, standards and regional harmonization; and working with the attendees differentiated by country. During the break-out sessions, I huddled with the Cambodian and Laotian delegations. We also took a field trip to the UWC South East Asia’s East Campus to learn about sustainability and energy efficiency design, including one of the world’s most efficient chiller plants.  

Just as in the U.S., energy efficiency opportunities abound in the cities and villages across the region. And we also share in common a key hurdle: access to affordable and accessible capital to finance improvements. One major difference between the financing landscape in Southeast Asia—in this case, the home countries of the attendees that include Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam—and in the U.S. is the lack of a mature energy savings performance contract (ESPC) market. This is especially relevant towards making improvements in government-owned facilities, which is the first step many counties take to lead by example. Attendees heard extensive remarks about developing ESPCs and working with energy services companies (ESCOs) from financing experts Thomas Dreessen (EPS Capital Corp.) and David McAndrews (U.S. Department of Energy).

Financing tools such as ESPCs will be increasingly important to countries in Southeast Asia because of the multiplying positive effects of energy efficiency. One compelling reason to invest in energy efficiency is the boost it gives to a nation’s energy productivity and competitiveness. Another is the beneficial relationship between improved economic outcomes (e.g., sustainable job creation, better environmental conditions, market transformation) and mitigation of risks inherent in world energy markets. While in Singapore, I saw these global dynamics in action. This underscores the significance of the Global Alliance for Energy Productivity initiative spearheaded by the Alliance. 

After our daily sessions—shifting to tourist mode—many of us would venture out to restaurants and markets to sample local favorites. I am happy to report that the food (I tended toward Indian most of the time) was delicious and the Tiger beer was cold and refreshing! We also had time to explore the business district, Little India and Chinatown. Additionally, one of my favorite excursions was a late-night trip to Night Safari, next to Singapore’s world-famous national zoo, where an electric tram and footpaths brings you face-to-face with fruit bats, flying squirrels, elephants, hyenas, leopards and dozens of other animals. 

This was my first trip to Singapore, which I found to be vibrant and friendly. The visit was a learning experience, both professionally and culturally. Clearly, Southeast Asia and the U.S. share common challenges and opportunities related to the advancement of energy-efficient practices. This trip has strengthened my opinion that international policy coordination remains vital towards securing an energy-efficient future across all regions.