Power connectivity in the Greater Mekong subregion
The need for a wider discourse
From mid-2021 to early-2022, the Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS), Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University and the Australia – Mekong Partnership for Environmental Resources and Energy Systems (AMPERES) collaborated with 24 researchers from academic institutions, think tanks and civil society organizations to prepare thirteen ‘think-pieces’ that explore the opportunities and challenges to sustainable and just electricity transformation in the Mekong Region.
Each think-piece contributes a layer of evidence and insight to understanding the dynamics of electricity in practice in the Mekong Region, ranging from analysis on the regional scaled plans for electricity trade, to examination of the national level processes on power development planning and its outcomes, to local level opportunities and challenges for decentralized off-grid electricity solutions. The aspiration of this collaborative initiative was not to assemble a consensus report, but rather to gather diverse viewpoints on the opportunities and challenges in attaining ‘sustainable and just electricity transformation’ in the Mekong Region. To this end, the report aims to set out some new terrains for the electricity debate at scales that range from the local to the regional, and is intended to stimulate public debate on the wide-ranging social, ecological and economic implications of electricity planning.
Ember contributed to this report in a think-piece titled “Power connectivity in the Greater Mekong subregion: The need for a wider discourse”, co-authored by Dr. Muyi Yang at Ember, Prof. Deepak Sharma at Asian Institute of Technology, and Prof. Xunpeng Shi and Dr. Kristy Mamaril at University of Technology Sydney.
Addressing the energy trilemma in the Greater Mekong Subregion
Regional power connectivity – in the context of this think-piece – refers to fully interconnected national electricity systems that enable the trading of electricity across countries (regions), facilitated by harmonised regulatory arrangements that ensure coordination in the operation (for example, generation scheduling and dispatch, and congestion management) and planning (such as long-term supply adequacy) of a regional electricity system.
It is considered as a key option for addressing the energy trilemma between energy decarbonisation, supply security, and affordability.
Through a historical analysis of the evolution of power connectivity in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS), the think piece develops the argument that regional power connectivity is a complex undertaking, shaped by a host of mutually interacting and unpredictably reinforcing influences.
In such settings, a natural strategy for policymakers to promote regional power connectivity is to remain focused on issues that are contained within the immediate confines of the electricity industry, such as insufficient infrastructure, lack of technical competence, and uncoordinated regulation. This is especially true when limited resources and tight deadlines combine to make a broader policy debate impractical.
Though useful, this approach towards regional power connectivity has failed to appreciate the influence of wider geopolitical and socio-economic contexts that have historically provided the impetus for regional power connectivity. It could produce policies that work initially. But these policies usually fail to progress power connectivity to a higher level. All too often such policy failure is attributed to some proximate external events rather than to shortcomings in the policy approach itself.
Therefore, the first essential step to deepening regional power connectivity is to broaden the debate on regional power connectivity to go beyond industry-specific issues to look at the interactions between regional power connectivity and the wider geo-political, socio-economic, and cultural contexts.