Brunei Darussalam: US offers helping hand with renewable energy

With solar and biowaste power plants already under development, Brunei Darussalam has demonstrated its willingness to meet the renewable energy goals set by the ASEAN community. A recent agreement with the US could provide an extra boost to these efforts and encourage investors.

In March 2013, the US Department of Energy deputy secretary, Daniel Poneman, and the Brunei Darussalam minister of energy, Mohammad Yasmin Umar, met at the prime minister’s office, with the officials proposing to set up a joint working group on renewable energy.

The group, to be called the East Asia Summit Energy Cooperation Task Force, follows in the wake of a larger initiative, the US-Asia Pacific Comprehensive Partnership for a Sustainable Energy Future, which is committed to increasing access to electricity across Asia. In line with regional priorities, the partnership is focused on renewable energy, encouraging the use of wind, solar, geothermal and other sustainable sources. The US has committed to providing up to $6bn in support through the partnership, in part through financing from the US Export-Import Bank.

A number of projects have been proposed for the task force, such as the establishment of a public-private dialogue on removing barriers to investment in alternative energy projects. The group will also promote the dissemination of information that could facilitate investments. This will include releasing data on solar power technology testing at Brunei Darussalam's new demonstration facility, mapping renewable energy resources in South-east Asia and improving access to resources of the US-based Clean Energy Solutions Centre.

The Sultanate has the capacity to generate 1.2 MW of renewable energy, all from the Tenaga Suria Brunei solar plant in Seria. However, like other ASEAN countries, Brunei Darussalam has committed to having 15% of total installed power coming from renewable sources by 2015, meaning the country will need to install more than 50 MW of new capacity. While solar is one of Brunei Darussalam’s most promising forms of alternative energies, hydro and wind-sourced power have been identified as possibilities. In 2011, energy officials also started looking at biomass and recycled waste heat from existing natural gas-fired power plants to boost energy supply from renewable sources.

To this end, in March the government opened tenders for the construction of a waste-to-energy plant in Telisai. This project is part of an ongoing feasibility study being conducted by the Centre for Strategic and Policy Studies on alternative energy sources in Brunei Darussalam.

The waste-to-energy facility is expected to have the capacity to produce about 24 MW of energy and will open up new job opportunities for locals and reduce pollution. Minister of Finance II Abd Rahman Ibrahim indicated that the project will take the form of a public-private partnership.

To boost solar efforts, the government is keen on establishing feed-in electricity tariffs to provide incentives for Bruneians who invest in renewable energy for their homes. In January 2013, officials confirmed that citizens who sell the excess power generated by their rooftop solar panels could be rewarded under the feed-in scheme.

Another facet of energy sustainability that leaders are being encouraged to examine is power consumption management, with a visiting expert saying last September that conservation efforts are just as important as generating electricity through alternative means. In an interview with the Brunei Times, Alan Dale Gonzales, the chairman of the World Alliance for Thai Decentralised Energy Association, highlighted the benefits of lowering usage.

"Energy efficiency, especially in a place like Brunei where people are not really conscious of the energy they consume... they can save so much. And once you start saving energy, that is when you start thinking about renewable energy because your consumption is reduced, your demand is reduced and therefore the capacity of renewable energy you need to implement is also reduced," he said.

While promoting efficiency could be an important element of the government’s plans, it will also need to continue its efforts to develop alternative energy sources if it is to meet ASEAN objectives.

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