Interview: A Sustainable Energy Transition with Andrew Bedford
Andrew Bedford, Director for Energy Transition at Jacobs
What is the potential of scaling up integrated energy systems in Asia?
There is significant potential in developing decentralized power grids – particularly where power grids aren’t fully established or are in off-grid locations and remote islands in countries such as Indonesia or the Philippines. Nowadays, it is often far more economical to develop micro-grids incorporating renewables and energy storage than build large-scale grid infrastructure. Apart from achieving security of supply, decentralized grids can help reduce the need for biomass fuel or wood for cooking and heating purposes, which contribute to air pollution and health hazard, as well as deforestation and forest degradation. In my view, decentralized power grids and the development of more resilient micro-grids are as important as regional power integration.
Meanwhile, regional interconnection of the power grid between countries is picking up momentum with a number of lines under study or development. This includes the world’s first intercontinental power grid, Sun Cable planned to run between Australia, Indonesia and Singapore. By drawing renewable energy from areas with the best resource potential to nations with poor renewable resources, interconnection of power grids has huge potential to scale up regionally to expand the trade of low carbon energy, manage intermittency of renewables, and help boost trade.
In other sectors such as transportation, Electric Vehicle (EV) rollout continues to ramp up in Asia. While it’s a welcome approach to decarbonize cities, transport sector and improve urban air quality, significant investments will be required in energy infrastructure in the near term to build capacity and incorporate greater sophistication into its management so that each country’s ambitious targets can be met without disruption, as fast-charging vehicle systems can place significant strain on local power networks. In the future, we should see smarter grids that incorporate intelligent management of assets to boost efficiency, reliability, and manage variability in supply & demand.
Energy demand in Southeast Asia alone is expected to grow at a rate twice the global average over the next 20 years, how do we handle this rise in demand in a sustainable manner?
Often, the less popular yet the easiest way to reduce energy demand is to incentivize energy efficiency and utilization of more efficient technologies. However, energy is often subsidized and the legislation or regulations are not in place to drive behavioral change for consumers and commercial markets. For example, energy-efficient products and technologies can significantly reduce energy consumption and are already available on the market today. Governments and enforcement agencies can regulate minimum energy performance standards to commercialize only the best performance and energy-efficient goods and discontinue supply of non-compliant goods that are still on the market. In ASEAN region, only Singapore has truly managed to decouple economic growth and the carbon intensity of its economy and has done so through an intense focus on monitoring and incentivizing efficiency across all sectors of its economy.
More broadly, the development of renewable sources as well as direct electrification, combined with various forms of energy storage would be key to meet future demand and unlock ASEAN’s most promising renewable energy market. In my insight paper on Asia’s energy transition conundrum, I elaborated on how many Asian countries that currently produce and export energy have the potential to become net energy importers in the coming years. Developments to boost domestic sources of energy production from wind, solar, hydro, rivers, tidal, waves as well as geothermal will reduce reliance on imported energy while at the same time, can help improve trade within the local economy, and create employment opportunities during the construction, operations and maintenance of these assets.
Meanwhile, the long-awaited ASEAN power grid continues to be planned, discussed and is progressively coming to realization line by line. When fully commissioned, it will significantly improve the resilience of regional power grids and enable a more fluid trade of low-carbon energy across the region. There is already significant pent-up demand for renewables, low-carbon Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) or Virtual PPAs, potentially bringing these concepts much closer to fruition as major global corporations look to support their development through direct investment or offtake agreements. As zero or low-carbon energy supply chains emerge globally over the coming decades, Asian countries also have the opportunity to transition fossil fuel energy supplies to low-carbon alternatives such as hydrogen or ammonia.
Which renewable power technologies would you say have the biggest potential for the ambitious transition to circular energy?
The pace of technological change is incredibly fast across several areas in the energy sector, all of which will play a role in what is likely to become a more decentralized and diverse energy system. Some of the technologies I have been watching with interest include:
Low-cost energy storage and the increasing energy density of batteries.
Floating wind and solar, which could potentially introduce new approaches to energy production and allow more rapid deployment without land availability and as many associated social issues.
Falling cost of solar panels and increasing efficiencies of a variety of solar technologies.
Emerging perovskite solar technology which holds the promise of extremely cost-effective roll-to roll printing plus flexible solar panels/sheets in the coming years.
More efficient technologies adapted for geothermal energy from the oil and gas sector.
Energy-efficient technologies that can recover low-grade heat which is often wasted or lost today.
Emerging waste technologies that can recover valuable resources or produce hydrogen or other valuable by-products to channel back into a circular value chain.
Biomass technologies that can utilize woody waste biomass for fuel production as alternative to food crops.
Hydrogen Combined Cycle Gas Turbines (CCGT) and conversions of coal plants to partially burn low-carbon ammonia.
Your brand promise at Jacobs is 'challenging today by reinventing tomorrow', what are the core challenges of transforming the energy system?
Decarbonizing our energy supply chains is one of the most challenging issues of our time. Asia, with its rapidly growing populations and emerging economies, is particularly vulnerable to impacts of climate change and will need to work with a range of global partners to deliver sustainable change and resilient infrastructure. For all the talk and excitement of new technologies, energy infrastructure is critical in so many ways. Lives depend on it to function without disruption. Operators or owners of energy infrastructure quite simply can’t take risks but have to evolve to meet the challenges of decarbonization and the mobility revolution such as EV charging networks and the development of hydrogen supply chains. As new and more sustainable energy supply chains develop, so will the type of skillset and expertise as investment ramps up to meet demand.
Across the world, we are supporting both government and private sector clients to develop and implement strategies on climate resilience, decarbonization and net zero, as well as hydrogen and resource efficiency. One of the common challenges is the alignment of stakeholders on a subject that cuts across all sectors and industries as the complexity of the energy transition and its implications often vary, even within a single institution or department.
Our global network of specialists and multi-sector experts can help clients challenge the status quo, cut through hype, and bring the best of what worked elsewhere to these discussions, as well as bring it to life on the ground. Whether we’re supporting the delivery of major renewable programs such as Suedlink in Germany, masterplanning green commercial and industrial parks with international energy companies, or developing major renewable assets, model power network performance and integrating large-scale energy storage – every day, our team is delivering impactful projects and bringing the best solutions to help our clients tackle their energy transition challenges for a more connected and sustainable world.
About Andrew Bedford
Andrew Bedford is Jacobs Energy Transition Director, with more than 20 years’ experience in the energy, resource, and infrastructure sectors across 40 countries. Andrew specializes in strategic advisory, the development and masterplanning of concepts incorporating breakthrough technologies, sustainable resource use as well as efficiency and decarbonization solutions. At Jacobs, Andrew works with multi-sector clients globally to help accelerate their energy transition journey, decarbonize supply chains and help them define and deliver on their net-zero commitments.
At Jacobs, we're challenging today to reinvent tomorrow by solving the world's most critical problems for thriving cities, resilient environments, mission-critical outcomes, operational advancement, scientific discovery and cutting-edge manufacturing, turning abstract ideas into realities that transform the world for good. With $14 billion in revenue and a talent force of approximately 55,000, Jacobs provides a full spectrum of professional services including consulting, technical, scientific and project delivery for the government and private sector. Visit jacobs.com and connect with Jacobs on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.