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Growing electrification needs and falling storage costs look likely to stimulate growth in solar-based microgrids across Southeast Asia.

Power equipment manufacturers such as LSIS of Korea and Leonics of Thailand are jostling to serve a growing demand for microgrid development across Southeast Asia. The electrical component maker LSIS, for example, last September announced plans to target the Indonesian microgrid market, which is being supported by a USD$3.87 billion programme to build energy-independent islands, according to reports.

Meanwhile Leonics, which makes PV modules, inverters and charge controllers, has consolidated a presence in Malaysia, where its products are present in several multi-megawatt hybrid PV, diesel and battery microgrid projects. These include a 4.93 MW microgrid in Banggi, which includes 1.2 MW of solar and 2.9 MWh of battery storage, and a 4.11 MW project at Tanjung Labian, with 1.2 MW of PV and 4.3 MWh of batteries.

In 2014, Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Energy Research Institute set out to become a hub for microgrid research across the region. NTU has a project called the Renewable Energy Integration Demonstrator-Singapore, supported by Singapore’s Economic Development Board and National Environment Agency, that it claims is the largest hybrid microgrid in the tropics.

The University says Indonesia alone is aiming to cover 90% of off-grid population power supplies through microgrids by 2025.

Solar-plus-storage microgrids are already competitive with diesel generation in many parts of Indonesia, Jakarta-based clean energy consultant Andre Susanto told Solarplaza.

“There are plenty of grid systems in Indonesia where the power generation is primarily diesel,” he said.

Navigant Research has predicted annual grid-tied and remote microgrid capacity across Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and South Korea could exceed 597 MW by 2023.

“Several of the most heavily populated countries in the Asia Pacific region, including China, India, Indonesia and Malaysia, are experiencing very high rates of rural electrification,” said Peter Asmus, principal research analyst at Navigant. “Both developed and developing countries in the region are turning to microgrids to extend electrical service to remote and underserved communities.” This trend is likely to grow across Southeast Asia with the advent of new, cost-effective forms of energy storage.

The US company Imergy, for example, is due to install up to a thousand 30 kW low-cost vanadium redox flow batteries in microgrids across India. It is not clear how the programme will be affected as a result of problems with Imergy’s installation partner, SunEdison.

However, Imergy says its storage products, which are also being deployed in China and Africa, can beat diesel generation and lead-acid batteries on cost, with a payback time of as little as four years. For now, interest in microgrids remains high across Southeast Asian markets. At the 8th annual Singapore International Energy Week last November, for instance, much of the programme was given over to microgrids and rural electrification.

“Across the 7,000 islands of the Philippines, many communities do not have direct access to electricity, and rely on generators powered by expensive and polluting diesel fuel,” Enterprise Innovation reported. “Localised microgrids powered by renewables can provide reliable and secure power to millions of households that are not connected to national grids, the panellists said.”

In addition, the International Energy Agency (IEA) foresees a growing role for renewables as electricity demand soars across the region. The IEA’s Southeast Asia Energy Outlook 2015, for example, predicts a tripling of electricity demand will require 400 GW of extra generation by 2040, with the proportion of renewables growing to 11% from 2% in 2014.

Learn all about upcoming Southeast Asian solar opportunities at the Solar PV Trade Mission Vietnam and Southeast Asia, from April 18 to 22 in Hanoi and Bangkok. Register now for your pass.