Hey Climate Confident listeners, in this enlightening episode, I had the pleasure of speaking with Assaad Razzouk, CEO of Gurin Energy, host of The Angry Clean Energy Guy podcast, and author of the book Saving the Planet Without the Bullshit. We dove deep into Asia's energy transition and the future of renewable energy in the region.
In our conversation, we covered some critical topics, including:
This episode is packed with insights into the energy transition in Asia and how the region is stepping up to create a more sustainable future. Don't miss out on this fascinating conversation with Assaad Razzouk, a true expert in the field of clean energy and sustainability.
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China alone built more rooftop, solar rooftop last year in 2022, then the United States and Germany and the UK built in total types of solar and wind energy. So rooftop and utility scale wow combined. Wow. And that's just China's roofs, right? That's before you count everything else China builtTom Raftery:
Hi, everyone. Welcome to episode 117 of the climate confident podcast. My name is Tom Raftery. And before we kick off, I'd just like to welcome a new supporter of this podcast. Andres Verner, Andrea signed up over the last couple of days to support the podcast. Thank you so much for that Andrea's really, really appreciated. If you're not already a supporter, I would like to encourage you to consider joining our community of like-minded individuals who are passionate about climate. Supporting the podcast is easy and affordable with options starting as low as just three euros or dollars, which is less than the cost of a cup of coffee. And your support will make a huge difference in keeping this podcast going strong. To become a supporter, simply click on the support link in the show notes of this or any episode. Our visit tiny url.com/climate pod. Now without further ado with me on the show today, I have my special guests Assaad. Assaad welcome to the podcast. Would you like to introduce yourself?Assaad Razzouk:
Thank you, Tom. delighted to be here. my name is Assaad Razzouk, as it says on the screen. During the day, I run a renewable energy business headquartered in Singapore. Which is deploying solar and wind and storage facilities and power plants across the Asia region. And then in the evening, some of your listeners might know I have a podcast called the Angry Clean Energy Guy, a book out called Saving the Planet Without the Bullshit. And I'm otherwise relatively loud on, social media.Tom Raftery:
Indeed, indeed. In fact, I don't remember where I came across you first. Assaad, I don't know whether through the podcast or was it through LinkedIn? It was one of those two, but yeah, you're, you're, and you have a Twitter thread, uh, a three year long Twitter thread at this point where you talk about good news. But the reason I reached out to get you on the podcast today, was because your most recent episode of your Angry, Clean Energy Guy podcast was talking about good news out of Asia, uh, on, on Energy in particular. And I thought, I don't cover Asia enough in the podcast, and I don't know enough about what's happening in Asia. And this podcast is all about good news anyway in the climate space, hence Climate Confident. So I thought it would be awesome to invite you to come on the podcast and talk a little bit about some of the good news that is coming out of Asia for energy. So, um, you talked a lot about China and you are going to have upcoming episodes talking about some of the other countries in the region. So do you wanna just map that out quickly for us, you know, what, what's come, what did you cover in episode 70 and what's coming in future episodes?Assaad Razzouk:
Sure. So the, the frustration Tom came from the fact that if you vociferously consume media the way I do it will tend to be in one to three languages, depending on the individual, but it invariably has more coverage per square centimeter so to speak, about Scandinavia, total population, 20 million than Asia, total population, you know, I dunno, 5 billion, right? So and then if you, if you actually exclude news about China and India mm-hmm. The rest combined really get incredibly little. And we're talking about some large countries. I mean, Indonesia is 280 million people. Right. Third largest democracy in the world. Thailand is 70 million Vietnam and the Philippines are a hundred million. And I could go on. Mm. So I thought, okay, why don't we try and shine a light on the good environment and progress of these countries, because often they're portrayed as baddies on the environment. Yeah. Whereas they're countries that are almost invariably really trying hard to do the right thing within their domestic constraints. And so I started with China, as you rightly pointed it out. The next episode's gonna cover Indonesia. Then I'm gonna move through South East Asia to do probably Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines, which are the three largest by population, before heading to North Asia to cover South Korea, maybe another country. And then finally ending in India. Which, similar to China receives a lot of coverage about a lot of things, but not about an agenda that its own people care enormously about. Right? Yeah. Which is the environment and air pollution and, and their health.Tom Raftery:
Yeah. So, Tell us a little bit, tell us some of the highlights. I mean, you've already gone through China, so uh, talk to us a bit about that. But also I'd love to hear about some of the other countries because, uh, you and I were both as, as you said, vociferous, consumers of, of news. And so I am familiar with some of the things that are happening in China and also your podcast. But Indonesia, I know, I know a little bit about India as well, but Indonesia, Thailand, these are complete black books to me. I know Vietnam is doing quite well on solar, or maybe it's not, I don't know. You tell me. You know? Yeah. Tell me some of the highlights.Assaad Razzouk:
Okay, so I, I like to think about this in, in buckets, so just to get my thoughts organized, right? So, sure. So, so there's three big buckets, right? The first bucket is what's going on in deforestation, you know, how are the country's forests, lungs, you know, and, and is deforestation a concern? And if so, how much of a concern and what progress has been made the last 10 years. Mm-hmm. The second bucket is renewable energy and electrification infrastructure. Sure. You know, how are they doing on, on that? And then the third one is plastic. Are they're doing anything about, about plastic waste? It's very difficult to generalize across Asia. I mean, I think the best way to think about Asia is in, you know, there's four Asias, in a way. You've got China, which is mm-hmm. A standalone. You've got India, which is also standalone. Then you've got OECD Asia. So Rich Asia. Okay. There's really just four countries in that. Um, and they are Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore. Mm-hmm. And then you've got Southeast Asia, and South Asia ex-India, which is everybody else, broadly speaking, but including some of these countries that I mentioned, ie. Indonesia. Thailand, Philippines. So, you look at the three buckets and okay, this is a bit of an overgeneralization, but I would say that they have all made significant efforts to either reverse deforestation or at a minimum slow down significantly the rate of deforestation. Then if you contrast that, The other two main rainforest areas in the world, which are Congo DRC, and the Amazon. Mm-hmm. You'll see why that's good news, because there actually the situation is getting worse, not better. Then in the renewable energy bucket, you know, people forget or perhaps don't pay enough attention, but India and China are right up there with the United States and the EU in terms of what they're building out. Right. And as a simple metric, you can think about it this way, China alone, so I'm not counting anybody else in Asia. China alone built more rooftop, solar rooftop last year in 2022, then the United States and Germany and the UK built in total types of solar and wind energy. So rooftop and utility scale wow combined. Wow. And that's just China's roofs, right? That's before you count everything else China built, right. Similarly, you'd be very surprised if you went to Beijing because you won't hear a sound. The reason you won't hear a sound is they electrified the entire transport, scooter's, cars, buses. It's quite odd as a feeling that they have then if you, and, and wherever you go, and if you look at the, I mean, Jakarta has banned single, uh, uh, plastic bags, right? Jakarta, the capital. Indonesia, you know, just as a, as an example from the, the, the plastic bucket. Everybody's making efforts in, in all three buckets. And these efforts are hardly, if ever, something that you actually, read about.Tom Raftery:
Yeah, exactly. I mean, that's, that's why I was, delighted to hear your, your podcast because I mean, you talked about the reforestation efforts in China, in, in the podcast, and the numbers you quoted there kind of blew my mind. So do you wanna re repeat those for people who are listening? Because like I said, I knew nothing about the reforestation. I knew I knew a lot about the renewables that are happening in China, but I knew nothing about the reforestation.Assaad Razzouk:
Yeah. Look, the thing about china is, well, first of all, it's, the, the world's most successful reforestation program ever, right? Nobody's actually done what the Chinese managed to do. They spend 10 billion dollars a year on this. They've been spending the 10 billion for over 10 years. Mm-hmm. And they moved their reforestation roughly from under 10% at the end of World War two to 23% today, and they're taking it up to 30% in 2030. And so in terms of what they've actually done, combined. It's, it's, it's just you, you just kind of stop as you said, and, and you have to kind of just internalize it and think about it because it's so huge. But, but China isn't a alone. You know, India's got a very, very successful reforestation program, as well. Indonesian civil society pushed very hard to slow the rate of growth in deforestation, you know, and then on and on. And, and so I think when we cover maybe these, countries, you know, we can't just always cast them in a certain light. Mm-hmm. And then forget about everything else.Tom Raftery:
Sure. Sure. No, that makes sense. What, what would be in your mind, some of the more successful renewable energy projects that have taken place in Southeast Asia in the last five years, let's say?Assaad Razzouk:
There's something quite amazing going on in Southeast Asia right now, actually, which I'll share with you in a second. But if you look at the region as a whole, the most successful renewable energy program in the last five years had emphasis on had. Mm-hmm, had been Vietnam because Vietnam took renewables from zero to 20%, you know, in, uh, the, blip of an eye. And, and that's just because they opened the doors. Because if you open the doors, renewables are kind of a no-brainer. I mean, they're cheaper and they're cleaner, so why not have them. But I can tell you over just the last three weeks, just the last three weeks, there's been an explosion of announcements on renewable energy across Southeast Asia. So first out the gate were Singapore and Indonesia, which announced that they're gonna build the green corridor between them, which will attract something like 50 billion dollars of foreign direct investment and build in Indonesia the manufacturing capacity to export solar panels and inverters and batteries, you know, and the whole clean tech value chain. And all because Singapore wants to be powered increasingly by renewable energy, okay, with a goal of being 30% powered by renewable energy by 2035. Then just a few days later, Thailand announced that it's increasing its own auction of renewable energy by another 3.6 gigawatts on top of the previous 5.2 gigawatts, but to put these numbers in perspective, so Thailand announced effectively a Renewable Energy auction, which is greater than or about the same as France's installed solar power capacity. And then the, the Philippines, three days later announced its own 11 gigawatt renewable energy auction, and that's more than the Philippines entire renewable energy capacity base. And they're gonna do that in one go in three months. So you can see how, the fact that solar and wind are now clearly cheap - er, cheaper. Yeah. The fact that governments woke up to the volatility of natural gas prices, and finally the fact that they woke up to the fact that national security dictates to the extent possible that you use your free fuel, so your sun and your wind, how these factors have now led to, frankly an explosion in activity in, in renewables, but also electrification. Right. Great. So electric cars and electric batteries and all that stuff.Tom Raftery:
Fascinating. That huge surge in announcements in, in the southeast Asia that you refer to, that'll lead to a huge surge in demand, obviously. Is the supply there to meet it or will that push the prices up?Assaad Razzouk:
the prices are going down, not up.Tom Raftery:
Sure. But with the, with the increase in, in, with the huge increase of spike in, in demand, isn't there the danger that that could push the prices up if there's not a supply there to meet the demand?Assaad Razzouk:
It's a very interesting question, Tom, because. Okay. The, the short answer is no. So I e the prices in Asia for solar panels and batteries and wind turbines are gonna continue to go down from what we can see in the supply chain. But the reason I said it's a very interesting question is because in fact, that competition demand, which is mostly reliant on the Chinese supply chain, Mm-hmm. Will affect prices in Europe and in the United States in the sense that Europe and the United States, and that's the direction they're going anyway, will become more reliant on their own supply chains over time. I mean, it's gonna take them time to build it, to replace the, the Chinese one, but that might mean to them higher prices compared to Asia. So, it should be an interesting dynamic to watch over the next five years.Tom Raftery:
Okay. Fascinating. And what, what are kind of unique challenges and opportunities for development of renewables in Asia compared to other regions?Assaad Razzouk:
None. Huh, good. There's nothing unique about developing renewals in Asia. I mean, renewables are developed near people, right? It's not like a coal plant that you build in the middle of nowhere, or a nuclear plant that you wanna hide, or a gas power plant that you also wanna hide. Solar panels and wind, turbines are, built around people wherever they are. The challenge is always to make sure that your community is with you. As long as your community is with you, everything is fine. And if your community doesn't want you, unlike the coal industry and the oil industry, then you shouldn't be there. And if you respect that very basic rule, then, which is the same globally, then generally speaking, the rollout will be smooth. Okay. But I don't think there's any difference between how much a community cares in West Virginia or in Indonesia or in Colombia, if you see what I mean, because you're close to people's homes, so you have to talk to them and they have to be part of your project.Tom Raftery:
Okay, cool. Can you share any inspiring stories of communities or individuals in Asia who've been positively impacted by the transition to renewable energy?Assaad Razzouk:
Look, I think the transition to renewable energy, and I don't just think that that's, the data has enormous support in Asia because people are at the frontline of suffering from climate change. You know, it's not a concept. Mm-hmm. And governments, by and large don't have the money to build defenses or spend on, disasters the way they might in richer economic environments. And, yeah, there's lots of stories, but I'll tell you something, which you might find, interesting. In the Philippines, for example, wind turbines are a tourist destination. People love to go visit them. Wow. Right? And that's because they know that they're part of the community. But also that they are pushing away coal and oil and gas, which the people don't want. Not talking about governments or business. Sure. The, the people just don't want these polluting their air. But it's to an extent unimaginable, perhaps in Europe. Yeah, because I hadn't seen wind turbines being a destination site in, in anywhere before until the Philippines.Tom Raftery:
And, and it, to me it makes total sense cuz I love seeing wind turbines. I think they're incredibly graceful. I don't know how people can complain about them, but, uh, I, I would pay good money to get a tour of a, of a wind farm sometime. I really would. I'd love to. I'd love to get shown around one, so, and even climb to the top of one and get into one of the nacelles. So that, that'd be awesome. Talk to me then a little bit about storage and the rollout of storage solutions in Asia, because obviously we all know the trope that the wind doesn't always blow and the sun isn't always shining. So how is storage taking off in, in Asia?Assaad Razzouk:
Explosively between now and 2030? So it's everywhere, all at once.Tom Raftery:
I always hesitate to use the word explosively when I'm talking about storage, considering a lot of it, it's batteries. But,Assaad Razzouk:
but that's a fair point. That's a fair point. And there are issues I think with bad installation. But you know, thankfully, uh, they are, what are they, 1% of, 1% of 1%, 1% of 1% of the damage caused by old spills. Of course they, yeah, yeah, yeah. So, you know, which is important to bear in mind, but yeah. Storage is coming in lockstep, perhaps with a two year gap with the renewable energy buildout. Because we need it and because we can afford it and because it's competitive. Yeah. So a bundle, for example of wind, solar and storage makes a lot of sense in many countries. In others it's wind and storage, or solar and storage. And in some locations it's just storage, standalone storage facility. Right? So you see all sorts. The supply chain there, by the way, is having a bit of a hard time scaling up in storage specifically, but it's coming and, and so that's why I think you are gonna see numbers, multiples of what think tanks like Bloomberg New Energy Finance are forecasting for 2030 deployed in Asia, Southeast Asia, north Asia, China, and India. All of them.Tom Raftery:
Okay, cool. That's great. And it's mostly lithium-ion battery solutions, I'm guessingAssaad Razzouk:
At the moment? Yes, and the storage industry is very nimble and therefore, you know, alternatives will emerge and will be installed. But if you want scale at the moment, it's lithium, yeah.Tom Raftery:
Okay, cool. And the whole electrification is, is a fascinating space as well, particularly electrification of transport. And you talked about China and how in Beijing it's so quiet. I'm curious as well, one of the other big stories that we got 10 years ago now was the air quality in Beijing, uh, on the eve of the Olympics. What's the air quality like in Beijing now?Assaad Razzouk:
Look, I haven't been since before the pandemic. Um, okay. But, if you follow the, data, it's vastly improved over the last decade, through not only electrification, but also pushing some of the manufacturing out and away and shutting down things, periodically. So there's a lot more to do, in terms of, air quality. India's got probably the biggest job. Yeah. Because, India's got the, the most polluted air. It's a combination of, petrol vehicles and scooters and what have you, but also agriculture practices. And then, as far as the rest of Asia is concerned, air pollution is also something that policy makers and citizens are increasingly focused on. And an area that is continuously well, that will continuously improve with increased electrification.Tom Raftery:
Okay. One issue that electric vehicles suffer from is the sticker price being higher than traditional vehicles, unfortunately, still. And, and, India is is a place where we really need because of the air quality issues we just talked about, is a place where, you know, there should be huge potential for them. Where do you see that kind of, balance coming together where the electric vehicles in India are cheap enough to enough people can buy them to make a difference?Assaad Razzouk:
Okay. I think there's two issues there, right? The first one is cars and the second one is everything else. So, if it's just cars, then the inflection point is supposed to be happening as we speak, right? Where electric cars are going to be, cheaper than, petrol cars. And when I say as we speak, it's sometime between now and 2025. Hmm. But, but that's not enough, right? Because, because you don't want to replace one petrol car With one electric car. You know, that's kind of, it is not very smart to start with, not a very good use of cities. It's not a very good use of streets, and it's not, it's not very good use of time. Right? Yeah. Mm-hmm. So, so the other thing to pay attention to on the electrification front is, electric, scooters. You know, Vespa's basically, but also electric bicycles. And also bicycle lanes, all of which are helped in kind of virtuous cycle by clean air. Right? So you cycle, more if the air is clean and the more you cycle, the cleaner the air, you know? Yes. And, and so on. So, so you have to watch these two. I think the progress is, I would say generally disappointing, outside China, in the rest of Asia, on both fronts. But there are signs that this is, changing, starting with bicycle lanes and then the electrification of scooters and probably last the electrification of cars and buses outside China.Tom Raftery:
Okay. Okay. And what about things like subsidies for buying, uh, electric scooters or, you know, converting the Tuk Tuk fleet, for example, to electric? Are governments stepping in there and helping out?Assaad Razzouk:
They, they try, Bangkok for example, has now 800 electric Tuk Tuks. Now, that's not a lot. There's thousands to go. But it's better than nothing but look on subsidies. Funny enough, the problem isn't subsidizing this. It's removing subsidies from the competition, which making it look cheaper, right? So, so often the subsidies are, are fuel subsidies, both direct and indirect, and consumer subsidies for fuel that artificially make the cost of driving. A, petrol scooter or car cheaper than that of driving an electric one. Mm-hmm. I know it's, it's slightly counterintuitive, but you know, the subsidies are really more on the, on the dirty fuel side than on the, the, the clean fuel side, by buy like a margin of 10 to one. It's not like small, Okay, so I, yeah, so I kind of don't really like that much, that word, subsidy, or at least in my case, whatever somebody says, subsidy. I think oil and gas and coal subsidies. I never think our industry is subsidized enough because the gap is so high.Tom Raftery:
Fair point, fair point. Another trope that's often thrown out when we're referring to electrification is the grids won't be able to cope with all the demand. And we've seen, for example in Norway that this is rubbish. Norway has shifted, you know, nine over 90% of new vehicle sales in Norway are now fully electric, and the head of the Electric Vehicle Association in Norway has said that's led to a 7% increase in demand for electricity and that it's time shifted anyway. So it hasn't posed any problems for the grid, but that's potentially a different market to Asia. So will the Asian grids be able to cope with this massive increase in in demand? We're going to potentially see?Assaad Razzouk:
Well, grids have to be upgraded periodically. Right? It's a bit like your computer software. So you have to upgrade your computer software. In the same way. You have to upgrade the, the grid periodically. Anytime someone asks you that question, turn it back and say, look, if we shifted in that particular country, fossil fuel subsidies to upgrade the grid, we'd have probably by far the bestest grid in the world. So, you know, these are strange questions, in some way because it's not actually about upgrading the grid, right. It's about whether we're spending enough money to upgrade the grid. And it's not just to cope with renewables, it's to cope with technology improvements across the board. Sure. And yeah, some countries are doing a better job than others. Everybody's investing in it. That does mean that renewable energy gets curtailed sometimes. Mm-hmm. And so does a coal fired power plant and so does a gas fired power plant. You know, it's not like renewable energy is in a world of its own. So I'm not too worried about grid because I know firsthand what the investments are around Asia in grids and it's gonna be, you know, a continuous catch up, but it's gonna continuously get better.Tom Raftery:
Sure, sure, sure. Good, good, good. You mentioned the third bucket of plastics, so who in Asia are doing a good job in plastics and who are kind of the laggards?Assaad Razzouk:
That's a complicated question. Sorry. It's a complicated question because the, this kind of two plastics right there is your own plastic as a country, and in the past there was the plastic that you imported from the west. Thankfully, Asian countries have stopped importing plastic waste from the west. That is huge because that imported plastic, which was sent under a pretense of sorting and recycling, mostly ended up in the ocean. Hmm. So that was like a shift of responsibility from the west to the east, with neither accountability nor traceability. Right. It was just like an excuse to do nothing by both sides, you know? Cause once I'd get paid the other side got rid of the trash. Nobody did anything. But it was beautiful while it lasted, right? So, that's over, which means that the volumes have gone down significantly cuz Thailand was an i importer of plastic. The Philippines was an importer of plastic Indonesia sometimes, and the biggest of all was China, and that's all gone now. So next is domestic plastic. Mm-hmm. Every single country in Asia has very strong efforts to either ban or cut down on the use of plastic because every single country recognizes where they are. And these things are the most, are the most unexpected of places, you know, so I told you, Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia banned plastic. So has a Mumbai in India, for example, and, and a, and a umpteen of the cities. And, and what's interesting about that is that richer, Asia, for example has not banned plastic bags. The Singapore has a, instead it, it charges consumers for them. Which is a far less effective way of, dealing with the problem. Sure. The other big area in plastic is putting responsibility for waste and recycling where it belongs, which is with the manufacturer. And some countries have started to introduce legislation in this regard, including, for example, Indonesia, where now as a manufacturer you have to be a lot more careful. And by the way, these are things that, don't exist in the United States, for example, where a petrochemical plant doesn't have to track down its plastic, nor do anything about the waste that is generated from all that plastic ever. So it, I think it's looking much better than people think. And my current observation is that it is continuing to improve. And that is very nice to see, but we have to encourage it and And we have to nurture it and we have to participate.Tom Raftery:
Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. Great. Super. Assaad, we're coming towards the end of the podcast now. Is there any question that I haven't asked that you wish I had or any aspect of this we haven't touched on that you think it's important for people to think about?Assaad Razzouk:
Look, I, I'm grateful for the opportunity to talk to you. I do think Asia needs a lot more air time and I think we have given it, its due in the time that we both have, so that's great. Thank you.Tom Raftery:
Okay, superb. If people would like to know more about any of the things we discussed in the podcast today Assaad or more about yourself or Gurin Energy, where would you have me direct them?Assaad Razzouk:
Well, the best place probably is the Angry Clean Energy Guy.com, which is the podcast home or the book, Saving the Planet Without the Bullshit. Or Finally Gurin Energy's, website. I'm relatively easy to find, from that perspective.Tom Raftery:
Great, and I'll put links to all of those in the show notes so everyone has access to them. Assaad, thanks a million for coming on the podcast today.Assaad Razzouk:
Pleasure, thank you.