Energy security and transformation in Asia: An interview with Richard L. Morningstar, Founding Chairman, Atlantic Council Global Energy Center

Richard L. Morningstar
Founding Chairman

Richard L. Morningstar of Atlantic Council Global Energy Center shares his views on energy security and transformation in Asia.

1. How should our approach to energy security evolve in line with energy transformation?

The energy transformation has created a more diverse energy mix in a rapidly growing and electrifying world. The growing fungibility of energy has provided new opportunities to create energy security through diversity of supply and energy independence.

Across Asia, this means that there are new opportunities to reduce reliance on energy imports, improve urban emissions, and increase energy access. As many of these countries transition from coal to natural gas, maturing LNG markets are adding an additional layer of supply diversity for baseload power generation. The relationship between economic growth and electrification is resulting in an expansion of electric grids, which are forming new cross-border power interconnections. The markets for new energy technologies will create new trade partnerships. All of these factors will create a set of energy security challenges for each country in the region. For example, despite being a major oil refinery and storage hub, Singapore can insulate against overreliance on imports and actually increase its exports of refined petroleum products by finding ways to diversify energy sources or reduce energy intensity through new technologies – all while building towards meeting international climate commitments.

That brings me to a final point, which is that it’s important to remember that the energy transformation has a deep connection with climate change, and Asia cannot forget the relationship between energy security and climate resilience, which will have broader effects on the region’s economy if not managed properly.

2. What are the key technological advancements needed to increase energy security?

While we should certainly celebrate the continued growth of renewable energy sources, they can be limited by unique geographic conditions and intermittency – meaning certain renewable sources may not always be the best option in countries where wind speed is too low, forestation limits scaled solar projects, etc.

There are, however, technological advances on the horizon that can make a huge difference. Advances in battery storage, for example, can support smaller-scale renewables projects and improve grid resiliency, or improve energy intensity by making buildings more efficient. As the technology improves, batteries can mitigate overall energy demand as nations continue to prosper economically. Over the long-term, we will likely see continued improvements in the efficiency of existing renewable platforms, which will only further help them to gain traction.

3. How can countries in Asia navigate the next phase of the energy transition?

Asia will account for the bulk of energy demand growth over the next few decades. How countries in the region navigate the transition will be essential to meeting global climate commitments and limiting emissions.

Much of this demand growth will come from the ‘electrification of everything’ and rapid economic development across Asia. Because it remains a cheap source of power, coal will likely continue to play a role in Asia’s immediate future, but steadily phasing out coal-fired power must be a priority. This means that at least in the short-term supporting natural gas access will be necessary to provide a lower-carbon alternative that can be cost-competitive. Singapore provides a good example of this, and I would expect natural gas to dominate the next several years of Asia’s energy transition.

I say this not to discount the need for renewables deployment. Human capital and industrial capacity across Asia put the region in a unique position to lead the push for new energy technologies and scaled renewable generation. Across the region we see bold policy initiatives for scaled solar and nuclear power providing valuable models of how to tackle the challenge of rising energy demand and the need to limit emissions. It’s important not to rule out any technologies or energy opportunities that can help in the energy transition.

4. How can greater international co-operation help to address global energy challenges?

First, it’s important to remember that the Paris Agreement remains the foundation of what we see as a global commitment to transition towards clean, low-carbon, low emission power – even with the United States’ regrettable decision to leave in 2017. Continuing to build on those goals, which we hope to see at COP 25 in Chile this coming December, will be critical to establishing new international partnerships across both the public and private sector.

Second, the energy transition is creating new frameworks for energy co-operation. Interconnectivity through shared renewables generation, scaled grid technologies, and natural gas infrastructure demands new models for energy co-operation across borders and will be a key part of the energy transition. This is a subject we are looking at closely at the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center, and will discuss at our Global Energy Forum in Abu Dhabi in January 2020.

And finally, the energy transition is being driven by incredible economic growth around the world. Ensuring that this growth continues with the energy transition in mind requires regional and global coalitions to organise, finance, and deploy low-carbon sources of power. And again, we can no longer think of international energy co-operation strictly as the trade of energy resources. Sharing of knowledge, best practices, and widespread adoption of innovations in the energy sector are solutions which are maximised through international partnerships and absolutely necessary if we want to achieve our shared energy security and climate goals.

5. The theme for SIEW 2019 is Accelerating Energy Transformation. What do you look forward to being discussed at SIEW this year?

I think conferences like Singapore International Energy Week are important opportunities to build consensus around how we can accelerate the energy transition. The perspectives gathered here from both the public and private sector are crucial to moving the needle on new energy technologies as well as necessary first steps such as natural gas access. I am excited to play a part in these conversations and look forward to seeing how we can take this progress into the future.

Registration for SIEW 2019 is now open. Ambassador Morningstar will be present at SIEW 2019 as on 29 October 2019, as the moderator for first session in the Singapore Energy Summit. We look forward to further exchanging insights and seeing you from 29 October to 1 November 2019.

About Richard L Morningstar, Founding Chairman, Atlantic Council Global Energy Center

Richard L. Morningstar is the founding chairman of the Global Energy Center and a board director at the Atlantic Council. He served as the US ambassador to the Republic of Azerbaijan from July 2012 to August 2014.

Prior to his appointment, since April 2009, he was the Secretary of State’s special envoy for Eurasian energy. Prior to that, Morningstar lectured at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and Stanford Law School.

From June 1999 to September 2001, he served as United States ambassador to the European Union. Prior to this, Morningstar served as special adviser to the President and Secretary of State for Caspian Basin energy diplomacy, where he was responsible for assuring maximum coordination within the executive branch and with other governments and international organisations to promote United States policies on Caspian Basin energy development and transportation. From April 1995 to July 1998, he served as ambassador and special adviser to the President and Secretary of State on assistance for the new independent states of the former Soviet Union, where he oversaw all US bilateral assistance and trade investment activities in the NIS. From 1993 to 1995, he served as senior vice president of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC).

Morningstar also served as chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the Costar Corporation from 1990 to 1993 and as president and chief executive officer from 1981 to 1990. He was an attorney with Peabody and Brown (now Nixon and Peabody) in Boston from 1970 to 1981, where he became a partner in 1977.

Morningstar served as a commissioner of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (1989 to 1993). Prior to returning to the government in 2009, he served as director of the American Councils for International Education, a trustee of the Kosovo-America Educational Foundation, and a trustee of the Eurasia Foundation. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Morningstar received his BA from Harvard in 1967 and JD from Stanford Law School in 1970.


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