All economies in the ASEAN region have been focusing on increasing investments in the infrastructure sector. The increasing urban population has compelled most governments in the region to augment infrastructure in sectors like transportation, energy, telecom, and water and sanitation, among others. However, climate change and resource scarcity are giving concerns, which is driving the need for the development of sustainable infrastructure.
During the past year, there have been many developments in the infrastructure sector across the Southeast Asian region. It has witnessed many new project announcements, commissioning of projects, technology developments, etc. Southeast Asia Infrastructure gives a round-up of the infrastructure-related developments and a snapshot of some under-development and completed projects in the Southeast Asian region in the past one year…
Both the public and private sectors have been undertaking many measures to boost the infrastructure sector in Southeast Asia (SEA). Sectors like transportation, telecom, energy, etc. have witnessed big announcements.
There have been many announcements related to the transportation sector in the SEA countries. Vietnam’s Ministry of Transport (MoT) has announced plans to add around 16 new national rail lines, with a combined length of more than 4,800 km, by 2030. It also plans to upgrade seven existing lines, with a combined length of 2,440 km.This is a part of the agency’s 2021-30 development plan. By 2050, Vietnam will have around 25 new regional rail lines, together spanning 6,354 km. The lines will span along key locations across Vietnam including economic areas, urban centres, seaports and airports. Due to the high cost, the MoT expects support from foreign capital to complete the planned projects.
The Government of China approved a grant of around $44 million to fund the upgrade of Cambodia’s existing rail infrastructure. This includes upgradation of the 382 km long Phnom Penh-Poipet rail line to a standard gauge electrified line operating at a speed of 160 km per hour, the development of a light rail line from Siem Reap to the international airport at Chickreng and a feasibility study for the proposed Phnom Penh Metro. Additionally, the two governments will also increase cooperation in production capacity and energy among others.
The Department of Transportation (DOTr) of the Philippines has announced plans to privatise the operations and maintenance (O&M) of Light Rail Transit Line 2 (LRT-2) along with Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3). The two lines will be offered as a bundle to private operators. Variation of plans to privatise the urban transit lines includes O&M of both railway systems with the LRT2 extension to Tutuban and Pier 4, O&M and the rehabilitation of light rail vehicles (LRVs) or O&M and the LRV replacement. MRT-3 is currently operated by the Metro Rail Transit Corporation (MRTC). The assets will be transferred to the government after the private concession period ends in 2025. LRT-2 is operated by the Light Rail Transit Authority, a wholly owned government corporation.
In another announcement, the Philippine Airlines Incorporated (PAL) has signed an agreement with Ramco Systems to automate operations across its network. Under the terms of the contract, existing legacy systems of PAL and PAL Express will be replaced by Suite V5.9. The cloud-based platform will optimise the maintenance and engineering processes while enabling sustainable digital transformation through paperless operations. Ramco’s Aviation Suite is used by more than 90 aviation companies globally.
The energy sector in the SEA region has been growing significantly. Many smart and sustainable initiatives are being undertaken in the sector. One of the initiatives is the announcement by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) of Singapore. It has decided that to add 2,000 new electric vehicle (EV) charging stations at 700 Housing and Development Board (HDB) car parks across the country during 2023. By the end of the year, one in three HDB car parks will have an EV charging point. By 2025, around 12,000 new chargers will be installed at 2,000 car parks. Widespread development of charging infrastructure has been key in increasing the uptake of sustainable mobility, with EVs accounting for 11.8 per cent of all new car registrations in 2022.
The Government of Vietnam is aiming to increase the share of renewable energy in the total energy supply to 15 to 20 per cent by 2030 and 25 to 30 per cent by 2045. Additionally, emissions from the energy sector will be capped at 42 million tonnes by 2050. As a part of the climate change action plan, green growth will be promoted and prioritised. This includes the use of digital technology and boosting growth of sustainable infrastructure. Vietnam is among the top countries with the highest installed solar energy capacity.
In another development, Malaysia-based Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) is planning to focus on developing gas, renewables (including solar, wind, hydro) and battery storage projects for Indonesia’s new capital city, Nusantara. The company is also considering collaborating with PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara, an Indonesian utility company, to develop high voltage transmission infrastructure in the capital. TNB has submitted a letter of intent (LoI) to the Nusantara Authority for the same. Apart from TNB, around 10 more Malaysia-based companies have submitted their LoIs outlining plans to develop infrastructure, utility services, property development, healthcare, waste management and drinking water supply in Nusantara.
Further, Malaysia-based TNB will also export around 100 MW of electricity to Singapore starting the second quarter of 2023. Under a two-year power purchase agreement (PPA), output generated from a gas-fired plant in Pasir Gudang, Johor, will be supplied to Singapore-based YTL Power Seraya via the newly upgraded interconnector between the countries. This will account for 1.5 per cent of Singapore’s electricity demand during peak hours. Pricing details have not been disclosed as yet. Singapore’s Energy Market Authority (EMA) and Malaysia’s Energy Commission are in charge of the technical settings and regulatory arrangements. In the future, the Government of Singapore is planning for larger-scale electricity, with a focus on renewable and clean energy. However, the Government of Malaysia only allows the export of non-renewable energy.
The Telecom sector in the SEA countries has been witnessing growth. The governments are focusing on developing the sector. One of the major announcements last year was by the Government of Malaysia regarding allocation of a budget of RM 725 million to increase 5G coverage at 47 industrial areas and 3,700 schools across the country as a part of the National Digital Network (Jendela). At the end of 2022, 5G coverage across Malaysia had reached 50 per cent and Digital Nasional Bhd (DNB) aims to increase this to 80 per cent by the end of 2023. DNB is the owner of the country’s 5G spectrum. The agency is in charge of developing and leasing out the spectrum to telecom companies under the single wholesale network model.
Another announcement was by DOTr and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). They have partnered to integrate cashless ticketing technologies across transport systems in the Philippines. Under the terms of the agreement, an equipment testing and validation facility will be developed for the Automated Fare Collection System – National Standards, which will be managed by the DOST-Advanced Science and Technology Institute. This is in line with DOTr’s aim of achieving global standards in the Philippines’ ticketing systems.
Projects under development
Many new projects have been started during the past year across the infrastructure sector. This will act as a stimulus for the growth of the economies. For instance, during the past year, work had commenced on a 50 km long road connectivity project between Hoa Binh and Hanoi, and the Son La expressway in northern Vietnam. The project is estimated to cost over VND 1.8 trillion and the road is scheduled to open to traffic in 2027. In another development, Converge ICT Solutions Incorporated has commenced works on the cable landing station (CLS) in the Philippines for the transpacific Bifrost Cable System. The 745 square metres one level CLS is located in Davao. The 15,000 km long subsea cable system will improve internet capacity and reliability between the AsiaPacific region and North America. Countries that will be connected through the cable network include the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Guam and the west coast of North America. The project is expected to be completed by 2024.
As per recent updates, testing on the Nonthaburi-Kanchanaburi highway in Thailand, also known as M81, will commence in 2024 ahead of its scheduled opening in 2025. The work on the 96.4 km long motorway is about 88 per cent completed. Works on the highway have been divided into 25 contracts, eight of which have been completed. These include the sections between Tha Maka and Tha Muang districts in Kanchanaburi and Nakhon Chaisi and Muang districts in Nakhon Pathom. The THB 61 billion highway project is part of the Government of Thailand’s public-private partnership (PPP) fast-track scheme. Once operational, the M81 will reduce travel time between Bang Yai and Kanchanaburi from 2.5 hours to just 48 minutes.
Construction has commenced on the Jurong Region Line (JRL), Singapore’s seventh MRT line. The line will open to traffic in three stages between 2027 and 2029. The 24 km long JRL will have 24 stations, all located above ground, three of which are interchange stations. The names of the stations are yet to be finalised. In line with the LTA’s sustainability plans, solar panels will be installed at all of the JRL stations to power regular operations. The stations have been designed to optimise natural ventilation to reduce use of fans and air conditioning. Additionally, trains on the JRL will feature a regenerative braking system. Once operational, the JRL is expected to serve around 500,000 passengers daily and will connect the Jurong Innovation District, Jurong Industrial Estate, Pandan Reservoir, Tengah estate and Nanyang Technological University. Currently, none of these areas have any direct connection to existing rail lines.
During February 2022 and February 2023, a number of infrastructure projects were commissioned/completed, thus furthering infrastructure activity across the region. The LTA of Singapore has added around 8.5 km of cycling paths in Bukit Panjang in an attempt to boost active mobility in the area. The town now has around 16 km of cycling paths. The cycling paths will run along key locations in Bukit Panjang including shopping centres, the MRT station as well as eight LRT stations. To further improve first- and last-mile connectivity, the LTA has added bicycle parking facilities at some LRT stations. With the recent move, there are currently around 11 HDB towns with cycling path networks. By 2030, the LTA plans on expanding the cycling network to around 1,300 km.
In another development, Sembcorp Industries has completed works on a 285 MWh energy storage system (ESS) facility on Jurong Island, making it the largest such facility in the Southeast Asia region. The ESS is capable of storing and delivering around 200 MW of electricity per hour, enough to power 17,000 homes in a single discharge. In June 2022, the EMA appointed Sembcorp to construct the facility. The ESS technology will improve grid reliability by addressing solar intermittency on overcast and rainy days.
The Energy Development Corporation (EDC) has launched geothermal energy-powered EVs in the Philippines in an effort to decarbonise its operations. As a part of its longterm sustainability goals, these EVs will be rolled out across all EDC sites in the Philippines. The first three EVS launched were developed in partnership with the Hong Equipment and Development Corporation. These vehicles will be a part of a six-monthlong pilot test to assess the need for additional units for the other facilities. The company also plans to launch two additional EVs in 2023. Energy to power the EVs will be sourced from EDC’s Geo 24/7 facilities.
The final round of trials has commenced on the second phase of the Putrajaya MRT line in the Klang Valley, Malaysia. The pilot will be conducted by MRTC and its contractors on the section between Putrajaya Sentral stations to Kwasa Damansara station.This round of tests will assess system effectiveness before approval is granted by the Land Public Transport Agency to commence passenger operations on the urban transit line. During the final trial run, the train frequency on phase one of the MRT line will be increased to eight minutes during peak hours and 12 minutes during non-peak hours.
There have been a number of big-ticket projects getting commissioned and a lot of mega announcements taking place in the SEA region across multiple infrastructure sectors. Infrastructure development is not only a key driver for economic growth and social progress, but it is also essential for the advancement of sustainability, and the reduction of carbon emissions. The growing government support along with private investments in the infrastructure sector is going to be the key for economic growth.